Archive for category Self-Help

Self-publishing, Marketing and Brave Farewells

Hello friends! This may be my last blog past from this platform. I’ve signed up with Hostgator and am moving on to the brave new world of self-hosting, which is both exciting and freakin’ awful. Seriously, I’m somewhere between creatively technical and technically crazy, so the process of setting up my new website, which will be elfarris.com, has been one that would invite much hair pulling if that didn’t give me such a bad headache.

Why a new platform? Maybe because it’s just time for a change, as a ballplayer in many a city has said. I love WordPress. I love what blogging has done in terms of helping me hone my voice and meet other bloggers and writers. Recently, though, my heart hasn’t really been in it.

With one book published and another on the way this spring, the honest to God’s truth is that marketing these two titles, and writing a third, with an expected release date of fall or winter this year, is leaving me very little time for blogging and commenting on other blogs.

And I’m okay with that. Well, no, it makes me feel a little sad, because I hate goodbyes and I’m about to enter a brave new world but I don’t feel very brave. So I am trying to be okay with it–trying really hard. My deep-down intuition tells me that this is the right move for me at this moment in time.

As far as marketing, I’m relying a great deal on advance reviews (34 and counting), word of mouth, and my flagship platform, my Facebook Page, Running from Hell with El. I am also hoping that some of you will invite me to chat on your blogs and will buy a copy of Ripple. The support I’ve received from fellow writers has been astounding me, and I don’t know where I’d be without your help.

One of the things I’ve been doing a lot of is creating posters, and each poster contains a hyperlink to Ripple on Amazon. One of the posters, for example, has been share 160 times on Facebook. I read somewhere that a reader must see the name of a book four times on average before they purchase it, so I’m hoping that as my page-friends and author-friends and regular just awesome as-is friends share these posters, enough readers will see it in order to decide to click over and buy it.

Well, I have lots more marketing tips, and would be happy to ask any questions from anyone, especially in a Q&A, but for tonight, I’m going to close with a gentle fare thee well, and let the characters from Ripple have the last word. I’ll make sure I leave my forwarding information, but you can always find me on Facebook or Twitter, or in the pages of my books. xoxo

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Ripple’s Release and What Really Matters

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This is what we’re going to do this afternoon!

Ripple is live, and on sale at Amazon for a low introductory price of $4.99 on Kindle and $12.99 for paperback. I wanted to tell you a little about royalties and pricing before I move on to the advance reviews. At the price of $4.99, I make about $3.50 for each e-book I sell, and at $12.99 for the softcover paperbacks, I make about $2.50 in royalties per book. With a sunk cost of around $2,500 for publishing and editing costs (and I did not scrimp, at all, on anything, especially editing), I will need to sell about 825 books to break even. At some point soon, I will increase my prices, but I want to drive up volume first.

 And that, my friends, is where you come in. If you like Ripple, or even LOVE Ripple, please take a few minutes to tell your friends and family. And I’d be so very grateful for an Amazon review from you as well. Reviews help sell books, pure and simple.

It’s crazy. I didn’t send out a single query letter, and while I’m honestly not too worried about what happens, I do find myself occasionally missing an agent. My fate is entirely in my own hands, and I really do hate asking for help. Then again, I tell myself, I believe in my product. It can help heal broken hearts or just as important, it can provide a reader with hours of entertainment, and that’s maybe even more important than accomplishing any higher purposes.

Buy Ripple!

To my surprise, readers are liking Ripple more because it’s a good story than for its literary merits or its healing qualities. And you know what? That’s awesome! It means that I’ve done my job as a writer . . . and it takes the pressure off me. I don’t need to worry about how good it is from an objective literary standpoint. Whew! All that really matters is that it entertains its audience, and it is.

That brings me to reviews. Without further ado, here is a sampling:

I’m in the middle of the book, but had to pause to share my thoughts because this story is powerful! The female characters are real – fallible, sometimes irritating, always endearing. The villains are so evil, so creepy – Farris gives us insights into the twisted minds of predators right from the start, and it makes me bring my feet up on the couch whenever she gives me a glimpse . . .

 I will come back and add more to my review when I finish the book, but if you are debating about this one, I recommend you go for it!—Christine Morgan.

