Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What Makes an Author "Real"?

I have experienced some low blows in my life; you know the kind that leaves you reeling once it has been delivered......where you wonder what you have done to deserve such a whammy. I won't bore you with the details of the myriad pains I have experienced over the years because frankly, I prefer not to relive those inglorious moments. Punishing myself with their recollection does me no good except to remind me of the feelings of helplessness I felt during those moments when I wish the words I hold so dear had come more readily to my lips.

Rather than relive those times, I strive to move forward, leaving those events and the people who perpetuated them in the dust of my forward momentum. I always have the option of writing about such moments later of course; masking the villains of my past in some well-cloaked character where the outcome of the confrontation is somehow more glorious in my fantasy world than it felt at the time in my reality. But in the here and now, I must find ways to cope as a professional....as a person....as a tender-hearted soul who has the capacity to be hurt by the thoughtless words of another.

The other day I experienced another one of those low blows but from a direction I never would have expected. I was urged by a woman a few months back (with great enthusiasm mind you) to contact a particular organization that works with children; an organization with whom she had strong ties. The woman was familiar with my novels and thought I would be a perfect candidate to participate in a program this organization hosted every year. It was called "Author Day." It was a day when authors were invited to come and talk to the children to share everything with them and their parents. The authors were able to share their dreams, their motivations, their bodies of work, their history....whatever they felt led to surrender of themselves. It was a day of exploration for all involved. It was a day to give of oneself, or so I imagined such a day would be.

I remember what I was like when I was a child. I loved to read. For me, books were a place where magic existed, in all its wonder and power. Books held more appeal to me than anything else; television, movies, the mall, video games could not entice me the way the pages of a book could. A book could take you anywhere in the universe, and I took advantage of that limitless transportation every chance I got. If I had ever been granted the opportunity to meet any of the authors that I loved as a child, I probably would have died from sheer delight. So to have the opportunity to go and speak to children who obvious were being brought up in an atmosphere of book-loving was a chance I couldn't turn down.

Now here is the caveat I must share before continuing with my tale. I am very shy, so it took me almost five months after I was given the name of the organization to gather up enough nerve to look the place up online. It took me another day to get the nerve to pick up the phone and call. But I did it. I have two novels on the market. I have people from all over the world who are reading my books. I had nothing to be ashamed of. At least I didn't think I did. I dialed the number and introduced myself to the woman who answered the phone. She was very nice but wasn't the coordinator. I was forwarded to the lady-in-charge's voice mail, and I left my message. I was on cloud nine. I had really done it. I had taken the risk, and I knew in my heart it would pay off. Then I got the callback and so began the building of my mortification.

The woman who called me back was thrilled I had called her. I was a local author. How fabulous! I had two novels. How great!

We have already scheduled the author for this year's event, but we would love to have you come for the day and meet the children.

My heart was bursting at the seams. I was so excited.

Do you know such and such an author?

Um, no but I was a fast learner. I was certain I could find their work and read it before the event.

Oh....I see.

I could feel things cooling off. Not every author in the world knows every other author. We are not all related.

Well, who is your publisher?

I gave her my answer. I was published through an indie publisher and I gave her their name.

Oh.....I see.

Question after question whittled away at her 'respect' of my work. At my accomplishments as an author. I could feel the disapproval settle into her voice as she gave me the final blow.

I don't mean to disappoint you but we generally only host nationally recognized authors who have won prestigious awards like the Caldecott award. You are welcome to come and see the authors speak and share with the children what your dreams are. We will send you information. If you don't hear from us though, it is just because things have been all booked for the year.

There was the raw, bare truth. I wouldn't be hearing from them because somehow, I didn't fit into their mold of what a "real" author was. I found myself wanting to explain. I found myself wanting to defend my work. All I did was thank her in a small voice and hang up, knowing I would never hear from her again; knowing she would never hear from me. The truth is, it wouldn't have mattered what I said to her. She had already made up her mind what I was worth without ever seeing what I had written. It would probably surprise her judgmental little heart to know that some of the most popular books today started as indie published books; books that she has either applauded or criticized but would undoubtedly recognize as "legitimate" works because they were picked up by one of the big 5 publishing houses. But that fact didn't make the authors more "real" than they were when they first wrote their books. It just meant they got more exposure and more attention once they were published through those avenues.

I am not saying that I will be one of those indie authors that gets picked up in such a way, but I will tell you this. It doesn't get more "real" than what I do every day for my craft. On the weekends, I get up at 5:30 to write. If I am lucky, I can get in around 5,000+ words over the two days before I go about the rest of the many tasks the weekend holds. There have been weekends where I have been graced with over 10,000 words, but I cannot ignore the other tasks that are on my list.

I have a fulltime job as a technical writer/tester/designer for a software company, so I don't have a lot of free time during the week to write. What little time I do have left during the weekday after chores and family time, I spend in promotional and PR tasks. Twitter, Facebook, blogging, Goodreads, Website updates. The works. I am a one woman show. I don't have a team. There is just me. You tell me I am not a real author, that the work I do isn't "real", and I will have a few choice words for you that aren't polite to say in any company, mixed or otherwise. I may not have one of the big 5 publishers as my banner to wave YET, but it doesn't mean I am not the genuine article, and it doesn't give anyone the right to be cruel or unkind to me. Finish two novels that are over 120,000 words a piece, polish them, edit them, and get them ready for market and perhaps then we can talk. Until then, hold your peace because all you are is an armchair critic who has no concept of what it takes to do what I do EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE!

