Published every way: An interview with author Denise Deegan

Sandra Hutchison interviews multi-published Irish author Denise Deegan (who also publishes women’s fiction as Aimee Alexander).

Denise, in terms of being published you’ve moved from traditional to indie to Lake Union (as Aimee Alexander) and back to indie again. Quite an adventure! Can you share some of your ups and downs?

So, I had seven novels traditionally published, four contemporary works of women’s fiction, followed by a YA trilogy. By the time the last YA novel was published, the rights to my women’s fiction works had reverted to me. I thought that self-publishing would be an adventure, so I renamed myself Aimee Alexander (my children’s names combined), edited my books afresh, renamed them, hired a cover designer, and uploaded to Amazon. One of those novels, The Accidental Life of Greg Millar, was spotted by Amazon imprint Lake Union Publishing and then republished by them. My latest novel, Through the Barricades, is self-published.

Being traditionally published and having your novels translated into other languages is exciting. However, I love the control that comes with self-publishing. You choose your own covers, you do your own promotion, you see the results of that promotion immediately, and you can adapt with great flexibility. Importantly, you have a much higher royalty rate. You are an entrepreneur as well as an author. Having run my own PR business, all of this appeals very much to me. I like juggling different roles, working with different people, being creative in lots of ways, not just writing.

Being picked up by Lake Union Publishing was tremendously exciting because it came out of the blue. They approached me unexpectedly. I was aware of them; I had seen their books on Amazon. I loved their covers and their books. Mostly I loved their rankings! Being published by them was a treat. Their editing was wonderful, as was the cover they designed. They have been a pleasure to deal with. And they know their business.

I still have an agent and a manager in LA for my children’s and YA books. The market for children’s books is still very traditional.

I self-published my latest novel, Through the Barricades. 2016 was the centenary of a revolution that changed the course of Irish history. I wanted to get my story out before the end of the year. The fastest way was self-publishing. I just about made it. The book was published December 8. One of the highlights so far has been the cover, which I adore. That my daughter Aimee graces it makes the book all the more special to me.

As you note, you’ve published in multiple genres. Do you have any wisdom to impart on that?

Traditional wisdom states that authors should stick to a genre to build an audience. I had written four novels of contemporary women’s fiction. I didn’t plan to change. However, the next story that arrived to me was a teenage one. When I say arrived, I mean that I began to hear the characters’ voices in my head (which is how I’ve always written). The first conversation I heard was between sixteen-year-old Alex and her father. Alex’s voice was filled with rage, sarcasm but also a vulnerability that I couldn’t ignore. I scribbled that first dialogue onto a napkin in a coffee shop. Alex’s story became And By The Way, the first of The Butterfly Novels, a contemporary YA trilogy. I have since written a historical novel of love and revolution that is suitable for both adult and teenagers. I also have two novels with an agent, a YA thriller and a middle-grade pirate adventure.

The first thing I would say is that my novels are very strong on voice and emotion, no matter what genre they are in. That is because I hear and feel my characters. I become them as I write. If I ignored that process and stuck diligently to a genre, I would lose the realness of my stories. It would all become clinical and prescriptive, and my novels would, too. Then I would lose the desire to write.

A wonderful thing happened when I followed the teenage voices of Alex, Sarah, and Rachel. They really touched people. Girls began to get in touch on social media to say how they had connected with the books and characters. They spoke of how much they had learned from the issues that arose in the stories. They told me that they had read them over and over, wanted them made into movies, movies in which they would star. The reaction of teenagers to my books has touched me hugely and reminded me of why I write. I love what I do. If I changed how I do it, a little part of me would die. And I like living!

What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

The absolute thing I would say is: get your stories out to the world. Make them the best they can be. Hire professional editors. Learn the craft. Because it is a craft. Then get your stories out. Do not be stopped by the middlemen. If you can’t get an agent or publisher, do it yourself. The New York Times bestsellers list always includes self-published books. These are books that were not picked up by middlemen. Therefore they don’t always know a winner when they see it. And they will admit that themselves. Still Alice and The Martian were self-published, picked up by traditional publishers, and turned into movies. Why? Because the authors got their stories out to the world.

...get your stories out. Do not be stopped by the middlemen. -- Denise Deegan Click To Tweet

 What inspired your most recent novel?

Through the Barricades is a story of love and revolution. I’m a rebel at heart. If you want me to do something, tell me I can’t do it. I wanted to write a story of rebellion. Being Irish is an important part of my identity. My country’s history is one of oppression and a very long struggle for freedom. I wanted to tell that story through the eyes of Maggie, an idealistic girl who is prepared to sacrifice everything for what she believes in, and Daniel, a boy who is prepared to sacrifice everything for Maggie. I’m proud of my country’s history – its fight, not just for freedom, but to hold on to its identity, its stories and culture. I love this novel. More than any other, it is who I am.

What’s your number one hope for what your readers will get out of it?

I hope that people will connect with my characters, not just Maggie and Daniel, but their families and friends. I want them to feel as if they are right beside these ordinary people as they struggle in extraordinary circumstances for what they believe in.