From the author of the excellent novel, Off Switch:

Farris draws from her former legal career and her former life within the legal profession to craft characters that fit perfectly into the story. They are real. They play their parts well. We see people who are more concerned with their careers; a district attorney who always stops to consider just how close the next election is before deciding what the `right thing to do’ is- managing partners at law firms whose employees are involved in the “scandal” as they call it- heaven forbid they call it a child being raped- who make decisions to terminate people from employment to distance themselves from any negative attention, all in order to protect their large, multi-million dollar books of business, and a detective on the case with ulterior motives for his own demented reasons. And folks- this is what makes this read so real. It shows one of the ugly sides of the American power class, where professions have become more important than people, and often, even when they are genuine victims, child victims at that, of situations that are completely out of their control.
As a man, I like how Farris does not demonize every living sapian with a penis. This is often the unattractive case with books in this genre, and Farris’ writing leaves no doubt that the savage beasts in this tale are evil because they possess evil in their hearts, not because they possess Y chromosomes.”Kevin E. Lake

 And another one:

Ms. Farris hit a home run her first time at bat with Ripple! From the ball-busting attorney Helen Thompson to the slimy detective, she portrayed each character so well they jumped right off the page. I had a very hard time putting this book down. Ms. Farris’s knowledge of the legal system is well-suited to writing a legal thriller. The topic was a very sensitive one and was handled carefully but came across as very realistic. She left herself open to a sequel here and I can hardly wait for it!—Heather Zwicker.

 Here’s one from another excellent writer:

Most legal thrillers treat the reader as if they can’t handle the nitty-gritty of a life in law, but this book gives the reader credit for understanding and appreciating being pulled into the reality of law. And a nightmare. Although this female protagonist is a driven attorney with a busy schedule that is dizzying, nothing can stop her when her daughter is at stake . . .

This is a tough subject to handle, and stories like this too often fall down the pit of pity and hammer readers over the head with how tough it is to be a woman, how unfair it is to be a woman, and how women are the prey of men. This book never goes down that trap, and I appreciated it. Evil walks this earth, and it does its dirty job in many different ways…but is always defeated by the human spirit and the strength of community.

The writer’s voice, pacing, and style are those of a seasoned professional and never get in the way of this challenging story. She knows how to build tension and suspense . . . She knows when to throw in a dash of humor to ease the tension, and she wakes us from a nightmare with the gentle shake of hope. She takes us through the struggle for recovery, showing that whatever the trauma, we can be active parts in the healing.”—M. Madsen.

I am so grateful for these reviews, and for many others like it.

I’m also grateful for how my son is doing. His blood pressure has trended way down, and while still higher than it ought to be, it is stabilized. We will be back into the hospital for more tests this week, and in a way, this scary personal thing my family is encountering is helping me keep this book release in perspective. I am not my book, and its success or failure does not determine how I feel about myself. After all, like the main character in Ripple, I am finding, albeit in a painful way, that my family trumps my career. Sometimes fiction copies life, and sometimes, I suppose, life follows fiction.

Thank you so very much for your support and most of all, for your prayers and kind thoughts for my family.

Buy Ripple on Amazon!

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Gah! I’m an Adult Now: Self-Publishing Fears and Related Woes

I’m thinking too much, too fast, too much, too fast.  Damnit.  What if it’s a really really bad idea to self-publish Ripple?  Should I have kissed many more asses?  Why didn’t I kiss more asses?  Who do I ask to do my advance reviews?  Is it any good?  I know it’s good.  But there are millions of would-be writers out there.  Am I just like the rest of them?  Am I really a loser?  A wanna-be, would be, could be but can never will never be?

Should I go back and try to be nice to the people I’ve been ignoring?  What about all of the pages that I’ve not been talking to because I’m talking to other pages and writers?  Should I be trying harder?  Should I be on my knees groveling, or at least gladhanding?  I have stopped interacting with so many pages and blogs and it’s all a kaleidoscopic mishmash of should-dos and can’t and won’ts and I have no fucking clue how to sort it all out.  Why do I have to be the one to handle this?

The real question is why do I need to be the adult here?  I don’t feel like an adult.  I don’t feel like I’m in control.  Not I.  Or not me, depending on how the rest of the sentence goes . . . no.  Not I.  Funny.  I never really studied grammar that much or even wanted to learn it.  I was above the rules but the real truth is that I always sensed, nay feared, that the rules were above me.

There.  That’s the truth.  Icky ugly truth.  I play this whole act, this “Your rules not mine” rebel act long and hard but you know what I’m hiding?  This deep fear that if I play by the same rules, throw the football on the same exact field with the precise dimensions and markings that all other writers obey, everyone will find out (who is everyone) that my writing just isn’t good enough.

