Do All The Things!

Image from http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/. I think I found my spirit animal.

I had a hard time trying come up with something to write about today, so I’m just going with what is on my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether it is better to be a specialist in your writing or a generalist. There are some writers who only write in one or two closely related genres. In the realm of historical fiction, there are many writers who specialize in a certain time period or location.

I don’t do any of those things. While I write primarily in historical fiction (and historical fantasy), I also write non-fiction and contemporary women’s fiction/romance. Within historical, I don’t have just one time period, but will write in any period/location where I find a story of a strong woman that needs to be told.

I’m currently editing my first chapter for an academic book. I’ve recently branched out into poetry and am considering giving essay a whirl as well. I also run several blogs for various interests that I don’t have time to tend to as well as I want.

What is wrong with trying new things, you ask? Nothing. But…okay…did any of you watch the TV show JAG? The captain’s girlfriend/wife (I don’t remember) was one of those people who thought she could do anything and everything, but in reality was terrible at a lot the things she thought she was good at (I specifically recall her thinking she was this great singer and she was actually terrible). That is who I fear becoming.

I have this terrible fear that my poetry sucks and everyone is afraid to tell me. I’m scared that I’ll try to write essays only to find I have nothing to say or that I’m too scared of being attacked if I do take a stand on something.

Yet the same time, I’m curious about so much: different forms of writing, different genres (I have a gothic historical and several contemporary books I want to write, in addition to all the historical and non-fiction ones on my list), all kinds of subjects.

I understand the appeal of sticking to one thing and being an expert in that, but I’m the kind of person who wants to be an expert in whatever story I choose to tell. So, instead of being one on 19th century America or post-Roman Britain, I’m one on Victoria Woodhull, Virginia Minor and modern versions of Guinevere. (I don’t claim expertise back past 1980 with her character, though I have written about it.)

I guess that goes along with an unending desire to learn. I’m one recommendation letter away from finishing my application to get a certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies from Loyola University in Chicago (online program). Those credits will carry over when I can move and get my MA in the same program, along with an MA/PhD in American History. When that is done my credentials will be ridiculous alphabet soup: BA, BS, MA (that is today), MA, MA, PhD.

So why does it surprise me that I want to go from novelist and biographer to add on poet and essayist and whatever else comes along in the future?

I guess some people are meant to find their niche and stay there, while others do many things. I do know that strong women will always be a connective tissue in everything I do. That’s my passion, my jam and what I believe I am meant to share with the world, in whatever format the message takes. That’s why it is also my brand.

What about you? As fellow writers/readers do you think it is wiser to develop a specialty or dabble in whatever you want and see what sticks?

Writing the Unknowns Back into History

March is Women’s History Month. As longtime readers of this blog know, women’s history is my jam, so I felt like I couldn’t let this month’s post go by without talking about it. But I want to come at it from a slightly different angle than I have before. I apologize right now if this post sounds self-serving but this is my soapbox as of late.

I’ve set myself up on a hard path as an author because I write about people no one has ever heard of. People are naturally leery of what they don’t know or understand and thus less likely to take a chance on a book whose subject they don’t already recognize. And that can be a depressing prospect when you’re trying to write a book while balancing everything else in life. However, I am committed to sticking to my mission of shedding light on the stories of unknown women.

As we are all aware, history has been written, by and large, by white men. And it has been reduced to a handful of “marquee names,” leaving out even the influence of many important white men, not to mention women and people of color. That is a tremendous loss for us and for what we believe to be true about our nation. Yes, George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Harriet Tubman are important. But much like Hollywood and its never-ending love of sequels and reboots, if we don’t contribute something new to history (or in my case historical fiction), we won’t ever learn anything new, just keep hashing the same old points over and over. Without a variety of perspectives in our history, we are looking back on a false, or at best incomplete, record.

History is anything but homogeneous, so our books about it should reflect diversity. Where are the stories of the women who supported the great men we read so much about? Where are the overlooked and uncredited women? (Hidden Figures was a great start, but there are so many more.) What about the LGBTQIA women who risked their lives by being who they were in an intolerant nation? Where are the stories of the strong women who survived natural disasters, poor harvests and plague (1918 Spanish Flu, anyone?) to go on to either do great things or just lead quiet lives? I’ve learned through my research that there are so many amazing stories that we don’t learn about in school and readers deserve the chance to know about them, too.

Every now and then an untold story breaks out. As Hamilton has shown us, there were other key men fighting for America’s independence and shaping the new nation, just as there were other people fighting for abolition, women’s suffrage and conducting the Underground Railroad. It is wonderful that we have our idols to look up to, but we shouldn’t limit our learning to just their stories. When that happens, we miss out on the rich tapestry that made our history happen. Just as it hasn’t been one person or even a council of people who have helped us get to what I hope is the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, not a single person made any other event in history happen. Thousands of people, many of them women and people of color, contributed to abolition. But we only remember the loudest handful of voices. What about everyone who supported those four or five icons or those whose stories are tread over completely in favor of the well-known names?