I also very much want to share the story of a regiment of Irish soldiers that was stationed in Gallipoli in WWI. Researching (and writing about) this, I felt an incredible connection to the young men who fought and died in the trenches in Turkey.

What most surprised you in the writing of your book?

  • The connection I felt with soldiers in WWI, especially as I hadn’t originally planned to write about the Great War
  • How history is interpreted differently by people
  • The unplanned characters who stole into the book and built roles for themselves: a little orphan girl, Lily; Patrick, the rebel with a tough shell but soft center; and Michael, Daniel’s happy-go-lucky friend who grew up fast in Gallipoli but whose humor was so important in the trenches.

Tell us more about you and your book and where we can find it.

I’m an optimist. I find good in bad, light in darkness, and humor in difficult times. There’s something very Irish about that and it filters into the book. Though life in the trenches was appalling, humor was ever-present among the Irish soldiers. In a way, it defined them.

Family is hugely important to me. This comes across in all my books. Author Martina Reilly, who kindly attributed a quote on Through the Barricades commented: “The pieces written about the trenches in the First World War were really moving, as was the devotion Maggie’s family had to each other.”

I started life as a nurse. Medical issues always find their way into my books. Through the Barricades was no exception.

You can find Through the Barricades in paperback and ebook formats on Amazon.

About the author

Denise Deegan lives in Dublin with her family where she regularly dreams of sunshine, a life without cooking and her novels being made into movies.

She has been a nurse, a china restorer, a pharmaceutical sales rep, a public relations officer, an entrepreneur and a college lecturer. Her most difficult job was checkout girl, though ultimately this ‘experience’ did inspire a short story.

Denise’s books have been published by Penguin, Random House, Hachette and Lake Union Publishing. Her novels for Young Adults include The Butterfly Novels: And By The Way, And For Your Information, and And Actually.

Denise writes women’s fiction as Aimee Alexander. Her titles have become international best-sellers on Kindle and include: Pause to Rewind, The Accidental Life of Greg Millar, and All We Have Lost.

Learn more at https://denisedeegan.wordpress.com/about-denise/

Book Blurb

She was willing to sacrifice everything for her country. He was willing to sacrifice everything for her. 

“Make a difference in the world” are the last words Maggie Gilligan’s father ever says to her. They form a legacy that she carries in her heart years later when, at the age of fifteen, she tries to better the lives of Dublin’s largely forgotten poor.

“Don’t go getting distracted, now,” is what Daniel Healy’s father says to him after seeing him talking to the same Maggie Gilligan. Daniel is more than distracted. He is intrigued. Never has he met anyone as dismissive, argumentative… as downright infuriating.

A dare from Maggie is all it takes. Daniel volunteers at a food kitchen. There, his eyes are opened to the plight of the poor. It is 1913 and Dublin’s striking workers have been locked out of their jobs. Their families are going hungry. Daniel and Maggie do what they can. Soon, however, Maggie realizes that the only way to make a difference is to take up arms.

The story of Maggie and Daniel is one of friendship, love, war and revolution, of two people who are prepared to sacrifice their lives: Maggie for her country, Daniel for Maggie. Their mutual sacrifices put them on opposite sides of a revolution. Can their love survive?

Sandy’s note: It’s also very affordable right now if you buy it for Kindle at amazon.com.

Follow Denise Deegan on

Twitter: https://twitter.com/denisedeegan

Website:  https://denisedeegan.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/denise.deegan.3

Happy New Year!

If you’re local, hope you can join me and Christian women’s fiction author Elaine Stock at the Sand Lake Town Library this Saturday, Jan. 7, 1-2:30 pm.

two-authors-1-correct-date

Elaine and I are both members of the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association. This is a young and welcoming group that embraces both published and aspiring authors, traditionally published or self-published. You get access to courses, contests, feedback, and discussion, including opportunities to network with agents and published authors. I think it’s a great organization to belong to if your fiction falls into that genre at all.

Also, you might enjoy a blog post I recently wrote for Women Writers, Women’s Books, called “Why Won’t (Insert Name Here) Read My Book?” It’s about the inevitable painful realization all published writers have that not everybody they know and love wants to read their books. (I know, shocking, right?)

This coming year I plan to interview a number of other authors, and will also poke my head in occasionally with new stuff on my own front, but mostly I’m challenging myself to write the next novel a whole lot faster than I have in the past.

I need to, since after this winter it will be time to go back to full-time work. As I contemplate a future without Obamacare, I don’t see any responsible way around it — and that’s okay, since there are plenty of other things I like to do besides writing — and, frankly, every single one of them pays better.

Hope this finds you well. I wish you a wonderful year of reading and (if it’s your thing) writing! Onward!

Bringing a long-dead missionary to life (despite myself)

Last year I was asked by a friend to write a short monologue for Jessie Fremont Traver Moore, a woman who’d spent most of her adult life as a missionary in Assam, India. It was for an original theater experience in the Sand Lake (NY) Town Cemetery called Amazing Graves. It featured monologues from a number of the cemetery’s dead residents to benefit the Sand Lake Town Library, where I used to be a trustee.

Since I had inveigled this friend into taking my spot on said board of trustees when I left town, I owed her. And of course I was happy to support the library.

