Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Book Talk: I'm Happy To Say My Book Was Published A Little Too Soon

A little over a year ago I did something that I wish people wouldn’t do. I won’t do it again but I’m deeply happy that I did it.

I’d like to tell you about it. (This is something I do like to do and I do wish people would do! Telling a story about why we do the things we do even when we don’t believe in the things we do!)

I love to read, especially novels. I used to wish I could go to jail for about a year so that I would have the opportunity to read and read and read without the feeling that I should be cleaning my house or creating a fulfilling career.

So when self-publishing happened and the world of books was becoming overwhelmed with stories that were raw and unique, stories that may never have made their way into the world with all the gatekeepers in the way, I was quickly thrilled!

And then I was quickly disappointed. I understood, for possibly the first time, the value of gatekeepers. These were people who could help an author hone their message and tweak their sentences and revisit their characters until the truth of the story was clearly on display. A story that, when done well, would still be entirely the author’s story, just even more so.

As a reader I was merely disappointed to learn this. As a reader it’s not such a big deal because I can continue to trust recommendations and enjoy perusing and read-testing bookshelves in thrift stores which offer obscure, eclectic, classic, previously experienced books.

But as a writer, I was deeply bothered. I know how easy it is to feel so in love with something I’ve written that I’m certain the message is clear and the story will connect with readers in magical ways. Sway sweetly with the beat of the reader’s soul. As a writer I also know how wrong I always am! Looking later I will see (with painfully stark clarity) huge holes in my storytelling and lazy word choices. Words that sort of say what I mean and take away from the experience of saying exactly what I mean. As a writer I also know that what I don’t see, what I almost never see, are the grammatical errors. I love to write but I’ve never loved to learn rules of writing.

Self-publishing is not bad, it is indeed a wonderful and fantastic choice for writers and readers! But with all of my reading heart I want us writers to keep in mind what we know. That we can’t do it alone. That we need editors and beta-readers to give feedback and offer thoughts. Sure, we know our story and our characters and our meaning more fully than any editor or beta-reader ever could. It’s not our job to let them tell us what to do or how to fix things, it’s our job to listen to feedback and learn what others are understanding from our writing. Then we can decide what, how, why, and if we’ll make changes.

By knowing what readers are understanding (and this is where we need more than one early reader because everyone has personal taste and opinions but when we have several readers we’ll uncover surprising consistencies.) we’re are able to tweak those few things or overhaul entire sections or add clarifying chapters. Whatever it takes to get feedback that is more consistently feeding back to us writers what we intended to feed our readers.

I love that I came to this conclusion before I published my novel!

But why, then, did I publish my book, Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself, without the aid of editors? Why was I okay with my only two beta readers being my mom and my sister? Beta-readers who loved the book and told me so emphatically, as I knew they probably would since the book is basically me on paper and they love me. Why did I figure that was good enough?

I mean… hello?!

Now, before I explain please believe me that I do love my book, and I did work hard on it. I’m not so uncaring about my writing that I just threw it out there without adjusting, reworking, rethinking, and caring. And I’m certainly not so uninterested in readers (I’m a reader who loves writing, not vice versa) that I figured they didn’t deserve a book that was my best. I did my best. My best alone, without doing the work of figuring out how to get editors and beta-readers.

Luckily, the feedback and letters and reviews I’ve gotten have moved and surprised me in gorgeous ways! I had no idea that even strangers would like my stories! However, I want to talk about the feedback I’ve gotten that I would have fixed if I’d gotten it before the book was published. (Only two reviewers have given me this feedback but it stands out because I kind of wondered about it before I published the book.)

“My overall idea of the author is that she’s full of life and has so much to share, but maybe not enough self-confidence to focus it into a book with one running theme - .” 

“The author is an excellent writer but this book doesn’t give the impression of professionalism, the overall theme of the stories is vague and they aren’t told in chronological order.”

FUNNY SIDENOTE: So far the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive and even the two that included this “theme” critique were overall positive reviews. But, as I’ve been warned by other authors, it’s this critique that stands out to me as something I want to address.

As a writer of blog posts and articles I know that it’s not generally a good idea to let my feelings get in the way of the truth that a person’s experience of my writing and ideas is completely valid whether I wanted them to have that experience or not. And I’ve gotten really truly good at valuing every single critique or comment without feeling the need to explain myself or offer excuses for my choices. I like conversation too much to want to turn it into “Well, what happened is…”

However, I like sharing experiences and background stories even more! So let me tell you the story of how my book was published a little bit before it was entirely ready, and why I’m so happy that it happened.

What happened is:  

I'm writing a novel and want to take my time (years, I expect) enjoying the process and making certain I do it right. Also, I’ve wanted to have something else published first, for personal (and, I guess, professional) reasons. Someone had commented on one of my stories “Collect articles into a book,” and an idea was planted.

Noticing that I had grown up while writing, a book blossomed. I chose to gather articles and ideas that mature over time exampling, what I call, Intentional Storytelling. This theme in my book stands out, and is unclear, and is deeply true to me. The power of our stories lies in how we tell them. My stories are not chronological, because maturing happens via memories that we understand in new ways as life gives us new perspectives, but they are always told with the intention of discovering beauty and freedom and myself. It is my hope that some readers will be invited to do the same.

And, though I don’t generally like reading collection of story type books myself (with the exception of The Tent by Margaret Atwood), I did love my own. I wanted to share it with people. I started to research what to do next and even wrote a query letter for literary agents and publishers.