I believe in widening our history, not narrowing it down. I want everyone to know about the 15-year-old girl named Claudette Colvin, who refused to move to the back of the bus, months before Rosa Parks got the glory for doing the exact same thing. I want people to be riveted by the story of Ida Tarbell, the journalist who created modern investigative journalism in the early 1900s with an expose on Standard Oil, even though Julius Chambers and Nellie Bly are often credited with that feat. (I love me some Nellie Bly, don’t get me wrong, but her methods were different than Ida’s, whose are much closer to the ones still used today.) And I want people to read the stories of women of color–Black, Asian, Native American– and the spouses (gay and straight) who contributed to the women’s suffrage movement. Those stories alone would go a long way toward giving us a more complete picture of our history, of who we can and should admire and what we can do in our own lives to change the course of history.

But it is difficult to make people change. It’s easier and less risk to reach for a book about a person or from an author you already know and love. I do it just as much as the next reader. As an author, the only thing I can tell myself is to just keep going. Flood the market with as many books about unknowns as I can. And should that mean I will have to keep self-publishing and accept that I won’t ever be rich from my writing, so be it. But I can also hope that, not unlike Hamilton, one of my unknowns will take off and change everything.

Poetry and Power

Hey readers, did you miss me? I missed all of you. I can catch you up on the last six months pretty quickly. I’ve been working (a lot. this is an interesting time to work in health care marketing) and writing (a lot. two books at once actually).

I’ve been thinking about getting back into writing poetry for a few months now. It all started when I was doing research for a future book and reading Lana del Rey’s poetry book “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass.” (My book will be a modern adaptation of a classic with a soundtrack entirely of Lana’s music. She is the PERFECT muse for this story.) Her poetry hit me so hard that I was like “Dude, I want to do that!” (I say “Dude” a lot.)

Now, I wrote poetry as a kid (which you may remember from a previous post) and also as an angsty teen. But then for some reason I stopped. I went through a period where I was like “Who reads poetry anymore?” which I’ve come to find out was my brain’s way of saying “I’m intimidated by it and am afraid I can’t understand it.” This despite the fact that I was an English major.

Enter Amanda Gorman on Inauguration Day. Lord, that woman is a genius. That is all there is to it. I want to bow down to her Wayne’s World style. (I am so a child of the 80s and 90s.) USA Today is even speculating that because of her we may be in a renaissance of poetry and I hope they are right.

So, lots of motivation to start writing. But my problem was I felt paralyzed. I would pick up a pen and try to write (for some reason I feel like poetry needs to be hand-written first) and my mind would freeze, go totally blank. I think I was putting too much pressure on myself to produce something publishable. I asked my Facebook friends for advice and they said to just let go and write for myself, something private that expresses my emotions or opinions about something.

After a while, I loosened up. I finally wrote my first poem in 24 years the other day. I’m not ready to share it because it’s pretty personal, but I want to share them eventually. Right now I seem to be using poetry to work through some unresolved issues from my past, but then again, so did Rupi Kaur and look what it did for her. (I was not expecting Milk & Honey to be so dark!) I think that may be what gives poetry it’s power to touch readers and it’s staying power as well. It, to me at least, is so much more personal than prose, though I know that can be as well.

Today I’m going to start posting some poems on Instagram, so I’d like to share the first one here with you. I don’t want to bias your reading, but it has deeper meaning than its surface value.

I am finding that I have no idea how to judge whether a poem that I write is good or bad. Anyone have any tips for that?

P.S. – In case you are wondering about the title of this post, it’s based on a song by Gary Numan. But I know the cover by Gravity Kills.

How Young is Too Young?

Where I had my second poem published at age 13.

Most of us hear stories about authors getting their first publishing deal in their 20s (and even a handful in their teens) and are green with envy. I know I have been. But today is a first, at least for me: Nadim, a 4-old English boy got a publishing deal for his poetry.

Have you read the article? If not, please do. I’ll wait.

I can’t really remember being four, but I know I wasn’t writing poetry. I think I was taking my first dance classes and learning my ABCs. I know I couldn’t read or write at that age. My parents didn’t push me; they let me learn in school in first and second grade like everyone else at the time.

On one hand, I have to admit to being a little suspicious of this whole thing. How do we know Nadim really wrote these poems and it wasn’t his parents? I mean, his mom is a poetry instructor. This isn’t the first time parents have taken advantage of their kids to make money (remember the kid who had a bestseller on a near-death experience that ended up being faked by his dad?) and it won’t be the last. And if he did write them, how much pressure was put on him to learn how from a scarily young age?