Yep.nomagicpotions

That’s my icky ugly inner fear.  It’s fucking debilitating.  Should I stop cussing?  Just an aside, but is it?  Last night I made this poster, and I consciously went with the word “ass” as in “work your ass off,” because it was authentic.  But I also know that a lot of my inspirational friends won’t share anything that has a cuss word in it, and while 10,820 fans is plenty, every new fan equals a potential reader.  Then again, my freakin’ name has a curse word in it, so does that make me ineligible for being shared by the goody two-shoes of pages?

Not that there’s anything wrong with goody-goodies.  Oh my gosh.  Part of me wants to be a good girl and part of me wants to be a badass and those two sides of me will forever lay siege to one another!  Right?

And should I put one space or two after a period?  Am I the only old-school holdover who still goes with two spaces?  I like two spaces, not one, but I don’t wanna stand out, stick out, or run alone.

Or do I?

As far as the cussing thing, my characters cuss, and so do I but I’m also a born-again Christian and I need those fans—the moral majority (giggle) too.  I need as many fans and readers as I can get because hell, I’m trying to sell books, right?  But what’s the point of selling anything if I have to change who I am to make a sale?  How boring, stupid, phony, cruddy, pointless . . . is it to change who you are just to make a few extra bucks?

Speaking of a few bucks, what the hell am I doing self-publishing Ripple?  Seriously, what the hell am I doing?  Did I decide to ignore the traditional publishing houses for a reason other than I’ve been telling everyone?  Was it simply because I was scared Ripple wasn’t good enough?  Did I think that the rejection of everything that I am and want to be would be so awfully soul-crushing that I couldn’t chance it?  God help me if I have to face the exact same pain that every other writer faces.

Yep.  Maybe it always comes back to God.  And needing His help.  I’m scared, and I’m about to jump off a big limb that’s hanging over a muddy bank and into these swirling waters, and as much as I love crazy adventures and especially swirling waters, I’m so afraid that I’ll smash into unseen rocks and end up all bloodied and concussed and broken-hearted.

This is one of those times I wish I could call my mom.  But I can’t and I won’t but I will . . .

jump anyway.

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When Truth does not Mirror Belief

In light of something rather unpleasant going down in my professional life, I wrote the following last night on my FB Page:

I’m thinking tonight about integrity, which is telling the truth to yourself, and honesty, or telling the truth to other people. When a person has both qualities, and a willingness to do their best in all their endeavors, you’ve got the sort of person we all like to call “a keeper.” I strive to be that sort of person, and while I may fail at it sometimes, I sure do give my all.

Truth can mirror belief;
belief, truth.

This was my very indirect way of addressing a suggestion that I did not fulfill a professional commitment.  What I wanted to say is: hell yes, of course I kept my word.  But the question unasked is how do I address what someone believes about me, and whether I should care enough to even try?

One of my close friends has written both in her blog and her Facebook Page about this subject in the context of testifying in court against an abuser while she was in elementary school. She was warned that no one would believe her.  Later, when contemplating the issue as an adult, Deb Bryan wrote:

Whose belief matters? As some of you know, I am fond of saying, “Your belief is irrelevant.” That’s not totally true.

If you are irrelevant to me, your belief is irrelevant to me. The way that you make yourself irrelevant to me is to show yourself not thoughtless–for aren’t we all, at times?–but consideredly untruthful, intentionally ignorant of plain facts or malicious. See https://www.facebook.com/yourclosetmonster, Wednesday, November 14, 2012.

From a personal standpoint, I too have wrestled with the issue of figuring out whose belief matters. I was sexually abused as a child, and my family did not—does not– believe me.  Does this matter?  It used to matter, but at some point frankly, their belief became irrelevant.

At some point next year, I’ll publish my memoirs and perhaps a shit storm will follow.  Let me be painfully honest: one of my worst nightmares is that I’ll be speaking to a crowd and my mom and dad will rise from the back row and start screaming at me.  If they find out about the book (and I hope they don’t), my birth family will attack, decry and further disown me.  “Elaine the pain is still insane,” which has been the party line for decades, will serve as the foundation for their response.

And you know what?  I don’t care.  Because they’re irrelevant to me now. At least, that’s the state of mind I’m reaching for, and if I haven’t reached it yet, that doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t.

That brings me back to the painful professional circumstance I find myself in. Last night, I fell asleep thinking, what do I do?  I didn’t sleep well. I dreamed that my family was beating me up again. I have these PTSD dreams every night, and when the alarm clock buzzed, I felt my ribs to see if they still hurt.  They didn’t.  And as soon as I realized that I wasn’t stuck in some horror-fantasy, I realized that only I am responsible for who and what matters to me.