That summer my husband won money with a scratch-off lottery ticket and told me that, more than anything, he wanted to help me make my dream come true. (Of course, this was after paying our debts and buying more scratch tickets. Then making my dream come true was what he wanted more than anything! Tee hee!)

I had already been researching various hybrid type publishers and a friend of mine had used Archway Publishing with happy results. So, I made a call and chose the package we could afford, the one without editing and marketing. The process was pretty simple and quite exciting!

My first book was published because my husband wanted to play a role, a role that he would understand, in making my dream came true. It was built because my sons were starting to follow their dreams and I wanted to show them the value of doing it before we're ready. It was also built in order to keep myself going. My main purpose, beyond my hubby and my sons, became having something out there, something I could practice marketing as a product of my own, and something that would help me have a comfortable relationship with feedback and critiques.

Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up is a gift to me, my readers, my family, and my husband.

Especially my husband, who needed to be here on this earth when my dream of publishing a book came true.

This is the story of why my book was published when it was published.

Important to note, I don’t think my book is any more ready or less ready for publication merely based on what others think. It’s the consistent (like I said, twice) feedback that matched my own concern that make me feel like I rushed it.

There are other things “wrong” with the book. The title says nothing about autism or parenting (and there is plenty about autism and parenting in the book!) and the grammar, though it gets better as the book goes on, is never great. There is an annoying typo in the introduction and I would like the book to be a little bit smaller in size. But these are things that I either chose to do on purpose with my own honest meaning, or things I’ll learn to do different next time.

Regarding the not so excellent sentence structure or grammar in the book, I even had this tid-bit in my original query letter: I love the concept of showing that we can all tell our stories with confidence now, rather than waiting until we know exactly how, while highlighting the value in discovering the skills of presentation and storytelling along the way!

So when I’m asked about these issues I’m more than happy to share my reasons! Often people don’t agree with my reasons and often people do. But the thing is, I’m comfortable with them.  

However, the slightly unclear theme of the book (intentional storytelling) is something I was concerned about before publishing and something I could have gotten help with had I taken the time.

Still, though, my book is quite good! I know because I’ve read the reviews! Giggle!

Always we are in a position to consider all of our motivators. In the case of my first book, having it published slightly before it was completely ready even though I had a feeling it might not be completely ready, in order to keep myself going and give my husband the gift of giving me that gift, was absolutely right. Putting my book out into the world moments before it was ready at the same time that I was watching my sons go out into the world moments before they were ready had a delightful symmetry.

A little over a year ago I did something that I wish people wouldn’t do by publishing a book without the aid of editors and beta-readers. But I also did something I wish people would do, by being clear about my motivators and priorities, and publishing a book when the timing was right for me.

I’m deeply happy that I did! 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

*Intentional Storytelling: What I mean by that is nothing unique to me. I'm merely referring to the habit I have of telling the story of my day, my moments, my life, my neighbors, with intention. The intention to prove why it was a good day, what was magical in the moment, how my life is fabulous, what my neighbors do that amazes and intrigues me. This "intention" in my storytelling doesn't make the story of my day any less true, I still tell the story as it happened, but because the narration (in my head and to my family and friends) is intended to discover happiness, goodness, and value, I'm inclined to create, discover, and encourage it in return. This is similar to what so many other people do, I'm sure! I just like to use that name for it.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Autism Answer: It Takes A Village To Abuse A Child

My mom with my sister and me.

"If it takes a village to raise a child, believe me, it takes a village to abuse one." ~A Brilliant Line from the movie Spotlight

My mom was an abused child. Emotionally, physically, and sexually abused. 

I had abuse happen to me. Emotional and sexual. But I was not an abused child. 

The difference was made so clear in that line from the movie. My mom grew up surrounded by abusive grown ups and grown ups who looked the other way, manipulating what they were seeing in order to look away and live with themselves.

Because my mom insisted on breaking the cycle, walking away from abuse, learning and making changes, because of this I was not an abused child. Me and my siblings were given the gifts my mom craved when she was a girl. Unconditional love, brave support, and the absolute certainty that we were important and our lives had value. My mom insisted on giving this gift to me and my sister, and then adopted several kids who did come from abuse. The labels they had were many but my mom peeled them away to reveal children. Just children.

This is powerful to know! Because we all make mistakes as parents, friends, and spouses. We all do things that are abusive or cruel now and then. 

But when we insist on seeing our mistakes clearly and making changes, when we are willing to walk away from people and places that hurt us or our children, we are creating an environment of safety and love. Sure, abuse might happen - bullying, pushing, inappropriate talk or touch, stifling of passions, name calling - but when we are open to seeing these things and making changes or walking away, our children are not "abused" children. 

There are, oh so sadly, children who grow up abused. Beaten, molested, manipulated, told in all kinds of ways that they are worthless and their existence is worse than a waste. I wish with all of my heart this weren't true, but I know that it is. 

But there are many more children who grow up loved and adored, with people who will do whatever it takes to be sure they know that. Grown ups who will do whatever they imagine is right to help these children become successful. Children who have dedicated loved ones that also make mistakes.

Abusing a child is not the same as surrounding a child with love that evolves and makes mistakes.

For any of us who worried that we might have been abusive because of these mistakes, this is powerful to realize.

For those of you who stepped in and loved a child when they were in need of support and kindness - in big ways like my mom did or in small ways as I have done over the years - I hope you know that you made a difference. You planted a seed.

And for those of you who were abused children and then did the painful, rewarding, scary, eye opening work of changing things for your children or for other people's children, 

Thank you. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you! 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

 My mom with with my sister and I.