On the other, child prodigies have existed throughout history. Look at Mozart. The difference there is that you could witness his talent, whereas with poetry, you have to take it on faith that Nadim really wrote the poems. Even if they had him recite in public, you can’t tell how much is coached. Perhaps his mom, being a poetry lover, just taught him how to rhyme as soon as he could speak.

I am no prodigy, far from it, but I did have my first poem published at an early age. I know I was no younger than six because I remember hand-writing it at my grandma’s house. I wish I knew what was going on in my mind at the time, but I can’t remember.

I may even still have the original my basement somewhere. I think I was more like eight, though, because I entered a contest advertised in the back of YM magazine (so that now tells me it may not have been as legit as I thought at the time), so I know I could read and write. My parents had nothing to do with this; I had to beg them to let me enter.

Anyway, I’ve never shared it before, but here it is. (Needless to say, this copyrighted.)

Aloneness

Aloneness is the feeling when your mind is empty/and your heart is full./Aloneness is the sadness of pain and hunger around the world.

Short, but I do have to say, profound for a young mind. So it is entirely possible this little 4-year-old is some kind of genius or at least thinks deep thoughts.

My second published poem. Last name is blurred because it is my legal name.

But is a book deal for someone that age really necessary? Why, other than shock value, would anyone do this? Why not keep the poetry and include it in a collection when he is older? It would be cool to see the evolution of a poet over the years in a single volume. All I can do is shake my head. Why can’t we just let kids be kids anymore?

I really do hope this is the beginning of great things for Nadim and that someday we can all look back and remember the day we read the announcement. But I also worry what kind of pressure this puts on a boy whose mom admits he’s still learning to read and write. When you have your first book deal at so young an age, how do you follow it up? Will this just turn into a funny story on a college application or will he feel the weight of it for the next 20 years?

I don’t even like most children, and yet I worry about this one I’ve never met. My first gut instinct is that this is an example of parents pushing their children into their own dreams (much like most beauty pageant/dance/cheer moms), rather than nurturing a budding talent. I think that is it; I’m seeing the commercial side of this and not the warm parental side. And that is the problem with having only one source for an issue.

In the end, it’s none of my business, but it is also something to think about. And if nothing else, it has reminded me that I used to be a poet – which I had completely forgotten. Maybe I’ll pick up a pen for the first time since I was in high school and write a few poems from time to time. Thanks for the inspiration, Nadim!

Dreams Come True Even During a Pandemic!

In my last Spellbound Scribes post, I wrote about things that I am going to put on my vision board. Since then, I’ve done some Photoshopping, but I haven’t even printed the photos much less put the board up yet….and one thing has come true and another is getting really close!

Just to draw out the tension, the one that is close to happening is winning the Launchpad Manuscript Contest, which is a book-to-move contest. Daughter of Destiny is in the Top 25! They will announce the Top 10 June 30 and the three winners (and other prizes) July 16. Any good vibes you want to send are much appreciated.

Okay, on to the big news…. I HAVE AN AGENT!!

I signed with Amy Collins of Talcott Notch Literary last week! She is immediately representing the two books I’m working on now (the Minor biography and a historical fiction I’m not ready to talk about yet). Here’s the official announcement.

I’ve known Amy for a few years. We first met when she presented on marketing to the Saturday Writers chapter of the Missouri Writer’s Guild. We really hit it off during the presentation (I’m Hermionie Granger, so teachers and presenters usually love me because they know I am engaged) and through conversation at lunch afterwards. We stayed in touch online and I saw her present again maybe a year or two later at the St. Louis Publisher’s Association. Amy also hosted a lot of online workshops that I attended so were were in contact that way as well as on social media, and became friends.

I knew she was a huge fan and champion of my books, but what I didn’t know was that she was also an international rights agent. When she became a full U.S. agent earlier this month, she called me and asked if I was considering traditional publishing and if I would think about becoming her client. Why, yes, I was! We talked, I asked questions, and sent her what I have been working on. She loved it and needless to say, I said yes! (Never underestimate the power of networking…not that I could have ever predicted this.)

I really, really like Amy and she has a great reputation in the industry and in marketing, so I’m really looking forward to working with her. We’re a great personality fit and what she represents is right in my wheelhouse, so I am predicting a long and fruitful relationship with many, many book sales!

With Amy on my team, I’m officially on the come up! (I love that phrase and if you haven’t read the book by Angie Thomas of the same title, please do. It is amazing!)

Of Vision Boards and Writing Goals

It’s been years since I’ve had a vision board. I used to use them regularly, and then I took the one I had down because it didn’t go with my decor. I had actually forgotten about them until two things happened: 1) I was cleaning out my basement and found my last one, and 2) I saw this Lily Singh video on how and why to make one.