By not carrying their misbegotten beliefs on my shoulders, they can no longer rain blows either mental or physical down on me. They are irrelevant, and since irrelevant, their beliefs are too.

God’s grace.

As far as my professional reputation, I have no control over what others think about me.  As scary as it may seem, people are going to believe what they want to believe.  Some of the stuff said and written about me may well be malicious, without factual basis, and easily proven false.  Despite all of that, some may believe the worst about me.

And you know what?  That’s alright.  Their belief is irrelevant because it doesn’t change who or what I am.

There’s a final piece in this puzzle, and of course it’s the most important piece.  The true arbiter of all matters controversial is God.  He is the only one I need answer to, and there’s an amazing feeling of peace that comes with that.  Call it what you will—I call it grace.  With God’s grace, whatever belief others hold about me truly is irrelevant.

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A Hail Mary Pass Thrown into Swirling Gust of Wind: Medicating AD/HD

I paced back and forth in front of my son’s first grade classroom, waiting for his teacher to finish talking to another child’s parents.  My husband tries to come to as many parent-teacher conferences as work permits, but I’d scheduled this one for 10 A.M. on Election Day, so I was going into the breach solo.  And while I didn’t want to feel scared and worried and a little sick to my stomach, I did.

Too often, these conferences hadn’t gone well in the past.  At the very first one, when Ben was still in preschool, his teacher glared at me with this serious, disapproving look.  “You know, you’d better get a handle on this sooner than later, when there’s still time.  Otherwise, he’s going to end up in jail.”

I glanced at my husband in shock.  “Jail?”  I gasped.

“Jail,” she repeated.  “At this rate, with this much oppositional behavior, this much anger, jail.”

In case you’re wondering, we switched preschools after that.

Things got worse before they got better.  When Ben was in kindergarten, I would jump when the phone rang.  If it wasn’t the school calling, I breathed a sigh of relief.  When I visited Ben at school for lunch, his classmates told me that my dear son was “bad.”  As I have written here, this hurt like hell.  I felt powerless and not a little clueless.  The last thing I wanted to turn to was the medicine cabinet.

But we did it anyway, both for our son’s sake, and for our own.  The payoff was not immediate because we had him on too low of a dose: 10 mg of Metadate, which is a generic form of Ritalin.  But once we got the dosage right (20 mg), the turnaround was immediate.

And yet, as I stood in front of Mrs. X, I wasn’t sure.  It had been about three weeks since we’d increased Ben’s dose, and we hadn’t heard from her except for one phone call, which I received the day after we increased Ben’s dose.  It had been a really weird call.  Mrs. X called for the sole reason of telling me that Ben had behaved well all day.  Was this an anomaly, or a new beginning for our troubled six-year old?

Before I even sat down in front of Mrs. X, I knew the answer was the latter: Ben had gotten a fresh start.  A redo, a do-over.  “You know, I’ve been looking forward to this meeting,” beamed Mrs. X.  “It’s been like night and day, like a sun rising, ever since you made the brave step of getting him the help he needed.”

“Really?”  I couldn’t breathe so I tried to sit down without smashing my knees into the tiny table in front of me.  I’m clumsy like that.

“Yes.  Really.  The transformation has been the biggest one I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of AD/HD kids.  Sometimes the meds help a little.  Sometimes a lot.  In his case, he’s gone from . . .”  Mrs. X paused to find a tactful way to say it.  “Well, from struggling, to being helpful, and attentive, and funny and . . . oh so kind.  I mean, he was always sweet and affectionate, but my gosh.  Now he gives me flowers, tells me how much he loves me—“

—“He’s always been so affectionate and sweet,” I murmured, my heart hurting.

She nodded.  “The great thing is that you made this change for him early in the year.  So his classmates won’t always remember him getting in trouble.  I mean, they all struggled to figure out the rules in the beginning, so he didn’t stick out as much in their minds.  And now he’s getting along with his classmates.  He’s funny and well-liked and . . .”  Her voice trailed off and she smiled at me.

Some decisions, when viewed from hindsight, seem obvious.  Other ones seem divinely inspired, like small miracles.  But the decision to medicate our son was more like a Hail-Mary pass thrown into a swirling gust of wind: a combination of savvy quarterbacking, divine guidance and a tad of blind luck all in one.

