Taking the Time

I’m terrible at acting on my social media knowledge, so feel free to skip this post to avoid a “do as I say, not as I do” lecture. But I hope you stick with me to better learn from my mistakes and my experiences.

First, social media is a great professional tool, but only if you use it effectively. Now, when most people read a statement like that, they assume the key to using social media effectively for professional purposes is to use it like a business tool.

WRONG!

Social media exists for one reason and one reason only: People like to connect. They may love you. They may hate you. But if they are passionate about you, they want to connect with you. Social media gives you the means to connect with others effectively, without being consumed in the process.

Big name celebrities, whether they’re actors, politicians, or authors, hire people to read and respond to their fan mail. Or maybe to read it and assess it for threats. Or both.

Social media empowers professionals to be more responsive, with less investment, to the people who want to connect with them. The key take aways here are 1) it’s “less investment” not “no investment” or, in other words, you will need to invest yourself in your social media (or hire a ghost to do it for you) and 2) people have to want to connect with you, which means you have to give them a reason to be passionate about you.

Now, I know this. But I don’t do it. Before this week, I hadn’t been on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Goodreads) for over a year. The first time I got on Twitter, I responded to a post on my feed about somebody else’s novel. I’d never heard of the person or the book, but it looked intriguing, so I said so.

If that was all that happened, then there would have been nothing to it. I see books that intrigue me all the time, but I have neither the time nor the money to indulge in all of them. I didn’t even think about buying the book. Then, I checked my e-mail and one fan had responded to my post and a lot more fans had responded to hers. It was a convincing avalanche of support! So, I bought the book and announced it on Twitter, congratulating them on the successful sale.

In the world of social media, little interactions like this can become huge. I’m not saying this one will, but I know it can. Even going a little bit viral can make a world of difference for an Indie author trying to gain support for her work.

And since I’m soon to have a published book, I want the possibility of that happening to me. If you have a published book, I’m sure you can say the same. But to have that possibility, you have to 1) invest yourself in social media and 2) give people a reason to be passionate about you.

(If you want me to tell you how to do that, please let me know. Otherwise, I’m going to assume you already know.)

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Spending Time

Time is not my friend. It goes by too quickly. It goes by too slowly. It slips by me unawares whenever I focus too intently. This is most especially problematic when I’m supposed to be winding down for bed, as I am as I’m writing this. I was going to go to bed around 10 PM. I just looked at the clock and it’s 11:06. I’m not entirely sure where that hour and a half went, but I can’t get it back even if I did. So, I let it go.

A few months ago I got caught in a bad spell. Everything was a struggle. My spirits were low. I was frustrated, burnt out, exhausted, and making no headway. It was like swimming for all I was worth, only to be pulled back further and further by the outgoing tide.

Looking back, I can’t remember what intuitive sense it made at the time. All I know is that I was trying to write and I couldn’t. It was like my tank was empty. This was a rather shocking experience for me, because I always have ideas. I’ve had more ideas for books that I could ever possibly write. It’s gotten to the point that, unless an idea sticks around for at least a week, I don’t even bother to write it down, because it must not have been strong enough to last. I can do that, because I’m never short on ideas. But now, rather suddenly, my mind was all but blank.

There was just that one idea that kept pestering me. It wouldn’t leave me alone! So, I humored it. I started writing. That kept up, so I made a point of it—buying better notebooks to hold and manage the story as it unfolded. At first, I thought that, maybe, if I kept toying with it over the next year or so, eventually a complete story would materialize.

Now, just a few months later, I’m happy to tell you that the first draft of The Coveted One is complete. I have four notebooks full of story. Granted, this is a far cry from a publishable novel, but still…pretty impressive for a novel I wasn’t planning on writing at all. And I pantsed my way through the whole dang thing! Yes, me, the planner, pantsed my way through a complete novel!

The four notebooks were my tethers to the planning part of myself. They were constraints: fit the first part in the first notebook, fit the next part in the next notebook, etc. In the back of my mind, I assured myself that if I couldn’t hit my marks, then I’d just give up this whole thing. But I did hit my marks…each and every one.

This novel would never have come about if I tried to plan it in advance, because the planning part of my brain would never have allowed me to tell a story this way. Basically, the narrative is one person telling the story to another person, as it’s told by the second person who is telling it to a group of people. So, in the course of the subsequent books, there are several marks I must also hit so, eventually, it’s all brought up to the present where this second person is telling the story to make a point to these other people…right before something epic happens. (Yes, I know what, but I’m not going to tell you, geesh!)