When I looked at my old one, I realized how many things on it had come true: travel, awards, opportunities, etc. (And this was from before I started taking my writing seriously.) I also realized that right now is the perfect time to begin a new one.  I mean, we can use all the hope and positivity we can get during quarantine, right?

Plus, now that I am working from home (until at least August 15 – I hope they make it permanent), I have an office and a place to put it where I will it every day and it won’t mess up the rest of my interior design style.

So here’s a little peek at what I think I’m going to include:

Pulitzer Prize – I am determined to win one for my biography of Virginia and Francis Minor. No one really knows what they look for in the winners and finalists, but I’ve read several of both and can see some common characteristics. I’m still hoping to get a traditional contact for it, but if I don’t, how cool would it be to become the first-ever self published author to win a Pulitzer?

#1 New York Times Bestseller List – Of course I want to hit this. I’m going to Photoshop an actual list with the title of the current historical fiction I’m working on in the top fiction spot and my biography in the top non-fiction spot.

Poster for film/TV version of two of my books – I don’t have time to do this today, but I’m going to Photoshop this. Given that one of my books was already optioned and another is doing well in a contest to get this very kind of deal, this might actually happen.

Winning the 2020 Launchpad Manuscript Contest As mentioned above, Daughter of Destiny is already in the Top 75 of this contest and I am manifesting a win for it, along with a major publishing deal and successfully produced movie or TV series.

$100,000 check – This amount is enough to pay off my debt and enable me to move (once COVID is over). I feel like it is enough without being greedy.

 

Book contract – Since I’m hoping to get a traditional contract, why not draw one up with the names of my dream agent and publisher? And fill in the advance amount I want?

 

Oxford – I really, really want to go back. This is the Old Parsonage Hotel, where I want to stay again. It is so nice and the food is fabulous. Plus, I want to research in the Bodleian Library.

 

 

Chicago – I want to move there (post-COVID). It’s been my dream for more than a decade now. Time to make it happen! (I had a photo for this one, but it wouldn’t align correctly, so out it went!)

Celebrities I really want to meet/work with: Lin Manual Miranda, Angelina Jolie and whoever else I think of. Angelina has been on my vision boards since my very first one. I really admire her humanitarian work and acting. And Lin Manuel is just a genius!

Beyond this, I’m not really sure. I’m considering a few broader things like healing for the earth and something to do with an end to COVID, but those aren’t really in my control, so I don’t know if they count. I may end up adding more over time as it comes to me.

What would you include on your vision board? Have you ever made one?

COVID-19 Through the Eyes of an Author and Health Care Communicator

As some of you know, my day job is in health care communications, mainly on the internal side. It’s a job I’ve been doing for nearly 17 years. In that time, we’ve dealt with H1N1 and SARS, had hurricanes damage our outreach ministries, and even had a tornado directly hit and completely destroy one of our hospitals. But we’ve never experienced anything like COVID-19.

My boss started being involved in meetings about it in late February/early March. But at that point no one expected what it turned into. By March 18, all non-essential co-workers were asked to work from home and my department went into crisis mode. (There is nothing I hate more than crisis communications, I will be honest.) We were pretty much on 24/7 for the first few weeks as we tried to keep up with changes and relay them to the people who work in our hospitals and doctors’ offices. Then things slowed a little so that we could rotate weekends on call and start keeping something similar to normal hours as we got into a kind of routine.

Now, as we get ready to start reopening some services, we’re preparing for a busy time again as policies change and we wait to see what Federal and local officials are going to do. There are very real fears that opening back up too soon will lead to a relapse in cases and another wave of illness in fall/winter. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the future holds.

Several weeks ago, Taleflick, the company I use to manage my film/TV rights for my books, put out a call for authors to share what health care is like during COVID-19. My job gives me a unique perspective on both the clinical and non-clinical aspects of health care, so I submitted the following essay, which is based on real people’s experiences. They ended up featuring it on their blog. I wanted to share it with you to help you understand what a whole industry of people are doing to keep the country, and really the world, safe. And in case you’ve been wondering why I’ve been so quiet…now you know.

Stay safe everyone. Stay home (or six feet apart if you have to go out) wear your mask, and wash your hands. Those things really do save lives.

In the Trenches and Behind the Scenes: The Reality of Health Care During COVID-19

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” – Mr. Rogers

There are those who run away from disaster and those who run toward it. Most of us, myself included, are staying as far away from the COVID-19 pandemic as possible. However, others are voluntarily in the thick of it—doctors, nurses, respiratory techs, and caregivers of every specialty. If, as many have said, this is a war, they are its heroes. They work not only because it is their job, but because they are called to serve. Yes, some choose a career in health care for the salary, but by and large, if you ask a health care professional why they picked their profession, they will tell you it was because they wanted to help others. And good thing, too. Because now our future is very much in their compassionate, gloved hands.