 

 

 

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Ripple, or Women Helping Women: A WIP Blog Chain

As most of you know, I’m aiming for a Christmas release date for Ripple. My friend Deb Bryan linked to me on a chain that contains a few questions about my upcoming book, so here goes . . .

What is the Working Title of your book?

Ripple. Renée Jacobson came up with it while she helped me on the first draft. She told me to listen to the Grateful Dead song of the same name. The following lyrics inspired the name:

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.
Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

After considering a host of alternatives, I’m sticking with Ripple as the title.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The characters came first and the plot followed. I used dialogue as a therapeutic device while in treatment for chronic PTSD. To help me unwrap my messy past, I wrote conversations between my adult self and my younger self, or “Little El.” Eventually, the name “Phoebe,” which means “Child of light,” entered my subconscious, and so little El became Phoebe. Before I composed the main plot of Ripple, I asked myself the following question: what do I wish my mother had done to my abusers? The instant answer was: I wish she had killed them.

And so the main character of Ripple, Helen, becomes the avenging mother I wish I’d had.

Meanwhile, the third protagonist, Cassandra White, was born one awful morning, when I awoke to “barf in the bathroom and a broken down bus,” which was the original working title. Instead of giving up her legal practice to raise kids and write, like I did, Cassandra practices law, and balances a busy practice with raising a family. The morning she awakens to the aforementioned disaster scene, she receives a phone call from a safe house for domestic abuse victims, which is where Helen and Phoebe are hiding. Cassandra becomes Helen’s defense counsel, and like me, battles her own demons even as she helps her client.

What genre does your book fall under?

I struggled with this one, because Ripple stretches across several genres. In some respects, it is a psychological thriller. Like Silence of the Lambs, it has a creepy sociopath stalking a little girl (seriously, you’re going to have to read Ripple to figure out who this is) and some passages that will make you cringe. Ripple could and should fall into the category of women’s literature as well, but I took care to create a few likable male characters.

And yet Ripple is neither a thriller per se or women’s lit: it’s a work of literary fiction, and clocking in at 132,000 words, it’s almost epic in sweep. Although it’s not a beach read, the nonstop action and constant motion leads to easy page turning. Readers who enjoyed The Color Purple or Lovely Bones will likely appreciate Ripple.

 Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

A movie producer-friend called me after reading the first few chapters of Ripple, and practically screamed, “Meryl Street must play Helen!” Indeed, the opening scene of Ripple features Helen, a high powered lawyer “who stands astride the legal profession” slamming a conference room door so hard the frame “shimmers and vibrates.” When I think of Helen, I think of the fashion executive from The Devil Wears Prada.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Oh no! I can’t . . . oh okay. Let’s see. A murder suspect teams up with a band of women at a safe house to trap a would-be rapist who is stalking her daughter.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

I am completely stoked about my decision to skip the entire agency representation process and go straight to self-publishing. As I wrote to my friend, Deb Bryan, I want to retain artistic control over my product. Traditional publishing is run by “writamaticians,”—or folks that view writing more as science than art. The more I researched it, the more I saw that by and large, the only way some excellent novels get published is despite of the mediocre ministrations of a horde of agents and publishers and their minions. Instead of offering the public a true range of work, they act like politicians who form their beliefs only after using focus groups to determine what the public wants. Rather than gatekeepers for the public, agents and publishers act as low rent intellectual whores. And I want no part of it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? 

© E. L. Farris

Six months, give or take a year. I wrote the chapter about barf and the broken down bus a year before I was able to resume writing the rest.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

As mentioned above, Ripple resembles Lovely Bones and The Color Purple, but it has a happy ending. Also, I adore William Faulkner, Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger and pretty much all writers who take chances.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My therapist, who helped me piece myself back together and escape the mental prison of my past, inspired me to show other women how they could find their way to health and a better life. Therapists and professionals who give their all figure prominently in helping Helen and Phoebe turn from victims into Rebel Thrivers.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

© E. L. Farris, 2012 Zander’s inspiration

My characters move constantly, either on horseback, in vehicles, or running on foot on tracks, fields and cross country trails. Many scenes take place in conference rooms, where lawyers argue, negotiate and posture. My favorite character in Ripple, Zander, is based on my youngest son, Ben, and those of you who’ve read my blog entries about Ben understand just how entertaining Zander can be. My favorite scene in Ripple is when Zander climbs on top of a barn roof. He wants to see if his chickie can fly. You’d never guess who rescues him!