Anyway, as I let this story sit before I try to take another crack at it (writing something else in the meantime), the biggest problem I’m facing is that I wrote the first draft with absolutely no thought with regards to scenes. It’s not just that I didn’t think about the mechanics of scenes; I didn’t think about scenes. Period. I’m not 100% sure at this point, but I suspect there are a few chapters in which there are no scenes at all. There are definitely chapters where it’s 90% information dump and 10% scene.

Another problem is that, as of now, only the most important characters have names and they don’t actually get those names until they become important. So, there are two characters that don’t get names (or identities or much of anything) until the climax of the book. Which is a problem I wouldn’t be facing if I’d actually planned the book.

Ah yes, this post is about time. The antithesis to time, at least in this context, is passion. Passion has a tendency to drink up time as if there’s no tomorrow. From the perspective of passion, there is no tomorrow. There’s just now. We act now. We want it now. We need it now! And I’m passionate about a lot of things: the marketing ideal, neurodiversity, fantasy fiction, this story, my children, my family, God, and the list goes on.

I’ve tried to exercise self-control. I try to do things in order. I plan…because if I don’t, I’ll just go wherever my passion takes me, which doesn’t always get me anywhere. The way we spend our time is a choice. If we don’t feed our passions, they’ll starve. But if we only feed our passions, then we’ll starve. There has to be balance, but that balance doesn’t always have to be equitably dispersed.

In a totally different context, I’m reading about how equity isn’t equality, which is something I already know. In this sense, an equitable dispersal of funds will distribute sufficient funds to all projects, whether a project works or not. Governments do this all the time. The point being made is that feeding successful projects achieves more than an equitable dispersal of funds, because it encourages projects to do the hard work to become successful.

For a long time now, I’ve been feeding my business, because my business fed my family. Now, I’ve reached the point where I will soon have to raise my rates because there are more people who want my professional time than I can serve, and raising my rates is one way to weed out those who really need the level of quality I produce and those who are willing to settle for less. So, while I still need to work, I don’t need to feed my business nearly as much. This means I can divert that energy to other things. And the timing is perfect, because I have plenty of other things that are eager for that energy.

Every time you choose to spend your time, you’re making an investment. You can invest in your future, or in your past. You can invest in your success, or in your failure. You can invest in your hopes, or in your fears. You can invest in your dreams, or in your nightmares. I’m not exactly an optimist. I can doomsay and worrywart with the best of them. But if those are my choices, and I’ve learned that those really are my choices, then I choose to invest in my future, in my success, in my hopes, and in my dreams. When it comes right down to it, I control very little. I can’t even control my health and it’s my own dang body! But I can control what I choose of the choices that are available to me. And so can you.

Now, I rarely say this sort of thing, because 1) it’s usually not true, 2) it always sounds arrogant to me, and 3) every time I’ve heard anything similar it’s always been more about the person’s pride than their well-wishes for others. Nonetheless, I’m going to say it and I’m just going to have to hope you take it in the honest, humble, helpful spirit in which it is meant. So, here it goes…

If I can write the first draft of a novel in three months while I was sick with an illness that isn’t completely cured after three rounds of antibiotics, and while I was trying to run a business, and while I was trying to keep up with two graduate courses, and while I raised three children with autism, and while I was helping my mother recover from hip replacement surgery, and while I was running up to the big city on a weekly basis (except for the holidays) to get my son outfitted with a communication device, and while I celebrated the holidays with my family, including my brother who came to visit briefly, then…

If I could do all this, then what’s your excuse?

I didn’t have my health. My business had just taken a nosedive due to neglect. I was behind in my school work and struggling to keep up after sleeping away two weeks of my life due to a terrible medicinal side effect. I was a caretaker not only for my children, but for my mother. I had unordinary demands on my time and my energy. And yet I wrote and I finished and it was worth it.

So, really, what’s your excuse? What reason are you giving yourself not to write and not to finish what you’re writing? What is holding you back and why are you letting it!?! What would you really rather spend your time on?

This isn’t about my pride. I don’t want or need pats on the back for my job(s) well done. I’m not puffing myself up, nor am I talking down to you. And, for once, I’ve had everything I usually rely on—my own wellbeing, my support system, my motivation, my tenacity—stripped away until I was left bare, with only an annoying dream that wouldn’t just give up and die to carry me through.