Except…was she kidding? She wanted ME to write from the point of view of a Baptist missionary?

My Episcopal church family knows I’m a faithful parishioner but not a very pious one. I would rate myself a 1 out of 10 on ability to earnestly participate in spontaneous prayer. I’m mostly silent in group discussion of scripture. My evangelism consists of suggesting we have free bread and coffee and conversation on Saturday mornings and advocating in a more general way for justice and mercy.

As the product page on Amazon notes, it discusses faith, but those who require piety in such matters will not like it. Skeptics will probably be able to cope.

As the product page on Amazon notes, it discusses faith, but those who require piety in such matters will not like it. Skeptics will probably be able to cope.

If there are moments in my novels that suggest Christian belief might not be pointless or ridiculous — THE AWFUL MESS comes to mind — I try very hard not to bash anyone over the head with it.

Maybe this arises from an agnostic childhood. To this day my birth family finds my beliefs peculiar. And, even as a believer, I’m on the skeptical end of the spectrum. A lot of Christian rituals strike me as deeply cultural (and patriarchal and superstitious) ways of sharing the fundamental message of God’s love. I suspect I feel at home in the Episcopal tradition mostly because it’s so Anglican (yep, I’m an English major) and because the national church is decidedly liberal.

Even so, I don’t believe Episcopal practice is inherently superior to any other faith tradition that preaches love and forgiveness instead of hate and exclusion. Including non-Christian traditions.

I have attended Baptist services and Methodist services and Congregationalist services. I have also attended Christian and Missionary Alliance services, where missionary work truly is the focus of that congregation’s outreach. But whenever people talk about missionaries, I automatically wonder what the native people think of these white people coming in and trying to win their souls for Christ. Especially given some pretty brutal, imperialistic history connected to those efforts.

So I was leery of Jessie Fremont Traver Moore. But she surprised me.

She was named Fremont after an abolitionist candidate for President who lost. So in her family there wasn’t any of that blindness to the evils of slavery and of racism that we tend to associate with American Evangelicals today — not that this is necessarily fair.

And what a woman Traver Moore was! She left published journals behind, some of which her descendant in town loaned me, and another of which I found on Google, so I got to hear her official version of her life. I had to read between the lines for the unofficial version, of course, but there were hints of it there. (I never got the feeling Mrs. Moore suffered fools gladly.)

Here’s a woman who trained in seminary and crossed the globe multiple times by sea (the last time right as WWI broke out), going into regions where poverty and disease were rampant. In Nowgong, the village where she and her husband based their work, the Moores learned the native language, translated books to it, published them, and taught in it. The school they started there is still educating students today.

You can read the entire short monologue (which got a few edits from the descendant, Dee Erickson), but this is my favorite part:

Diane Doring portraying Jessie Fremont Traver Moore as part of Amazing Graves, 30 Oct. 2016 in Sand Lake, New York.

Diane Doring portraying Jessie Fremont Traver Moore as part of Amazing Graves, 30 Oct. 2016 in Sand Lake, New York.

In Assam we not only brought many Assamese to Christ, we started a school that eventually was educating over 100 girls, Hindus and Muslims as well as Christians. We participated in the civic life of Nowgong, and I counted many lovely Hindu and Muslim ladies among my acquaintance, even those who did not feel compelled to accept Jesus despite my best efforts to share the Good News with them over tea in their homes. In my diaries – which, by the way, I published — I remarked how I nonetheless hoped I would see them in heaven.

Now, I would forgive you for thinking at this point that since I have clearly passed already I could tell you whether I have met with those lovely ladies in heaven, but I’m afraid I have not been authorized to reveal any information about what comes next. We who are dead leave all that gazing into mirrors darkly to you.

You might be interested to read the other monologues, too. I’d start with the introduction and then follow the gravestone links for each. It was fascinating to see how the Rent Wars in particular foreshadowed some debates we’re still having today. (If you don’t think who you vote for ever matters, read this.)

A BARDWELL’S FOLLY update

cover of Bardwell's Folly by Sandra HutchisonThe Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of BARDWELL’S FOLLY is up on NetGalley for most of November, and reviewers are welcome to request a copy. I’m not actually the person who decides who gets these, but if you are a blogger or reviewer who might potentially give the book some play, you should be approved (if not, let me know!).

My pub date of November 29 sure is coming up fast. Too fast, really, since the end of the semester and Christmas are also racing into view. If you want me to reserve a signed author copy for you, please do let me know so I can get it to you before Christmas. And if you’d like to attend a reading or a launch party, let me know that, too, through any channel.

 

 

 

 

Writing while white: Embracing diversity or appropriating culture?

By Sandra Hutchison

In interesting timing for me, the white author Lionel Shriver just caused an uproar at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival for rebuking the liberal left for sometimes condemning the “cultural appropriation” of other ethnic groups in fiction. As she puts it:

In the latest ethos, which has spun well beyond college campuses in short order, any tradition, any experience, any costume, any way of doing and saying things, that is associated with a minority or disadvantaged group is ring-fenced: look-but-don’t-touch. Those who embrace a vast range of “identities” – ethnicities, nationalities, races, sexual and gender categories, classes of economic under-privilege and disability – are now encouraged to be possessive of their experience and to regard other peoples’ attempts to participate in their lives and traditions, either actively or imaginatively, as a form of theft.

