Discontent can bring forth knowledge if one is willing to mine the disquietude, asking questions about oneself and one's goals and dreams and even capabilities, as well as inabilities and even incompetencies.
I doubt Clint Eastwood’s iconic Harry Callahan will survive the test of time in the same way that Shakespeare’s Richard III has so brilliantly done, but Callahan’s sardonic quip "A man's got to know his limitations" (Magnum Force) segues fittingly on the heels of Richard.
My discontent, indeed, has forced me to square off with my limitations.
Before I go there, let’s backtrack:
It was just about a year ago today that I decided to independently publish my first novel, January Moon.
It was not a decision I made lightly or -- most especially -- desperately. The story itself had been on and off the back burner of my mind for over a decade. I had taken several stabs at putting it to paper but my life's plate was always too full; typically, I hauled around Thanksgiving dinner for twenty on a 10" dinner plate. Brimming over? Hell, try gravy all over the floor...
In fact, chaos became my normal. When I decided to return to college at the age of thirty-nine I was holding down a very responsible and extremely demanding job. I was also a wife and stepmom. I cut myself no slack and carried the maximum class load allowable for a part-time student. I was also insanely driven to excel in school. I sacrificed a lot and so did my family -- a whole lot, actually. After I earned my BA I plowed into grad school and still working full time took on part-time teaching. Looking back I hardly remember those years... and then I became sick and things really spun out of control. Life unraveled.
I worked hard to "ravel" it back up and it took quite awhile; there were other set-backs and days when every step forward seemed to bring with it two backward. My life over the last decade is the stuff of novels but I didn't want to write about those things as much as I wanted to tell the story about January Moon. She had lingered long enough on the back burner of my mind.
In January 2010 something happened that allowed me to write January Moon. Quite simply, it was the first time in my adult life where I had absolutely nothing else to do... I had taken a hiatus from teaching in order to concentrate on building up a small family business when the economy went south. I spent most of '09 trying to weather the economic storm and in January 2010 threw my hands up in frustration. Out of that frustration, while I was trying to come up with Plan B, I began to bang out some short stories -- none of which were ever intended for anyone's reading but my own (they were meant to be purely therapeutic). However, one of them reminded me of the story I had carried around in my heart and head for years and I realized it was the perfect Prologue to wedge open the larger story about January Moon.
January Moon was written in four months and although that seems ridiculously fast it's really not when you remember how long the story had germinated in my mind. In May, while I was still polishing and rewriting and polishing some more, I began the query process. I did so with the belief, based on everything I had heard about the process, that it would take years to get an agent (if at all).
In May 2010 I had every expectation that I would publish traditionally and, in fact, knew absolutely nothing about independent publishing. I emailed 48 queries throughout the month of May and before the end of June had been asked to send substantial samples, and even the entire manuscript, to five interested agencies. In August I gave one of them a 90-day exclusive. Things moved much faster than anticipated.
The query process, however, changed me as an author. As successful as many writers may think it was for me (and I realize that for a newbie author the response back was rather remarkable), I found the entire process ludicrous, counter-productive, archaic, and (the real deal killer for me) horrifically demeaning.
I found I don't do "grovel and toady" very well and the one thing an author must do to become traditionally published is grovel and toady. In any event, I've written elsewhere about my experiences and consequent opinions about what remains of traditional publishing and won't go into more detail here. Suffice to say, I very quickly decided that I wasn't willing to pay the tolls on the highway to traditional publishing.
To be honest, independent publishing is exciting and rewarding and I enjoyed every detail. Working with an artist for an eBook cover as well as a print cover was a lot of fun. I chose Create Space for my print book and couldn’t be happier with the results. I built a web page, developed a Facebook presence, and even began to tweet on Twitter (although I had sworn that I would never deign to bother with a media that restricted one to 140 characters!). I also published political commentary and created my own blog for writing about my fiction and I think I began to develop something of a platform or at least some name recognition. January Moon has received wonderful reviews; I’ve been compared to the great Michael Connolly, had some fun giving radio interviews and print interviews, and worked with a pro to make a really sharp, compelling movie trailer. All this within a year… whew!
I also started to write March Storm, the sequel to January Moon.
This past year has been incredible; it’s been one of the most exciting years of my life – but the greatest reward of all has been the joy of meeting you and all those others just like you.
January Moon and my other writings, whether on Facebook, this blog, the Pragmatic Progressive Forum, or OpEdNews or other places, connected me to thousands of wonderful people. Incredibly, many of those people – readers and people I’d dare to even call “avid fans,” as well as many talented authors – have become dear friends, some of whom I’ve even had the pleasure to meet and know on a personal level. All of these social media channels, as well as my book and blogging, have also reconnected to me family and old friends.
This has been a most transformative year. It has been a wonderful year!
Why then do I say I’m in the summer of my discontent? Well, let’s remember Harry Callahan’s words that "A man's got to know his limitations."
I’ve learned that while there are many, many things I truly love about being an author, including marketing myself and my work, there is nothing I love as much as the act of writing itself. I mean serious writing – as in novels. Blogging is fun and writing short pieces for publication about history and politics is also fun (and a great release for my frustrations about the state of the union) but I want to write books.
Lots and lots of books.
And (now here’s the rub) I don’t write anything well when I’m writing a lot of things all over the place. This summer I’ve been writing for a local paper, blogging here, tackling a project I have for a history book I want to write (Daylight & Déjà vu), writing March Storm, posting on Facebook, tweeting, granting interviews, trying to stay ahead of marketing and promotion for January Moon, and all those other things that seem to be so necessary.
And I’m not happy with the results of any of it. I envy the writers I know who work simultaneously on multiple books, write their blogs, design their own covers, and find time to hold down other jobs, raise kids, donate blood and milk cows. I know they’re out there: I’ve met them. I once was one of them a decade or so ago – I know the art of juggling, multi-tasking, and running marathons. I could do everything they do save for one thing: write fiction.
I have no idea why but I can’t write fiction and do ten other things. When it comes to writing fiction all I can say is that it’s all or nothing. Once I throw myself into a book I need to totally disappear into it and can’t do anything else.
And right now there is nothing I want to do more than finish March Storm. I want to do it more than write this blog or for any other blog. I want to do it more than read the news or rant about it on Facebook. I want to do it more than even promoting January Moon.
There’s a genuine (and probably quite valid) belief that authors need to constantly self-promote themselves and they need to do so through a variety of means such as aggressive blogging and various other tools built around social networking and building relationships. I don’t doubt this is true for a minute.
I just can’t do it right now.
Therefore, this will be my last blog entry for quite awhile (BTW: there are a lot of quirky things about this damn E-blogger that are making me bats – as an example, today it released an old post and sent it to everyone on this blog’s email list and I have NO idea why it did that… it’s done it before and it’s nuts. Perhaps I’ll deal with it, perhaps I won’t… it’s a huge waste of time to try to problem solve it because there are NO live people at Google to help me solve the problem and anyway… I want to write March Storm, remember?).
So, later ’gators… I’ll post updates on Facebook and Twitter but the Windy City Author blog is taking a rest… and when I bring it back, expect it to be quite different.
God bless you all… ~mick