Thank you so much to my dear friend Deb Bryan, who tagged me in this blogging chain. Please mosey on over to visit the next link in the chain, my friend Stephanie Saye. The author of Little 15, Stephanie has completed one manuscript about a breakup gone really bad, and is working on another dystopian story about a man who gets pregnant after his wife is granted a wish by a psychic.

Before you go, do you have any questions or comments about Ripple?

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Running and Mom Guilt

One kid, then a second, and then a third jumped-tumbled off the high bus steps and gang-tackled me.  After hugging them back, I walked behind the boys with my daughter, who chattered about her day.

“I have something I want to ask you about,” I began, my arm resting on her shoulder.  “All of you.”

She squinted up at me through the afternoon sunlight.  “Why?  What?”

I started to explain what was bothering me as we kicked our shoes off by the steps to the laundry room.  Standing there, with my fingers wrapped around the door frame, I felt off-balance.  One time, years ago, I had shut the door on my son’s little fingers when he used the frame to maintain his balance, and since then, I’d been afraid of sticking my fingers in the space between the door’s edge and the door frame.  And yet for some reason, I still did it every day anyway.  Once I got my purple and bright yellow running shoes off my feet, I breathed a sigh of relief that my fingers were intact, and slammed the thick white laundry room door behind me.

I removed lunchboxes from backpacks, stacked the three backpacks in the space between the china cabinet and the dining room wall and set snacks in front of the kids.  For a few minutes, everyone talked at once about their day, three overlapping voices forming the ever-shifting mosaic of our life as a family.

 I leaned against the kitchen counter top, which is where I usually stand when I’m in the kitchen.  Since the accident, I almost never sit down at the table.  It’s become my new normal and no one thinks anything of it.  When my husband isn’t around, sometimes I jump up and sit on top of the counter, right near the spice drawer, which is where I used to sit as a child.  This annoys my husband.  He thinks it’s going to break the counter, so it’s one of my many guilty pleasures, I guess.

“So, guys, I need to ask you something.  I have this race tomorrow, but I’m thinking it’s going to take me away too long from you.  That’s making me feel really bad.  It seems unfair.”

“Yeah, Mom, you are gone a lot on the weekends.  Why do you have to work so much?”

I sighed and looked at Maddie.  “I’m writing a novel, hun.  And it’s important.”  I took a deep breath.  Was I really gone that much?  “Anyway, I would be gone, like, the entire day, from before breakfast to dinner.  And so I wanted to let you decide.  And whatever you decide is fine with me.  I’ll honor it.  If you want me home, I’ll not go to the race.”

Jim’s eyes brightened.  He didn’t need to speak.  I had his answer.

Then Maddie did one of her smile-shrug-hair flips, with a dozen other facial expressions thrown in for emphasis.  She’s able to convey more without speaking than any other little girl I’ve met.  With her voice rising to a higher pitch as she spoke, she spoke.  “I want for you to do what makes you happy, Mom.”

I sighed.  “No, I’m asking you what makes you happy.”

She twirled her hair.  “Well, it will make you happy to run the race, won’t it?  You’ve trained for it.  You’d be disappointed if you didn’t run it, wouldn’t you?”

I felt like Hell.  She cared about me—that was obvious.  She wanted me to be happy—that was also obvious.  But did she just not want me around?  I tried to pull it together.  “I don’t want you to miss me while I’m doing something that will make only me happy.  What you want is very important to me.”

She shrugged.  Her faces twisted in concentration.  “You are gone a lot on the weekends.  But we’re okay with Dad.”

“So you want me to be gone then?”  It was a stupid thing to say, but before I could right the ship, Ben, with a bored look on his face, swung around in his chair and exclaimed, “I want you to go run it.  We’ll hang out with Dad.”

That stung.  I tried to inspect him, to understand his words, to find the hidden resentment, but I think he was just speaking without filter, saying what he really was thinking, which he usually does anyway.   Tears were rising, but I pushed that back down.

“Am I really gone that much?”

Maddie wince-smiled, and I tried to read everything she was thinking, just as she was trying to read me.

“Okay.  Maddie.  Please.  What do you want me to do?  I want to be here and I want you to be happy.  That’s job one.  Be a good mom.  Take care of y’all.  That’s my job.  What you need to concentrate on is not what makes me happy.  I want to know what makes you happy, okay?”

She nodded.  I could almost see the gears moving in her head.

“So, do you want me to stay home tomorrow?  You have the deciding vote.  And it’s perfectly okay.”