She mentions, for example, criticism of Chris Cleave for writing from the point of view of young Nigerian immigrant girl in LITTLE BEE (which I loved). The full text of her speech is available at that link above and it’s well worth reading.

497finalbaskervilleversionMy ears pricked up because my next novel, BARDWELL’S FOLLY, gets into that discussion. It obviously commits the offense in question, too, since it includes African American characters. Protagonist Dori’s white father wrote a bestselling novel about slavery years ago, but Dori and a black character, Maya, travel into his past and uncover something unexpected about what inspired him.

It really angers Maya, and I think her frustration is entirely reasonable. As she puts it:

Maybe I’d like to see some other beautiful books about the human condition get a little more air. Some that aren’t written by white people. Some that might actually be about an authentic black experience.

On the other hand, as Shriver points out, if condemnation of cultural appropriation is taken to its extreme, no one could ever write a character of another race, another gender, another economic class, another location, another era. Basically, all we’d be left with is memoir. Careful, inoffensive memoir.

Which would mean we never got HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Or TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD,  THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, THE INVENTION OF WINGS. Most of Faulkner, racially problematic as it may be. Lots of novels, poof. Gone.

Do we really want to go there?

Aren’t white people who’ve read those books more likely to pick up AMERICANAH, or THE COLOR PURPLE, or THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, or THE INVISIBLE MAN, or BELOVED, and so many others? Aren’t they more likely to consider issues of fairness and justice and the history behind today’s debates? (Which, frankly, is alarmingly reminiscent of the George Wallace era I grew up in.)

Also, why should it be politically incorrect for me to wrestle in good faith with something that’s been a significant part of my existence on this planet, just because I’m the wrong color?

I was born in Florida in 1960. I remember watching the Rev. Martin Luther King’s funeral on TV. I remember my white parents expressing regret that they hadn’t thought twice about segregation before the Civil Rights movement. I remember the arguments in our neighborhood about desegregation in Hillsborough County, and the first day of school in August of 1971 when some angry whites threw rocks at our court-ordered bus as it made its way from the white suburbs to a black neighborhood in Tampa. I remember my best friend suddenly disappearing into private school. I remember having a nervous stomach-ache every morning before leaving for the bus stop.

I also remember that year as a great blessing. That’s also how I remember every year after that when I was privileged to attend integrated schools or live in integrated areas or attend integrated churches or teach in integrated classrooms. (It didn’t always happen. I’ve also lived in some very white places. And I won’t claim that marrying a white Puerto Rican counts as integration, either.)

The thing is, it’s much harder to hate or fear or hold idiotic beliefs about a whole group once you know enough individuals in it as friends and neighbors and students and colleagues and fellow parishioners and perhaps even members of your family.

A lot of Americans never really have that opportunity. They may actively avoid it, out of fear, or they don’t seek it out because they don’t know how illuminating it can be. Or they live in a very white area. And even in people of good will, that lack of personal knowledge creates enormous potential for racist stereotypes to take root.

Surely the empathy that arises from reading good fiction with diverse characters can help avoid that? No matter what color the author may be?

In BARDWELL’S FOLLY, Dori has grown up largely cut off from the diversity of the larger world. She’s not intentionally racist. Her Southern-born parents weren’t intentionally racist. Her father wrote that Pulitzer-Prize-winning book about slavery – not that she’s impressed. She’s burdened with her own resentments, and she also suffers from youth and ignorance. As the daughter of a famous author, she also has just enough name recognition to get herself in trouble for it.

This is a novel about family secrets and lies, about public shaming, about cultural appropriation and authenticity, and about the ties that bind us or break us apart. Ultimately, I hope, it’s about the redemption that can come when we seek out the truth about each other, even if we can never really know all of it.

Without any African-American characters, this novel couldn’t exist. I suppose it could have been slimmed down to basic small town women’s fiction. I’ve always written in that category. But I’ve always wanted more chew on than just a bunch of relationships. I’m thinking about faith and gay rights in THE AWFUL MESS. I’m thinking about sexual politics and how we treat rape victims in THE RIBS AND THIGH BONES OF DESIRE. And I’m thinking about cultural appropriation and race and poverty in BARDWELL’S FOLLY.

I knew I was living a little dangerously. I sure as hell sought the feedback of African-American friends in the hope of avoiding any terrible missteps.

hot-new-release-in-african-american-literature-2And yes, I know there’s an element of irony here: White author publishes novel in which white appropriation of a black experience is one of the themes, tags it “African American,” and the pre-order promptly shows up in the “Hot and Trending New Releases” list of African-American literature, quite possibly bumping an African-American author off the list.

I know. I get it. Sorry.

Not completely sorry, though, because I’d still really like you to read my book.