While the history books will someday debate the response of the government and theorize over what could have or should have been done differently, these people will fade into oblivion, just like they have after every other major event in history. Who but their family members and friends can recall the names of the first responders on and immediately following 9/11? And that is still within living memory.

We can’t allow that to happen this time. It is important to remember those who are saving lives through their everyday work. We must understand and support those who toil away in hospitals and clinics in every city and town across the world, caring for the sick, trying to educate the public to stop the spread of COVID-19, and putting their very lives at risk so the rest of us don’t have to.

The People Behind the Masks
When you imagine a doctor during this pandemic, what comes to mind? If you’ve paid attention to the news, you might see in your mind’s eye a person dressed in a white hazmat suit or a urine-colored protective gown, face covered by a plastic shield and goggles or blue N95 mask. These people are very much in action in our Emergency Departments, Intensive Care Units and isolation wards, working long hours with inadequate supplies and equipment to save lives and keep this deadly virus from spreading. But so is your family doctor. He or she is likely still seeing patients who need ongoing care and testing people with symptoms. Or they might be analyzing the results of online risk assessments or conducting phone or video/online visits with patients who think they might be ill with COVID-19.

What you don’t see in the media is what takes place behind the scenes: the intensivist storing away her face shield for re-use, praying it will be enough to keep her from getting infected and thus be unable to continue working. Or the physician carefully peeling off an N95 mask by its straps and wondering how long it will be before he runs out of these valuable resources and has to make due with lower quality masks that don’t offer enough protection.

Picture the person next to that doctor in the locker room, a nurse on her third 12-hour shift in a row, head bent low and gritty eyes closed, trying to catch a moment’s rest before attending to another coughing patient or one delirious with fever. It wasn’t enough that earlier she sat with a dying woman so she wouldn’t be alone in her final moments or that just before going on break she had to calm an outraged visitor who insisted on being allowed to see his hospitalized father, despite the no-visitor policy in place for everyone’s protection. There truly is no rest for the weary; soon she will be called back into battle.

Imagine the respiratory therapist who trudges home at night not to his warm bed, but to a tent in his backyard so he doesn’t unwittingly expose his wife and child to the virus he’s spent all day battling. As he climbs into his sleeping bag and tries to get comfortable on an air mattress, he says a prayer for the little girl on oxygen who is scared and alone in the pediatric ICU. He knows he will dream of the elderly man who just a few hours ago held what could be his final conversation with his wife before being intubated and breathing with the aid of a ventilator.

Envision, too, the ethicist called in to consult with a doctor in an overcrowded hospital. Each room is filled to capacity and beds line the hallways leading to her office. Their hospital is officially in crisis containment status, meaning they don’t have enough manpower or supplies to meet demand.

That’s why the doctor has come to her for advice. He took an oath to never willingly harm a patient, but the protocol they are bound to follow states they must ration their supplies according to the ability of a patient to benefit from them. That means some, such as the elderly or those with conditions that make healing more difficult, may have to continue their treatment without potentially life-saving equipment and be given palliative care in hopes they can survive on their own.

He rubs his temples and asks her the impossible question, “How does one begin to make that decision?”

Powering a Pandemic Response
Behind all those troops in the trenches are people whose work is rarely seen by the public and isn’t nearly as dramatic but is needed all the same. These leaders and tactical specialists provide vital background support that enables caregivers to do their jobs.

Think of a health care executive like a general in a war. Exempt from the isolation that keeps many people safe, she attends meetings with her counterparts, just like military in their war councils, to study trends and predictive models in an effort to understand when the surge of cases will hit her area so her people don’t face the worse-case scenario that other hospitals have experienced. In between meetings, she is glued to her phone, consulting with local and national experts to understand constantly evolving best practices for treating the virus and conserving and sanitizing protective equipment for reuse in the face of a national shortage. She yawns and yearns for the days when she was able to sleep a full eight hours; but if her troops can do without personal time and rest for the greater good, so can she.

Remember that doctor with the N95 mask? He is also an administrator. So, when he finishes his shift he doesn’t return home, or if he does, it is to do more work online or on a conference call. He spends his nights and weekends working with others like himself to establish the most streamlined and effective courses of care for treating COVID-19. When he’s not thinking about his patients, he’s trying to figure out the best ways to change traditional triage and care practices to adapt to the needs of this unprecedented time. Then he catches a few hours of sleep, only to get up and do it all over again.

