And the Oscar goes to..

Imagine for a moment you’re watching the Oscars for best lead actress. Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry, Anne Hathaway, and Drew Barrymore sit in fine gowns, hands on their laps, maybe biting their lip, or maybe concentrating on whatever deity helps them persevere. Every brow is knitted, waiting for the moment when the seal is broken, the contents revealed. One of them gasps, their eyes going wide, adrenaline seizing them despite their fine control of the human condition.

That was how I felt on Monday.

It’s true, I didn’t win a prestigious award, but I got the call from my publisher, informing me that my book is live on Amazon. I also knew this distinction was in the pipe, that it was just a matter of time before the deed was done. It didn’t matter. All the foreknowledge in the world did not stop me from feeling like I’d won some amazing prize. My hard work vindicated, my life’s goal achieved. I shook like a leaf. I know it’s silly, but it’s true. It was real.

I was unprepared for the well wishes, the support, and the general celebratory air. I was also unprepared for all the extra work. As a first time author, there were just a few items that you should do, but since they aren’t necessary to do, I didn’t realize them until people began asking me questions like, “Where’s your Good Reads account?”

Good Reads, Amazon, and Facebook all offer ways to make yourself accessible as an author. They all have different ways to determine your authentic author status, Facebook being rather negligible, but GR and Amazon having fair practices. They are easy websites to navigate. If you are mildly technically savvy and know what a blog, a profile picture, and a URL are, you’re set. There are tutorial tabs and slideshows for how to connect one site to another. It takes a few minutes to get everything set up, but I believe it’s a wise few minutes spent.  Here’s an example of my Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/author/tinashelton

I have also discovered that despite the growing number of people buying e-readers, the interest in print books is not going away any time soon. I had twice as many people want a print book over an e-book when given the option, despite the e-book’s price being considerably lower. It’s catching on, but I don’t know if I’d call for a panic about losing the printed word quite yet.

All this in the face of starting a brand new job, and catching a cold besides. Even if Anne Hathaway deserves the Oscar for her performance as Catwoman, she’s still got to get up in the morning and get to the studio for Rio 2. The show goes on, after all.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

In the river of life there are long, straight, wide streams to float along, and then sometimes there are white water rapids.

And me without my kayak.

I had the opportunity over this summer to be unemployed. I realize that’s an odd way of putting it, but you can see unemployment as an opportunity or a burden, and I’d already chosen the burden route. I refused to be beaten down again.

This spate of unemployment lasted three months. (Which suggests that the economy is improving, if only to me.) During that time I took a “finished’ manuscript and edited the living hell out of it. I read words that I wrote three years ago, and formulated them into more polished sentences. I kept the superstructure of the piece unchanged, but honed the story so that it sounded less like a collegiate creative writing piece and more like a professional-level novel.

I sent the work off to my publisher, who was in the process of moving offices across the country. I knew that would cut into my turn around time, but I could afford to be patient. After all, I would end up published, which was what I’ve been waiting for all of my life.

Today, I got an email from my publisher. My book officially has an ISBN! This is an obscure but necessary step, taking a lowly Word document and allowing it to metamorphose into a brilliantly beautiful novel! For those who don’t know, the ISBN is the International Standard Book Number, and it’s how retailers can track your sales/inventory/income. Without it, no book store can find your work, or sell your work.

I shook when I read the email. When I saw the numbers. It was real. In less than a week my work will be released on the world, to stand or fall as it will.

Yesterday I was offered an official position as a software support specialist for a local company. I took it, of course. At the end of the day I need to support my family, and while I have high hopes that my book will become an International Best Seller and on the New York Time’s Best Seller list, I also know that it might not be this book that accomplishes that goal.

It will be hard, adjusting to the forty hour a week demands of a ‘real job.’ However, there is one thing that I’ve learned in these three months. I’m a writer, and no matter what my day job is, I’m not going to to give that up.

As seductive as ice cream and as fattening, too.