She smile-shrugged again, and twirled her hair.  “It would be nice to have you around.  But what about all of your training?”

I breathed.  Finally.  “The training is fine.  There will be other races.”

“Are you sure?  It’s okay if you want to run it.”

I crossed the room and opened the fridge door.  As I pivoted, slamming the door shut behind me, I thought real fast.  This was absurd.  I was being absurd.  This wasn’t really their decision.  It was my decision, all the way.  Even if it hurt me that Ben didn’t seem to want me home, I wasn’t going to run from my responsibility.  Even if staying home meant admitting I’d been gone too much, I wasn’t going to run from this.  Even if it meant facing my guilt, I could do that.  I could even face my guilt for being away too much and being too busy and too absorbed in my work without turning it into a shame-making session with my past, present and future ghosts haunting me.

Because, you see, I thought to myself, I can control how the future works out with me and my children by slamming the door shut on this race, and this disengaged parenting, right here, right now.  They won’t remember the Saturdays I disappeared, or at least won’t be haunted by them, if I change–if I manage to be here going-forward, most Saturdays and Sundays.  I’m in charge of how our family turns out, and all I got to do is be here, and when here, actually be present.  I can do all of that without sacrificing my work, and my happiness.

After guzzling half a liter of ice-cold water, I rubbed my mouth on my sleeve and then nuzzled my daughter’s head.  “I’m sorry I’ve been gone so much.  I’ll try harder.”

It took a few more passes for us to reassure one another that all was well, and then I changed the subject back to the contents of their day.  And as they unpacked their day like a woman unloads the contents of her purse, I tried to sort through my feelings.  Feeling guilty paralyzed me, and so I had to try to set that aside and think things through.  Had I been gone too much?  Maybe; maybe not.  Children can be self-absorbed.  So can I.  I never really grew up.  In some ways, I’m still a life coming into being, rather than a finished product.  And the thing is, I was profoundly unhappy when I was just a stay at home mom.  No offense to SAHMs (Hell, moms that don’t work get their own acronym just like some neighborhoods garner their own zip codes, so they must be doing something with all of their time, right?), but I lost my sense of self when I stopped working. 

I love being a mom.  But I didn’t love being just a mom.  I’m not much good at most things domestic, and I never felt comfortable with the other SAHMs.  I felt like the ugly swan around them, and deep down, I knew I didn’t belong.  As the days revolved and became years, I felt constrained and trapped and overwhelmed with the unchanging routine of it all.  I wasn’t very good at running a household and I never wanted to be.

Which is not to say I didn’t love being home with my children.  I did.  And they knew I loved them.  Maybe that’s why they didn’t mind when I disappeared for hours on my long runs—because when I got home, I brought my grinning self to the threshold and bestowed hugs and laughs and well-timed winks.  Running made happy, and being happy made me a better mom.   Within limits, running made me a better mom.

I guess it’s all about balance.  I’d never quite found it.  Every day I reached out and tried to hold onto something stable to find it, because I was always moving so damn fast.  But as a mom, I had to be my own doorframe.  I had to provide the ballast to keep the ship afloat, and to do that, I had to stand still, if only for a few moments at a time, or else I was going to run my family aground.  And ships, like families, get pretty messed up when that happens.

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A Laundry Mountain, Falling Leaves and the Synopsis

I learned a little about the way I write this last week.  I like juggling several projects at once right up until the irreversible moment when I hit terminal mental velocity.  Then I drop all the balls and hide under the mountain of laundry piled on my bed, whimpering. 

It turns out that I write query letters and synopses in a state of complete and utter distraction.  To get in the mood to write something technical, which a synopsis is, I went through the writer’s version of a baseball player stepping into the batter’s box.  Minus the loogies and the crotch grabs.

I skimmed books and websites to learn, sort of, what I needed to write.  Then I got scared and thought about outlining Alien Enlightenment, but I don’t outline anything.  So I researched angels and demons and time space continuums some more.  And I drank way, way too much coffee and ate a pumpkin scone or two.

Then I started reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly and told my closest friends and about a thousand other people that they really, really needed to read it too.  I even made a poster of the Teddy Roosevelt quote that inspired Daring Greatly.  The first poster I made sucked, so I created a second one.  Here it is:

I started the query letter.

• • •

A few more days passed.  Every once in a while, I walked past the computer, glared at the query letter, and typed out a sentence or two.  I ran many miles, celebrated a fifteenth Anniversary and whined, a lot.  My husband told me I was doing a marvelous job and no, Cutie you’re not fat several times.