Across town, a supply chain manager lies awake in the middle of the night mentally mapping routes from one facility to another and calculating inventory. If a surge of patients maxes out ventilator capacity in one hospital, what other locations can spare a few to help? And what is the fastest way to get them from the places they are to the place they are needed? She grabs her phone and dictates a quick reminder to call the CDC and her list of private suppliers again; her health system is desperate for more COVID-19 tests. Their lab partner said they can manufacture the tests themselves, but she can’t find the correct type of nasal swab anywhere—that hunt is another to-do for the next day.

The next morning a communicator is on a conference call with hospital administration; she’s going to have to find a way to tell doctors and nurses that they are running dangerously low on one size of N95 mask and try to provide them with safe alternatives. When the call ends, she flips on the television to see how well the hospital representative took her coaching for the press conference to assure the community they have the capacity to handle a surge in cases. She breathes a sigh of relief. He did well. But her calm is short-lived. Her phone pings with a Facebook notification she needs to respond to before she writes the communication about the masks; there is no end to the misinformation spread online.

Enabling all these people to do their work—whether they are at a hospital or working from home—is the information technology co-worker holed up at a data center, and a team of others like him. He just restored an outage that was affecting caregivers’ ability to document patient progress in their electronic medical record. Now he needs to figure out why one of their video visit connections isn’t providing sound. Then he will return the call from a co-worker working remotely who is having problems accessing her files. The aphorism “technology is great when it works” is certainly true, but in an age when hospitals are reliant on it to power all aspects of care from programming Smart IV Pumps to helping providers follow proper care protocols, disaster can result when it doesn’t. There’s a reason he’s always on call.

Unsung Service
All of the people described above are real, as are the situations they are facing. So please, before you post on social media that you are bored during the quarantine, say a prayer for those who don’t have that luxury. Whether in patient care or in support roles behind the scenes, they are working 24-hours a day, seven days a week to keep you informed and ensure that should you contract COVID-19, you’ll have the best care possible. And they will continue doing so until this strange period of history is over and we can all return to whatever the “new normal” is. If that isn’t the definition of a hero, I don’t know what is.

You Can Help the World Learn About America’s First Female Presidential Candidate!

I was originally going to post about Women’s History Month, but then this contest came up and it is related, so I couldn’t resist.

My book Madame Presidentess is historical fiction based on the true story of Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president of the United States in 1872 – 48 years before women got the right to vote. Last year it was optioned for TV/film but that didn’t work out so I have the rights back again. Taleflick and I are working hard to get more producers interested. And you can help!

Madame Presidentess is part of a special TaleFlick Discovery contest celebrating International Women’s Day. That means it gets an extra chance to be made into a film or TV show. But only if you vote!

 

 

To vote, once you click the button above, find my book and click the Vote button that looks like an up arrow on the right.

Ends: Fri. March 13 at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT/4 p.m. PT

Officially, you can only vote once. But you can always try again on a different device…Not that I’m advising you to or anything.

If you get a message that you’ve already voted, it means someone on the same IP address has already voted. This happens in workplaces a lot. You will need to vote from home if that occurs. If you’re still getting that message, please don’t give up! Contact Taleflick support ASAP.

Winning books need thousands of votes, so please share with all your friends. Here are some graphics you can use.

Thank you!

Vive La Bibliographie!

For years now, nay decades, historians and historical fiction authors have had a tenuous relationship. Well, from my perspective, it’s the historians who have their noses out of joint; most historical fiction authors, myself included, just want to write our books.

You see, some (not all, mind you) historians see us fiction writers as encroaching on their territory and doing it a disservice. I think with the word “fiction” in our genre and “a novel” written on most of our book covers, that is just silliness. I also think the reader has to take some responsibility for understanding the difference, but perhaps I am giving people too much credit. Tudor historian John Guy found that after Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall series was published many of his current and prospective students took what they read as fact. His complaint? “The writing was so good that some people think it is true.”*

Because we are writing a (hopefully entertaining) story in addition to providing historical facts, historical novelists sometimes have to or choose to bend those facts or go outside of the historical record. One thing many of us do to make up for this is include an Author’s Note at the end of our books. In this section, which for some is only a few paragraphs, but for others can be quite lengthy and detailed, *cough*me*cough,* we explain what is true and what is not and why we changed things when we did. Other authors provide additional historical information on their websites or in their blogs. Some even include a bibliography or a brief list of sources at the back.

Ironically, it is Hilary Mantel herself, a historical fiction author who is NOT a historian, who rails loudest against this practice. She’s fine with including an Author’s Note (which she does in her own books), but draws the line at a bibliography. At the Oxford Literary Festival in 2017 she accused historical novelists of “try[ing] to burnish their credentials by affixing a bibliography.”**

[cue eye roll]

No, Dame Mantel, that is not what we are trying to do. We are trying to show that we’ve done our due diligence in making our books as historically accurate as we can. We’re trying to raise the respectability of our genre, which, not that long ago was conflated with period costume bodice-rippers that were rightfully called mere escapism. (Remind me to write a post on the history of historical fiction sometime.) But since that time, the genre has come a long way in building credibility with readers and critics and today’s authors are much more concerned with portraying time periods and places correctly, as our source lists show.