Genre crossing: Interview with indie author Lisa Ann (AKA Lisa Arrington)

Sandra Hutchison interviews an author who crosses two very different genres

Lisa ArringtonLisa, first you wrote a couple of YA science fiction novels, “Quake” and “Aftershock,” as Lisa Arrington. Then you began a series in African-American paranormal erotic romance, using the author name Lisa Ann. I’m going to guess there are good reasons to keep an erotica author’s name separate from a Young Adult author name, but I’m curious how workable you’ve found that. Does it ever get awkward?

I wanted to keep some separation between my YA identity and my new erotica identity. I would hate for a young reader to think that I released a new book for their age group, and I would hate even more receiving an angry letter from a parent! Thankfully it’s been easy so far, but it’s only been a year, so “Lisa Ann” is still a newborn if you think about it.

As I googled “Lisa Ann” in preparation for this interview, I discovered that’s also the name of a porn actress! Did you know that going in? Has that created any special challenges for you, or does it help?

Oh God! No, I did not know that, I honestly used my first and middle name. With such a common name (as my mother so nicely put it the other day), I’m sure this isn’t a new thing. And who knows, maybe it will help us both out.

You helped me out recently by reading the manuscript of my next novel, which has a number of African-American characters in it. What do you think are some pitfalls white authors who attempt to write black characters can fall into?

I think that if the author doesn’t have black friends or do research they fall back on stereotypes a lot. Or not write them in at all.

I notice that your erotica gets marketed as African-American but your YA titles do not. I know that’s hardly an apples-to-apples comparison, but do you sense that it changes the equation to label your niche African-American?

To be honest, I categorized my paranormal-romance African-American because after reading several books that revolved around Motorcycle Clubs, I hadn’t found one that had any African-American characters or, if it did, they were depicted as stereotypical thugs. I wanted to write a book that had strong African-American characters that could overcome the same problems and fall in love the same way, and I wanted to give relatable characters to African-American readers. It really had nothing to do with my YA book or sales.

I know you read a lot — probably more than I do! Which authors out there have inspired you the most in your personal writing journey?

I wish I was reading as much as I used to. I read everything from “Pride and Prejudice” to “Twilight.” I would say that Linda Howard, Lisa Jackson and Janet Evanovich made me a bigger fan of reading than I already was. And friends like Stacey Lynn and Lee Gjertsen-Malone inspired me to even try to find my own voice.

What has been the most challenging thing about your indie publishing career? What about the most rewarding?

The most challenging, hands down, is doing it on my own as an Indie author. Luckily, I have learned from my mistakes and now have a small team of people I trust to help me through the process. The most rewarding is always hitting that “publish now” button.

I know from our online friendship that you’ve faced personal challenges with a physical disability. How does that impact your writing?

I battle fibromyalgia and it makes it hard to be “on” when I need to be. Like right now, I’ve had a scene going through my head for the past couple of days but just thinking about picking up my laptop was too exhausting. Or I have “fibro fog” days, days when I can’t remember my address, let alone what my characters are up to.

What are your future writing and publishing plans, and what would be the fulfillment of all your dreams as an author?

In my Microsoft OneNote I have twelve notebooks for future stories/series and am constantly adding to it. I plan to keep writing as long as I am physically able and as long as people want to hear from me, which I hope is a very long time. What would be the fulfillment of all my dreams? I don’t know. My dream of becoming an author already came true.

More about Lisa Ann
ROSELisa is a stay-at-home mom by day and as a writer by night. She attended a local technical college and received an associate’s degree in computers, which she put right to use. Lisa lives in Southern Arizona with her two sons and, when not writing, can be found curled up on her favorite chair with Kindle in hand, reviewing books for her blog, chauffeuring the boys around town for basketball games, or playing Game of War on her phone.

She loves the color blue, can’t get enough Arrow or Castle, loves Junior Mints, can’t live without coffee, and will forever be in a power struggle over the big screen TV with her youngest.

Lisa reports that Riders of Sins Eternal has been a bestseller in African-American Romance and is available exclusively on Amazon.com.

Learn more about Lisa at:

QuakeHer blog: http://lisaawritesreads.com/

Via email: lisa@lisaawritesreads.com

Twitter: @lisaawrites

Google+: LisaAlisaawrites

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lisaawrites/

Updates, Kobo deal, Goodreads giveaway

Bardwell’s Folly

BardwellsFollylibreblur200x309“Bardwell’s Folly” has been read by five beta readers now, and thanks to that feedback I’m making some good revisions.  I’m hopeful this version will be done by the end of the week. Then it goes to my fussiest beta readers in the hope they will throw in some proofreading, too. Then it’s into Kindle Scout, unless I chicken out and just put it up for pre-order. I did stick a toe in the water with regular querying (if a tweet and one query count), but my heart just wasn’t in it.

The Awful Mess

This week I finalized a new (or, actually, old, re-imagined) cover for the ebook edition of “The Awful Mess” because Amazon won’t allow me to advertise with a nude-ish person on the cover. (They also refuse anything with blood, I’m told by author Julie Frayn.) Now I just have to upload the new cover and update, like, everything. (Actually, the paperback will retain its lovely and striking and not exactly prurient Damonza.com cover — and I did lean heavily for inspiration on an option he’d given me back in the day, when I’d asked for something with those rocks as well as an original option.)