Some day, I will be one of those big name writers. Why? Because I refuse to give up, and I refuse to stop writing. Eventually, the agencies and publishers will get tired of seeing my name come across their desk, and they will take the time to read that first chapter of my work, because trust me, that is all it will take. And when that day comes (and it will) the people like the woman who let me know I wasn't good enough to participate in her "Author Day" event will start calling me. I just hope when that day comes, I show more compassion, humility, and grace than they ever showed me.

So why the rant? The message is simple. It is so easy to pass judgment on others; to dismiss them without a thought or a care for how it might make that other person feel. It is easy to do when you are the one with all of the power and authority in the situation, but remember. The table can turn so quickly, and you can find yourself facing the same person you spurned, asking them to help you instead of the other way around. If you can show kindness even in the letdown, please do so. That simple act may just be your salvation one day when you need it the most.

Remember the ripples in the pond. Whatever you send forth may be the very thing that returns to you a hundred fold. Make sure it is a reward worth receiving.

If you enjoyed this post, don't forget to join the community by clicking 'Join this site' on the right or by following via Google+. Checkout H.L. Stephen's novels 'The Case of Jack the Nipper' and 'The Case of the Wayward Fae', available at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Mister Marmee Has Returned - The Case of the Wayward Fae Is Now Available

There are some moments in life that are worth celebrating. Marriage. The birth of a child. The big promotion. Getting that goiter removed. For me, I have tremendous cause for celebration because my second novel, The Case of the Wayward Fae ~ A Chronicle of Mister Marmee, was released on December 7, 2013, just in time for the Christmas holiday. I know, I know. We are two months past the release date, and I am only now getting around to posting about it on my blog. I never said I was the best PR person in the business or very good at marketing in general.

The truth of the matter is, it felt like the release day would never get here. Not the announcement part....the release part. The journey to bringing The Case of the Wayward Fae was a hard one. It was paved with sweat, as one would expect, but it was also paved with pieces of my shattered heart.

I suppose every novel can be described as a labor of love, but for this novel, it could not be more true. As most readers will discover when they reach the conclusion of this adventure, tucked within the 'Thank You' at the end of the book, is the soft, nuggety truth behind this story. The Case of the Wayward Fae might never have been completed. At least not for a long, long time. I know. It sounds a bit dramatic, but it is true.

My real-life Sir Happy Heart...my inspiration for the dachshund detective in the Chronicles of Mister Marmee...passed away February 19, 2013 before I had completed the novel. I was roughly two thirds of the way through the manuscript when my world was shattered by his loss. His death was not a peaceful one, at least not peaceful for my heart, and I did not know if I would be able to finish the story that had begun so joyfully with him laying by my side. Every time I looked at my computer, the brittle pieces of heart that I had managed to gingerly pull back together fell apart once again. I could not write the words without feeling the emptiness on the bed beside me.

The voice of the story seemed to die with my boy as if he held in his tender paw the key to it all. There was silence in my head and in my heart. No words would come to me. There was an emptiness in me that defied expression. I wondered if I would ever hear the rich tones of Sir Happy Heart's and Mister Marmee's voices in my mind again; there distinct Bristish accents bantering back and forth. I wondered if my heart could bear to hear them. I often wondered if my heart could bear their crushing silence.

It took time, but in the aftermath of my loss, I found my way back to Victorian London. Slowly, the ending of the story took shape, and miraculously, I found my way to the last word of the final chapter. But it was months...MONTHS before I could bring myself to touch the novel for editing. My heart was too broken. Too shattered. There were too many eerie parallels between the story I had written and what had happened when I had lost my boy. The parallels were unintended and were written when my world was whole and full of happiness and the sounds of my real-life Sir Happy Heart. After he was gone, I found every excuse under the sun NOT to touch the manuscript again. I  even cleaned out my fridge. Who does that unless it is out of sheer desperation or under direct order from the Centers for Disease Control?

I found a lovely program called SmartEdit that enabled me to begin the process of editing my novel in a more clinical way. I lanced the adverbs and slashed the repetition. I boiled the clich├ęs and the bad word usage right out of my novel without ever breaking a sweat or shedding a tear. It took the sting out of the emotional prose I had written and turned them into cold text that I could analyze without breaking my heart over and over again. It gave me time to heal. Then, when I was ready, I read my story.

This time I cried; not because my heart was broken from the loss of my boy but because I felt the triumph of seeing him once more gallivant across the page. The characteristics that made me love him in life were captured in all their charming glory. He was not lost to me. He was alive again in the pages of my book. Oh yes, I cut and pasted and bled upon the pages, "killing the little darlings" I had worked so hard to write over the two years of this book's creation. I would be lying if I said my words came out perfect the first time, but even in their imperfection, I could see him. My Sir Happy Heart. The little tenacious boy I love still. Though I miss him as much today as I did the moment he left me, I feel a comfort in knowing he is near me once again as I write.

In fact, one of the reasons why it has taken me so long to make this post is the fact the voices of Sir Happy Heart and Mister Marmee have been hounding me with a vengeance. The third installment of the Chronicles of Mister Marmee is well on its way. The Christmas holiday proved very productive and gave the story a boost I could only have dreamed of.

The Case of the Monkey's Misfortune is proving to be a fun adventure and every bit as unexpected as the first two novels. I cannot wait to see where the story will take me to next. The one thing I know for certain, above all other truths. No matter where the story leads, Sir Happy will be with me, walking by my side through each and every word. Wherever we end up, I know now we will journey there together, just as we always did.

If you enjoyed this post, don't forget to join the community by clicking 'Join this site' on the right or by following via Google+. Checkout H.L. Stephen's novels 'The Case of Jack the Nipper' and 'The Case of the Wayward Fae', available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.