In addition, we’re providing a list of sources for those who wish to learn more or want to fact-check the book. As a reader, I LOVE the Author’s Note and am sorely disappointed if there isn’t one or little effort was put into it. As a writer, I have looked at the bibliographies of other historical fiction writers in my time period to get a sense if I am going in the right direction in my own research. These pages at the end of books serve very important purposes that cannot and should not be dismissed out of hand.

We are in no way pretending to be what we are not. Most historical novelists will freely admit to not having a PhD if that is the case. And there are a few who do have one (such as Alison Weir and Anne Fortier), so does that give them the right to include a bibliography in their books while the rest of us can’t? If that is the case, that is elitism, pure and simple. Many of us are self-taught researchers or may have been trained through courses of study besides history (English or law, perhaps) but that doesn’t mean our research is automatically of lower quality and undeserving of being documented.

It would be far worse if historical novelists a) didn’t bother to do proper research and/or b) left readers to their own devices to figure out what is true. Then you really would have historical confusion.

I could be completely wrong, but it feels like opinions like this stem from two things: an old-world us vs. them snobbery in which we novelists are seen as on a far lower plane than professors of history, and a feeling of being threatened because the average reader is more likely to read a historical fiction novel than an academic work of history.

As an author who has written both and plans to eventually get her PhD in history, I will say there is no reason for historians to feel threatened. They do what they do and we do what we do. Each has our own audience and when there is crossover, it benefits us both. But we cannot shoulder the responsibility for how our readers interpret our work alone. If they want to believe it is true all we can do is warn them it’s not and direct them to books by historians to find out what really happened–that is exactly what the bibliographies found in our books do!

I think the idea that historians somehow sit on a loftier pedestal than historical authors is a function of the insular nature of academia and will hopefully (eventually) burn itself out. It is this misguided attitude that makes it somehow okay for someone who started out as a historian to later go into historical fiction, but not for a historical novelist who lacks a PhD to ask to be taken seriously. Unless historical novelists start claiming that their books are the truth– rather than influenced by the truth–(as best that historians can interpret it; it can be argued that all of history is fiction as it is written by the victors and is often revised by memory, time and author prejudice) there is no need for us vs. them. We are both working toward the same purpose: educating a public that increasingly doesn’t give a fig about history. We just go about it in different ways.

And as for me, you can pry my bibliography (fiction or non-fiction) out of my cold, dead hands.

*Quoted in McQuin, Kristen “The Truth Is Better Than Fiction: Accuracy In Historical Fiction.“ Bookriot. March 19l 2018. https://bookriot.com/2018/03/19/accuracy-in-historical-fiction/

**Furness, Hannah. “Hilary Mantel: Women writers must stop falsely empowering female characters in history” The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/31/hilary-mantel-women-writers-must-stop-falsely-empowering-female/

The (Literal) Cost of Publishing

Image purchased from Adobe Stock.

One thing writers are cautioned not to talk about is money. As religion and politics used to be (and likely still are by some), it has long been considered gouache to talk about salary or expenses. The traditional industry even has code phrases so they can talk about the size of deal without revealing actual numbers. This was a breakdown from 2016, so numbers may have changed a bit:

  • Nice deal = $1 to $49,000
  • Very nice deal = $50K to $99K
  • Good deal = $100K to $250
  • Significant deal = $250K to $499K
  • Major deal = $500K and up

But I think this reticence to talk about money should change. In a world where it is getting more and more expensive to publish and market a book (especially for self-publishers) and fewer authors are able to make a full-time living with their writing, we need to know what others are spending (and making) so that we know what is reasonable and what is not. Even traditionally published authors have to pay for all or at least some of their marketing, depending on what their house decides to do for them.

I’ll give you an example from my own life as to why not talking about money can be harmful. I TOTALLY overpaid for layout for my first four books. I used a company (that shall remain nameless) recommended by a friend. I paid $1,000/book for the layout, not knowing this wasn’t a normal price until another friend said she only paid $100/book for her layout with a different company. This is what happens when you don’t know what you don’t know. (And my friend who recommended the first layout company likely didn’t know she was overpaying, either.)

Real Numbers
So what is reasonable? Based on my research and experience (your mileage may vary):

  • Professional Editing – $500-$1,000+ (Depends on length of book, depth of editing and who you use)
  • Proofreading – $3-$4/page (per Writer’s Market)
  • Cover Design – $100-$500 (some people have the skills to do their own; I do not. You can reduce the cost with some designers if you provide the stock photography.)
  • Formatting – $200-$1,000+ (You can also learn to do this yourself; I don’t personally want to.)
  • IBSN – $125 for one or if you buy in bulk $295/10 (US only – in many other countries they are free)
  • Copyright/Library of Congress – $35, plus postage book to mail the book.
  • Proofs/author copies – Depends on length of book ($3-$6).
  • Marketing – You can totally control this and this is where I messed up. I spent WAY too much.