Evolution of a coverOf course, having made that decision, I finally got an offer to do something interesting  just because it’s a SELF-e Select title, so I might hold off on trying it in Kindle Select until after then. I’m still going to change the cover, though. For all I know, that’s why BookBub keeps turning it down lately.

Speaking of Self-e, why Amazon considers a program that gives curated indie ebooks to libraries free as infringing on Kindle Select is beyond me. If I were them, I’d be happy to see my indie authors building a library readership, especially since SELF-e books now include buy links.

SPECIAL DEAL FOR KOBO READERS: Use code 50Jun through June 27 (midnight EST — that’s coming up fast, of course) to save half off “The Awful Mess” and many other indie titles.

And next up?

For the next book I keep stalling out on my original plan. I’m thinking of returning to Lawson, New Hampshire instead. They do say series are the way to go. I’ve had a story in mind that would offer interesting challenges to Winslow and Mary, one related to issues that sometimes arise over immigration in small town New England. And Annie Soper deserves a love story. But I’m just beginning to flesh those ideas out.

A Goodreads giveaway of “The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire”

While you wait for a new book, you or your reading friends might want to sign up to enter the Goodreads giveaway of an autographed paperback of “The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire.”

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire by Sandra Hutchison

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire

by Sandra Hutchison

Giveaway ends July 09, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Called? To what?

Is writing a vocation or just something we like to do?

By Sandra Hutchison

Religious people are used to the concept of someone being “called” to vocation — priests and ministers are supposed to be answering a call, as are deacons, monks, nuns, and so on. The call, one hopes, comes from God.

I’ve often wondered how that feels. Personally, I have never heard a divine voice literally calling out, “Hey! Sandra! Yes, you! DO THIS THING.”

Maybe some folks have. Certainly it gets reported that way in scripture. But I am always highly suspicious of anyone who claims to have received specific, detailed messages from the Almighty. My first thought is “schizophrenia,” my second thought is “con man,” and my third — say, if it’s scripture being quoted by someone — is “okay, let’s hear it, but you can assume I may question its provenance or your interpretation of it.”

On the other hand, Rumi tells us to listen to “the voice that doesn’t use words.” And I have heard that voice.

Once, during my junior year of college, in England, I was spending the holidays with cousins in Scotland. Sometime after midnight I was walking back to a party in Edinburgh where my cousins were supposed to still be after I’d gone off to the young people’s celebration of Hogmanay — New Year’s Eve under the clock of the Tron (I kissed a bobby and drank from a passing bottle of whisky and felt authentically Scottish for a moment).

As I was walking along I suddenly felt a very hard tug from somewhere to stop walking and instead pound down the sidewalk as fast as I could. Which I did. I arrived breathlessly just as my cousins were pulling away from the curb, just in time to stop them and get a ride back to their home for the night.

I’m not sure this mattered — I could have walked the rest of the way to my cousins’ house if I had to. The streets were quite safe. But it felt as if it mattered a lot. It felt as if I had been saved from something.

Was that God? A “guardian angel”? Some funky extra-sensory perception? My subconscious calculating times and probabilities better than my conscious? I have no idea. But it was a voice without words, and that’s not the only time I’ve listened to something like that (though that was probably the time that felt most consequential).

Still, my religious faith didn’t arrive until a couple of years later, after quite a lot of reading and some meditation (outside of the Christian tradition) and some physics and some church. My conversion moment essentially consisted of me saying, in meditative prayer, “Give me a sign,” and promptly getting something I interpreted as one.

However, in hindsight, I don’t feel that sign was a genuine weird mystical event. I was, at that point, completely primed to have something, anything, give me permission to go where I had already decided I wanted to go. Anything in the room would have done. A cricket chirping, a nod of my own neck, a puff of wind from the window. I don’t even remember what it actually was anymore. Because that wasn’t really the point. I chose.

And yes, everyone who is called has to choose whether to answer. But I think you can easily choose things you haven’t really been called to, also, and then tell yourself you were called to them. You can easily confabulate a desire with a calling.

For example, I often feel a little tug during the Eucharistic prayer. I want to lift my hand and sanctify that bread and wine right along with the priest, which I’m obviously not authorized to do.  But I suspect that’s a BS thing on my part, because I’m also quite sure I don’t want to do the actual hard work of becoming and being a priest. It’s the religious equivalent of those people who come up to me at book signings to tell me that they have amazing stories to tell and they would be an amazing writer if only they had the time.

It could be worse. Imagine the pedophile priest who thinks, “I answered the call. I’ve sacrificed much to serve God and His people. Now God has provided for me. This child has been called by God to serve me.”

This is why I sometimes think a calling is better thought of as something more prosaic. Something as simple as somebody else in the church saying, “So, hey, our nominating committee thinks you should run for vestry.”

(Of course, when it gets this literal the whole idea of “being called” reminds me of a story my father likes to tell of a time he and his cousin were exploring the north of England and had been instructed by my great aunt to call Cousin Joan, who lived there. They had no desire to do this, so they stopped the car next to a field and yelled, “Cousin Joan!” Later, when Auntie Nan asked them if they had called Cousin Joan, they replied that they had, but she hadn’t answered.)