So, my point isn’t Oh, wow, look at how much I can accomplish, yay me! That’s not my point at all. My point is that this one annoying passion, by me choosing to feed it instead of starve it, carried me through all the hardships and all the shit to a point that I could say, Oh, wow, that actually worked!

I don’t judge you for your excuses, because I’ve had plenty of my own for a very long time. And I don’t really regret any of them because, for better or worse, they got me to where I am today, which is STILL STANDING after a low point that goes down in my personal history book. (Yes, technically, I’m sitting, because standing and typing has never really worked for me, but the point is better made with “standing” and I could stand up if you really wanted me to, so deal with it.)

This isn’t about judgment. This is about revelation, or we can go with epiphany if the word “revelation” is too uncomfortable for you. By letting go and by doing what came naturally to me, I had more energy and more hope when dealing with everything else. I’m not challenging you to tell me your excuses so I can knock them to bits; I’m challenging you to question your excuses so you can choose whether they’re bona fide reasons or mere distractions. And I’m reminding you that, just because life’s hard and just because it sucks, that doesn’t mean you have to let it stop you from doing what is in you to do.

The choice is yours. It always was. It always will be. Just don’t make it by default.

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Trailer Time: With a Wrinkle

So, my theme for this week is time and then there’s this…

So, maybe it’s just because I love the book and have since I was a child, but that was awesome! It was visually and auditorily stimulating. (Yes, I know that that’s not technically a word, but it should be, so deal with it. 😛 ) It was informative and tantalizing. It made me want to read the book again!

This is exactly the kind of low-budget, high-quality trailer that Indie writers need to promote their work more effectively. Sadly, I checked, but unfortunately the one who posted this doesn’t make book trailers for a living.

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Happy 2015!

Reflecting back on 2014, it would easy to get hung up on how it was a “bad year” for me and for my family, because the first few months were difficult and the last few months have been especially difficult. But the truth is that I earned more money this year than I did last year. I finished writing my memoir. I made some really great new friendships and business relationships. My boys have been, more often than not, healthy and happy. So, while there were some extra-lengthy rough patches in 2014, I’m satisfied that we have done the best we could with what we were given and that we used what control we had, however limited it seemed, well enough to make progress this last year.

Now, as I look ahead to the coming year, there are several things I expect out of 2015. For myself, I expect to publish my memoir, several smaller works, and (hopefully) a novel. I expect to grow both my business and my advocacy platform as well. I expect to become healthier, more balanced, and more joyful. Finally, I expect to be able to help others more.

For Brandon, I expect a happy high school graduation. I expect him to discover more of what he wants to do after graduation. I expect him to start setting and realizing plans with which he can build the future he desires for himself.

For Willy, I expect him to explore his interests in greater detail. Instead of passively watching videos and playing games, I intend to encourage him to begin learning to create them. (I also intend to provide him with the tools necessary to do so.) I expect him to grow and mature and to take greater charge of his own life. I hope he can make another friend to bring home, too.

For Alex, I expect him to learn to use the new communication device he’ll be receiving shortly. I expect the trend of communication to continue to grow exponentially, including using more words like the very clear and appropriate “water” he just said. I expect him to use this new ability to share more of himself with us and others.

For Ben, I expect him to better regulate himself so that he can use his interests and energy in kind and productive ways. I expect him to grow in his communication abilities so that he can use words to express his preferences clearly. I hope to hear him answer the question “why” a few times, too.

Mark is always a tough one. I continue to hope that he will find ways to become more motivated and involved outside the Facebook/Twitter communities.

And I hope we all do better at appreciating and exploring the social opportunities available to us! As for the world, sadly I think it’s too much to hope for peace. Instead, I will hope for more moderation and fewer extremes in our national and international discourses.

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Merry Christmas!

Our Christmas celebration is a three-fold event.

It starts with the “Cristmas party,” during which Mark and I bring the boys and, usually, my Mom to the Crist family Christmas party. Over the years this event has been transformed to better meet the needs of the boys. It used to happen in a restaurant or another barely-tolerable venue with too much stimuli and too many avenues for escape. Since then, it has been held either in a family home or in a hotel conference room. This year the conference room had a big screen TV. There was no input to display, but Alex still enjoyed jumping to the image of his own shadowy reflection. Both Alex and Willy got birthday presents, as well as Christmas presents, which makes it especially fun for them. Unfortunately, Ben was sick, which became apparent after the party was over (at least, it was over for us). Luckily, we were outside at the time. The real blessing, though, was that Brandon was able to come with us. (Prayers for him would be appreciated as he stares high school graduation in the face without a plan for what happens next.)