Before I had a publisher lined up, I was just another writer. I had great ideas, although more often than not, it would be warped into a plotline for a role playing game. I loved storytelling, for the same reason I love telling my son bedtime stories; instant gratification. My words meet friend’s ears, and characters react immediately, often in ways I couldn’t predict. Keeping in mind that I’ve gamed with some of my friends for over fifteen years. You’d think predictability would come, the way it can sneak into a relationship, but when character meets peril, all those smart things you’d think you’d do during the Zombpocalypse slip away like ghosts in the trees, and you’re left wearing a pink tutu and singing Jumpin’ Jack Flash without being sure why.

I can no longer hide behind my “writer” shield. As my friend Chris told me yesterday, “We all knew this was going to happen eventually.” As though my place among the paperbacks was foretold, and merely waiting for me to pluck my destiny free of the stone it was stabbed through. I am floundering a bit, in this strange world of becoming. My story is in the hands of my publisher, but it is in process. I have decisions to make now in regards to when I am published. Do I get an audio book? Do I look into making my e-book available in paper? What’s the next story on the table?

It was easy to stop and look at the top of the mountain and wonder what I would see when I got to the top. It is much harder to look out upon the land beneath me, and pick what I want to do next. A life’s goal is a big deal, and I think sometimes makes a great paper shield to hide behind when we have few defenses. Now I’m not sure what happens next. There won’t be a book tour because there are no paper books. At least, not yet. And I’m not positive what will happen when my book is finally released. There are more unanswered questions now than when I first wondered what becoming an author would be like.

Now that I have stepped on the path, I keep waiting to be graced with this knowledge. It’s seductive to step off the path and go back to where I started from. I’d only pass this way again, in an endless loop. It seems forward is the only way to go from here.

Off the trail, into the unknown

Our world is a world of stories.

Stories to teach, stories to entertain, stories to make sense of the world, and stories to create it. Everything is a story, but what stories we pay attention to matter the most.

I tell my son stories almost every night when I put him to bed. It’s a duty I share with my husband (and I will never call it a chore.) Sometimes I lean on the written word, but that was by recommendation of his teachers, who told us it would help with his literacy. Most nights, though, I enjoy spinning tales for him and watching his reactions.

I’m so glad I have this instantaneous feedback. Nothing is as rewarding as a gasp of surprise or a chiming laugh as I catch him off guard with some bit of humor. His eyes get big, he leans in very close, and he’s quick to ask questions if something wasn’t clear enough or if he simply wants to know more. My son is a parrot – I know I will be hearing bits and pieces of my tale the next day over breakfast. What he pays attention to is important, and I notice.

His instant feedback is one of the best ways to remind me why I love storytelling so much. It gives me what I need to sit down, day after day, and put words on a page. Everyone has a book in their head somewhere, stories of characters they love, rattling around, chapters unfinished and scenes firmly envisioned. It isn’t as easy as it looks, though, and it takes a lot of patience, fortitude, and sometimes suffering to get a book translated from brainpan to word processing software. (Or paper, but eventually it all becomes electronic format.) It took three years to take The Corsican from request to .pdf, and with luck it will make it to Amazon this month.

Even now, with more time than I’ve ever had before to write, I’m still struggling with being a student and a mother besides. I am constantly trying to keep up with my grades, my son’s needs, and my other duties. I am quick to apologize for spending my time writing when there are other things to be done, and there are always other things to be done.

It is hard to be a writer. The competition is legion, the hours wonky, the pay chancy. It’s a fringe job, like styling oneself an artist. People are comfortable asking you to do for free what professionals charge handsome fees for, “for your portfolio.” The bottom of the pile is a raggedy heap of hopefuls, who either cling to you for support or despise you for being alive, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

I know what I’m doing is risky, but the love of the word rests within me, and I’ve already denied it for too long. I have to keep trying, and work hard, and tell myself that the risk is worth it. I have to stop apologizing for my dreams and just stay strong in the face of all the distractions and life’s demands. I can’t give up now; not with the first taste of victory so fresh on my tongue.