Authors often talk about being called to writing as if it is a vocation. I can remember sitting in the audience at a discussion with about eight writers at The Book House one afternoon when one of them said something along the lines of, “You write because you have to. If you don’t have to, you shouldn’t even do it.” And there was much nodding.

And yes, I agree that writing can feel like a vocation, in that you are giving up your time on earth to engage both conscious and unconscious parts of yourself in calling out a truth of some kind. It can feel like being touched with the spirit. It can feel like prophecy. But it can also be delusion, or ego, or hacking away, or a combination of all of the above.

Maybe I think this because I’ve written a lot of advertising. Enjoyed it, too. There’s plenty of creativity involved. Even a kind of willing suspension of disbelief that is not entirely unlike religious faith. By the time I’m done writing about that, say, inflation-protected variable annuity, I’ve usually also convinced myself that it’s A Most Excellent Product That Everyone Needs. But obviously I was really just hacking away at that to make a living. And the charges and fees are a killer.

I’ve also read plenty of published fiction that reads to me like someone just hacking away to make a living. (The later volumes of successful series are particularly prone to that, though thankfully not every author succumbs.)

But although we’d probably all prefer to read stuff that feels absolutely incandescent with the fire of truth, to the idea that no one should bother writing unless they are literally driven to do it, I say: Oh, come on.

Yes, it’s true that damaged, depressed people may feel compelled to write to try to fill an emotional hole that can’t be filled, or to establish a connection with some idealized other they can’t find in real life, or to process some traumatizing event in their lives. And yes, it’s true these folks are often brilliant and original, at least until they tragically destroy themselves. Extreme focus and need can do that.

The rest of us mostly write because we want to. Our productivity depends on our habits, the time we have available, and how preoccupied we may be by more fundamental needs like food and housing and child care.

Sometimes I think writers suggest that it’s a kind of calling or compulsion because they don’t want any more competition than they already have.

Sometimes I think they say it because they know the rewards are so long in coming and so uncertain that they feel they are doing you a real favor by scaring you off.

And sometimes I think writers believe that if it’s a sacred vocation that means it’s okay to not get a regular job, to continue working on our art despite the poor or non-existent compensation we are likely to receive. It’s okay to expect our spouses to support us. It’s okay to demand that quiet little writer’s nook where the kids won’t bother us, or escape to  that lovely writer’s retreat in the mountains. It’s okay to sign terrible contracts. It’s okay to passively await the reading public’s verdict instead of getting out there and flogging our stuff. It’s art! We’ve been called!

Adapted from an engraving by The Brothers Dalziel in "Lalla Rookh: An Oriental Romance" by Thomas Moore. In the public domain, courtesy of http://www.oldbookillustrations.com.

Adapted from an engraving by The Brothers Dalziel in “Lalla Rookh: An Oriental Romance” by Thomas Moore. In the public domain, courtesy of http://www.oldbookillustrations.com.

Suggesting that writing is a calling, a vocation, is also convenient for readers and publishers. It’s arguably an excuse for not paying writers and artists (and the people who work most closely with them) a living wage. Sure, a few writers are wildly successful and a few more make a living at it, especially in the more workaday genres. But the great bulk of writers must have other means of support. (If you’ve ever wondered why literary fiction is so white and so dominated by the wealthy classes, there’s your answer.)

Teaching can be like this, too. I know so many adjunct professors who feel called to teach. I’m one of them. I love teaching. But if the job won’t really support us, it’s kind of crazy to keep doing it. Pathological, even. I do it because I can afford to (which is not because of my writing income, believe me). And I’m not sure this is the most moral decision I’ve ever made. By accepting the lousy terms of adjunct work, I’m arguably enabling a shamefully exploitative system.

I think we often need to clarify our thinking about being called to a vocation, any vocation. Yes, we may feel called to it. Yes, it may be satisfying some deep hunger in us. It may feel like a religious experience. It may even be a religious experience. But although Jesus expected to die on the cross, he still expected his disciples to eat. If people weren’t willing to put them up or feed them, they were to shake their sandals free of that town’s dirt and move on to a place that would.

I think what I’m trying to say is that being called to a vocation is complicated at best. It’s full of potential pitfalls. It’s worth taking the time to carefully examine and re-examine our  motives. And if we ever see it as special permission to behave badly, then maybe it’s less a calling than a rationalization.

If you write, do you feel called to it? Do you see it as a vocation? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.

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Awesome Indies founder Tahlia Newland on challenges and opportunities for indie authors

Tahlia Newland

Author Tahlia Newland

I first met Tahlia Newland months after I had submitted my first novel to Awesome Indies. This organization seeks to curate the best indie works — not just for quality of writing, but for editing and production values, too. I remember that when I first stumbled across it, I was impressed that it evaluated submissions based on a book I think is terrific — Renni Browne and Dave King’s SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS. It also demanded literary qualifications from reviewers. Perhaps best of all, it offered ways to submit that didn’t require payment — so it clearly wasn’t just another sketchy prize mill. Eventually, I became a volunteer myself. But I never really asked Tahlia how Awesome Indies got its start. So…

Tahlia, what prompted you to begin Awesome Indies?

ai_square-300x300When I first got an e-reader back in 2009 or so, I discovered cheap books and read them voraciously. They were all self-published, of course, and I soon discovered that even books with high star ratings on review sites like Amazon and Goodreads could be really badly written, even some that were selling thousands of copies.