Tonight, we’ll celebrate Christmas Eve with a “Christmas dinner” over at my Mom’s house. Afterwards, we’ll exchange presents. This is a smaller, quieter affair where the noisiest things in the house are definitely my boys. Unfortunately, it looks like Brandon will be working that day.

Finally, there’s Christmas morning. This time it’s just us in our own home. The boys get their presents, even if I have to stay up all night wrapping them and setting up our little fake tree. Sadly, the white one with the LED lights at the tips has gone missing, so this year we’ll have a fake fir and whatever ornaments and candy canes I might happen to have on hand.

I guess my point is that I would like to wish you all a merry Christmas and urge you to make your Christmas/holiday celebration(s) autism-friendly affairs your whole family can really enjoy. All it takes is a little accommodation! Merry Christmas!

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Marketing with Integrity

I don’t love marketing. A lot of the marketing I see is either founded on lies or on subtle deception. I don’t like that kind of marketing. And I don’t create that kind of marketing. My marketing is honest and built on integrity. That’s what I teach my clients. That’s what I teach my readers here.

If you can’t be honest, then the problem is not your marketing—the problem is your product or service. Period. No exceptions. No equivocations. If I have to lie to market your product, then I’m not going to accept you as my client. If you have to lie to market your product, then you’re doing something wrong before you even start marketing.

It’s simple. Marketing is simple if you have something worth selling. There’s still room for cleverness and all the other fun things about marketing. Those tools can be used with integrity. You can be clever and still be honest. You can be attention-grabbing and still be honest. You can even SPAM and still be honest (though I don’t recommend it, because the response rates are understandably horrid).

I am currently working on a novel called The Coveted One. If I wanted to call my book a “Christian novel,” I would have to lie to say those words. It’s not a Christian novel, though expressions of the Christian faith do appear in the novel. It’s a fantasy book. The founding premise, the rules it follows, the plot points, they’re all based on the fantasy genre. If I wanted to, I could remove the Christian elements and I’d still have a story; it would be a poorer story, but it would still be a story. I couldn’t, however, remove the fantasy elements and still have a story. If I took all the magic from this book, there would be no book.

Now, I have no intention of doing either. That’s not the point. The point is that when you market your book, you owe it to your audience to be honest. If it’s a Christian book, fine. If it’s a fantasy book, fine. If it’s both, fine. But you need to assess your work honestly. A story that has a dash of fantasy and a dash of Christianity isn’t a fantasy book or a Christian book. A dash doesn’t define the book. What rules do you follow (or intentionally break) in telling your story? What can’t you take out without taking out your story? What is the founding premise of your story?

This is how you discern what genre(s) your story is and what genres it is not. If you lie to widen your audience, then you may gain a few extra readers for this book, but you’ll lose them before your next one comes out. Is it worth it? Only you can decide that, but the answer for me is always, “No.”

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My Kind of Proselytizing

For those of you who don’t know, I am a Christian. Christianity is a big part of my worldview and it inevitably ends up in nearly everything I write, yet none of what I write could be properly described as proselytizing. Part of this is because I firmly believe that “freedom of religion” is a correct founding principle, particularly but not exclusively for government. Part of this is because I have too much respect for too many people who are not Christians to presume that they need to be saved by me. Part of this is because my own faith is far too complicated to make for good proselytizing material.

I did not grow up in a Christian household. Both my parents were raised Catholic, but by the time I came along they weren’t practicing. I didn’t even get baptized until I was 15, at my own choice, and it was in a Lutheran church.

Nevertheless, as a child, I had the seeds of faith planted in my heart. When I was five years old, our house burned down. We stayed with a neighbor, who was a Christian and who was also dying of cancer. At some point that night, I got up on a stool and talked about how it was God’s will and He loved us and we would be okay. Out of the mouth of babes, I was a comfort to our generous neighbor, if not to my family.

At the age of 7, I had open heart surgery. My dad put down that we were Catholic, so a priest came to my room. After my mom told him I wasn’t baptized, he said that they could do it now, before my surgery, so that if I died I could go to heaven. That didn’t go over well. The funny thing is that I did die—they had to stop my heart to transfer my vital functioning to the heart/lung machine and then reverse the process when they put my repaired heart back into my chest. Even though I wasn’t baptized, I met Jesus and I went to heaven. Then I was sent back to earth.