As of January 1, I’ve been a published author for four years. In that time I’ve sold tens of thousands of books (I stopped counting at some point because it’s all manual), hit the USA Today bestseller list and have won more than 40 awards. But you know what? I’m also massively in debt because of it – to the point of looking into debt consolidation. And unfortunately, I don’t think I’m alone. (Granted, I also know self-published authors who made seven-figures last year, so experiences can and do vary widely.)

But the stigma behind not being an immediate financial success is why I’m talking about it. You are not a failure if this has happened to you – my friend Jordan, who taught a class on cash flow at the Novelist’s Inc. conference last year, taught me that. You just didn’t manage your money as well as you should have. And you can get yourself out of the hole.

Damage Control
My first step was to purposefully not publish anything last year. That might seem counter-intuitive because the more books you have out there, the greater the chances you will make money, but it also costs a fair amount if done professionally. This year will likely be the same. (Although I am trying to get a few traditional deals, so that is part of it too.)

Step two was to eliminate unnecessary expenses. It’s amazing how many services I had automatically charging my credit cards every month. I’m keeping my stock photos though. I think those are a valuable recurring expense, at least for me.

Step three was to slow down conference travel. (The only one I’m going to this year is comped.) It is great for networking, learning and sometimes for selling books, but it adds up REALLY fast.

Step four is to focus on writing, but not just books: articles that pay, ghostwriting, speaking, etc. There’s more than one way to pay off debt.

Other lessons I have learned the hard way:

  • It is not a good idea to finance your self-publishing on credit cards. I thought I had way more self-control than I did and now I’m up to my eyeballs. Plus, interest really sneaks up on you. (Granted, about half of that was personal debt I had before I started publishing.)
  • Don’t overspend on swag. When I was new, swag (postcards, bookmarks, pens, etc.) was the big thing. You were told you HAD to have it for conventions. It doesn’t hurt to have one thing, or even one thing per book, that people can take away with them, but you don’t need to load yourself down or purchase large quantities. Four years later and I still have boxes of swag I likely will never use.
  • Don’t bother paying to be featured in library or bookstore catalogs, in magazines, or at trade shows. There is one indie author group that pushes a lot of these and from my experience, the ROi is minimal.
  • Same goes for purchasing ads in magazines. I only did that once, and it was more out of vanity than anything, but it’s not worth it.
  • Be very careful about which contests you enter and how much you pay for them. I’ve been pretty lucky in this regard (I do my research), but I see author friends all the time talking about ones I’m pretty sure just took their money and called them a finalist/winner but gave them nothing in return other than bragging rights.
  • Budget your spending, especially on ads. I totally didn’t do this and look where I ended up. This will become more and more important in the future, as experts are predicting that Facebook ads will become a must. (If I can find the article I saw that in, I will link to it, but it is eluding me at the moment.)
  • Be careful when creating audio books. Yes, audio is hot, but audio books are about a $2,000-$3,000 investment, depending on what your narrator charges and how long your book is. Are you going to make that money back? I have on some of my books, but not on others. You just don’t know. (And PLEASE don’t narrate your own unless you are a trained actor or broadcaster. There really is an art to a good audio book and a bad/average narrator can ruin it.)
  • Excuses you don’t want to use on yourself – believe me, I’ve done all of these:
    • It’s tax-deductible (maybe, but the end value of that depends on how much you make and spend, plus tax code in any given year – it’s still an expense.)
    • Oh it’s only this once/this one thing (sure it is).
    • It will pay off in the end (will it really?).
    • I want to prove I can do it as an indie author (lamest excuse ever).

Now, I don’t want this to scare anyone or to keep you from trying new things. Publishing (especially self-publishing), is all about taking chances and taking advantage of opportunities that come your way. You just really need to look at what you are investing and what you are going to get back, as well as what the bills are in the other parts of your life and what your other income is. This may sound obvious, but it is REALLY easy to get caught up in the new, shiny and sexy when you publish, especially when you are new and trying really hard to stand out from the crowd.

The age-old advice of saving up for your anticipated expenses is very wise in this situation. Sometimes traditionally published authors are advised to invest a portion (or all) of their advances into their marketing. If you save first (which I did not do), you are kind of doing the same thing and avoiding hundreds of dollars a month in interest payments. Publish your heart out, just be smart about it.

I’d love to hear from a traditionally published author about what they’ve done and spent on their marketing because that is a side of things I am totally blind to.