Though I picked up many terrible books, I also discovered some real gems, and I really wanted to tell the world about these great books where self-publishing authors had beaten the odds and produced something excellent. I began writing reviews so I could tell readers which self-published books were well enough done that readers could be sure they were getting a good product.

Next I came up with the idea of listing them all on one website so interested readers could have a one-stop quality shop for indie books. I created that first Awesome Indies site on a WordPress.com free blog, and it grew from there. At the point I decided I needed to create a submission system and get some helpers, I made the decision that if a group of people were to set themselves up as determiners of quality, then they had better be people with the kind of qualifications that no one could argue with, so it had to be people with formal qualifications in writing, English literature, or editing.

What would you say are the greatest challenges and opportunities facing
Awesome Indies? What would your dream be?

The biggest challenges are getting the website’s existence and value widely known, finding sufficient assessors and volunteers to keep it running smoothly, and dealing with author egos, in particular those who refuse to accept our assessors’ opinions as valid and like to spread their opinions on the matter.

My dream for the Awesome Indies is that it becomes the first place readers go to find indie books, that in people’s minds Awesome Indies Approval equals the kudos of getting a mainstream deal, that it changes the perception of the world as regards to the quality of indie books (as least as far as books listed on the site goes), and that it becomes really popular with the kind of people who usually would only read mainstream books.

 How can readers and writers who value quality indie work support Awesome Indies?

By submitting their book with an administration fee, or by volunteering to help. We have a very good admin team at the moment, but I am always short of qualified assessors and people willing to help spread the word about our existence. What we need more than anything is people who can write blog posts about the Awesome Indies and get them published on influential blogs and newspapers. (I should note that I am a volunteer for Awesome Indies myself — primarily by writing occasional web copy and notification emails to authors.)

As an indie author yourself, what are some of the greatest challenges and opportunities you see facing such authors today?

The biggest challenge is selling your book. A good book does not equal a best-selling book (and vice versa), and great authors are often not natural salespeople. The very nature of indie books is that many of them are so not mainstream that they only have a small niche market — at least at present. Finding the readers for unusual books is not easy, and selling few books can be soul-destroying for authors of truly great works with enormous literary merit. But so long as a book has some kind of independent professional assessment like Awesome Indies Approval, then the author can at least know that the problem is not with the book. Without that, the indie author can never be sure.

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The greatest opportunity indie authors have is that we can publish what we want, when and how we want. There is nothing to stop our creativity going in whatever direction we want it to — so long as we aren’t concerned about making a living. But with that freedom comes a great responsibility: to do it in a professional way. If the majority of us can do that, then eventually the stigma attached to indie publishing will fade.

Tell us about your new release, THE LOCKSMITH’S SECRET, including what inspired it.

THE LOCKSMITH’S SECRET is a multi-narrative-strand novel about a woman who finds that her boyfriend is not who she thought he was, and she finds herself having to choose between him and her beloved property in the Australian rain forest — a situation that challenges her ability to live up to her Buddhist ideals. The story looks at sexual abuse, women’s rights, and the various aspects of a person that make up their sense of self, including dreams, memories, past lives, creative expression and metaphysical experiences. The themes are explored from these different angles, one of which is a steampunk murder mystery that the protagonist Ella, an author, is writing.

What inspired it? My stories just appear vividly in my mind, playing out like movies. I can’t pinpoint any particular inspiration, though the image of a locksmith creating keys for inter-dimensional doors in an otherwise deserted ethereal city of transparent buildings floating in space was the image that drove me to fill in the story around it.

01The_Locksmiths_SecretwebAbout THE LOCKSMITH’S SECRET

Ella’s locksmith boyfriend Jamie seems to be her perfect match, at least until a death in the family calls him back to England. While he’s gone, Ella discovers he’s hiding something so astounding that it completely changes her perception of him and his place in her world.

While Jamie struggles with family responsibilities, Ella’s steampunk murder mystery develops a life of its own, raising disturbing memories of her time as a striptease artist and a past life as a sexually abused Italian nun. She also dreams of an ephemeral city, where she seeks to unravel the locksmith’s secret and find the key that opens a door to other realities.

All these, together with a lost brother, a desperate mother, a demanding cat, and a struggle to live up to Buddhist ideals, weave together in a rich tapestry that creates an extraordinary work of magical realism.

Intrigued? Learn more about THE LOCKSMITH’S SECRET at:

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Happy Valentine’s Day, readers

For someone who doesn’t have a honey at the moment — this includes me — this holiday can be just a little demoralizing. But I do have some young folks doing a complicated dance of love in my work in progress, so it’s not as if I’m not immersed in romance in my own way. And that has its own pleasures.

Which brings me to this public service announcement. Hope you have a lovely day!

Reading a good book is like giving yourself flowers