The strangest thing about these experiences and the others that followed was that I had no religious upbringing and no religious knowledge. As a child, I was drawn to books with Christian themes. I read The Chronicles of Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time (as well as other books by Madeleine L’Engle); I graduated to The Wheel of Time and The Lord of the Rings. When I first read these books, I didn’t know there was anything “Christian” about them. Even after I’d finished the books, I didn’t realize it, because I lacked the religious education necessary to recognize the similarities. These books just “rang true” for me. When I was finally told, in a rather exacerbated tone of voice, that The Chronicles of Narnia were “Christian allegory, for God’s sake,” I was flabbergasted.

Sure, I get it now. It’s perfectly clear now. But to me they were just stories, because the story was never sacrificed to proselytize. To me, that’s important. Stories can plant meaning and character into readers’ hearts without battering them over the head with another’s beliefs. That is one of the reasons I love stories.

The novel I’m writing is set in a world that is founded on aspects of my worldview. This first novel falls under Forgotten Angels, whereas the Fairehaven stories fall under Faithful Angels. In case it’s not perfectly clear, there will be other stories that fall under, um, well, Fallen Angels. These three distinctions were formed from the intersection of two competing aspects of my own worldview. First, I am a Christian. I do believe there is a God and that He is a force of good. I also believe there are forces of evil. Second, I don’t believe in dichotomies. I believe there is always at least one “third side” to any story. Clearly, there’s some competition there.

When I incorporated these competing beliefs in synergistic fashion I came up with something a bit revolutionary, something that is quite possibly blasphemous. See, according to my religion, God brought into existence a great many souls and He wanted to make them perfect/complete, like unto Himself, which meant, in part, obtaining physical bodies. One plan was for us to come down to earth, acquire bodies, and make choices that would either bring us home unto God or not. This meant some—even a great many—would be lost, but that those who chose so could be saved with the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son. Another plan was for us to come down, but not to have a choice. We would obtain our bodies and we would all be saved. I believe this plan was rejected, in part, because we wouldn’t learn anything from our sojourn on earth. We would be mere puppets without free will. God chose the plan with choice. War ensued. Those who fought for God were faithful; those who fought against God became fallen. This is all, more or less, part of the doctrine of the church I joined as an adult. But, I ask, what of those who did not choose?

Many religions associate “goodness” with following God’s will and “evilness” with anything that is not aligned to God’s will; but, since we don’t really understand God’s will, the powerful usually assert their own will as if it were God’s will. Thus, we have a lot of shameful incidents in the history of the Christian religion; I’ve been told similar acts of brutal intolerance have been exercised, at one time or another, by every other major religion, too. The point, however, is that this belief establishes a dichotomy.

I believe in the significance of choice. You can choose to be good. You can choose to be evil. But you can also choose to go your own way. Just because you are not aligned with God’s will doesn’t mean you willfully align yourself with evil. I believe you have to choose either way; it’s not a default decision, as so many religions claim, otherwise there really isn’t much of a purpose to the choice.

So, in this world that I’m creating, one of the founding beliefs is that 1) there were “angels” that refused to choose either God or the devil, instead they chose to go their own way and are “forgotten” by religious history; 2) both the forgotten angels and the fallen angels can take on physical form, any form they choose, and act on the mortal plane, but they have no physical form that is their own; 3) both the forgotten angels and the fallen angels can interact on the plane of the soul, but they are not perfect/complete, because they have no bodies, and therefore they are at their weakest on that plane; 4) one of the ways forgotten angels have chosen is to become “gods” in their own right, which is why our history is littered with human-like gods and demigods, spirits and, yes, even elves and fairies; and 5) Fairehaven is the one place in the mortal plane where the truth is kept, but, much like the Garden of Eden, it cannot always be found and, as is consistent with historical power dynamics, the true purpose of Fairehaven is kept even from the people of Fairehaven.

This first novel and all the stories that fit within this world that I’m creating will be imbued with elements of my worldview. Christianity will appear. But my worldview will also be filtered through the experiences and personalities of my characters. For example, the main character of this first novel, Simone, is not a Christian, but there are important people in her life who are Christians and others who seem to be. Yet, she is good. She tries to be good. She wants to be good. And she beats herself up any time she makes a mistake. And she makes a lot of them.

This novel isn’t a book of proselytizing. People try to “convert” Simone to all sorts of things, but her skepticism and distrust run deep. Yours can, too. I hope, in the spirit of the novels of my youth, you will still enjoy the story for its own sake.

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