I skimmed, in no particular order, pages from a few more books on writing and several websites.  I asked a few patient friends like Astrea Baldwin, Deb Bryan, Doug MacIlroy and August McLaughlin for tips, help and advice.  Yellow leaves fell outside my window and the weather turned cold after a front blew through.  I opened a document and titled it: Synopsis/Ripple/Farris.

Two more days passed.

I reorganized all of the books on my desk.  More yellow leaves tumbled and danced and skated as they spiraled to the Virginia clay.  I contemplated the seasons and tried to stop counting the acorns on the deck.

I folded the laundry, went for a run, and took a hot shower.  Then I wrote fifteen words.  Man I hope my husband isn’t still reading this because when he got home from work yesterday, I told him I had worked nonstop all day.  I spent a half-hour whining on Facebook:

Help! I must finish this synopsis but it is as boring as writing a freakin’ legal memorandum. Ack! Groan. Wail. Teeth gnash. Fingernail nibble. Nervous pacing.

I wrote another fifteen words, ate a bowl of Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal, counted twenty-seven yellow pen-oak leaves float past, and whined for thirteen minutes.  Just re-reading this makes me exhausted.  A gust of wind brought a bombardment of acorns against the rooftop of our Dutch Colonial. 

The laundry pile beckoned, but I resisted.  It was time.  My short, chubby fingers ran over the wireless iMac keyboard, lickety-split, staccato tapping echoing against a mosaic of alternative music.  Sentences split, fragmented, then wove together.

Eight hundred and thirty two words and a week after I started, and the first draft is done.  And now?  Now I fold laundry.

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Baby Steps: Thirty Seconds of Chocolate

After I look out the bedroom window for her black Lexus, I run downstairs and pull all of the blinds shut.  She can’t see in.  But she can still get in through the garage.  The combination is my birthday and I should change that but I don’t remember how.  I gotta figure that out.

I check the door that leads to the garage.  We’ve taped the lock so that the kids won’t accidentally turn the lock and now I gotta tear the tape off as fast as I can and I’m fumbling with the tape and it won’t move and if she opened the door right now I couldn’t stop her.  Wait.  Slow down, I whisper.  Go slow, methodical, and find an edge.  I feel beneath the knob and pull at a shred of the thick, clear tape and I feel the fear pressing in as fast as I can push it away but no, I whisper, just pull it slow.

And I do.  I rip off a shred and then more tape, until I can turn the handle from vertical to horizontal.  It’s locked.  I’m safe for the moment.  Yet I am the hunted, not the hunter.

Once the doors are secured, I tiptoe upstairs, locking the bedroom door behind me.  If she wanted to get it, she could.  Anyone can open the bedroom door with a sharp edge, like a credit card or a quarter, but I need the extra fake security that the cruddy lock gives me.  I need it even though I know it’s not real security.  What’s real anyway?  My fear is real.

I take the hottest shower I can take.  That’s what I did as a teenager.  I locked that bathroom door and turned the water as hot as it would get and I hid behind the shower curtain for as long as the hot water stayed hot enough to shield me from the coldness that only fear brings.

I dry off and before I grab my keys, I peer into the cabinet at the Hershey’s chocolate.  I think about eating the chocolate.  I don’t deserve it.  Maybe I should take them anyway, for later.  So I grab two little bars and pack them in the car with me, to eat later.  Maybe then I will feel safer.

I start up the crossover at the exact moment I hit the garage door opener.  I don’t want to chance it.  What if she’s parked right in front of the door?  What if she brought a gun?  And what if the garage door got stuck before it opens more than an inch or so, enough to ventilate the garage . . . what if I die from carbon monoxide poisoning?  In the second it takes the garage door to engage and rise, I calculate my odds of surviving the carbon monoxide and I know, I really know, that’s paranoid.  Maybe less than one percent, I muse, checking the rear view mirror before I reverse out of the driveway.

I drive familiar streets that look and feel unfamiliar.  I’m not sure where I am but I know I should know where I’m going.  And then I taste a bit of chocolate and remember that I’m on my way to my therapist’s office.

A little later, I’m sitting on her sofa and I tell her about the chocolate.  “I know it’s crazy, but I didn’t feel like I deserved it, you know?”

She nods and thinks.  “I bet you feel like you don’t deserve to ask him for help, do you?”

I laugh and shake my head.  “No.  I don’t deserve that.”

“Or to ask the principal for help.”

I laugh and shake my head.

She nods again.  “That’s the point we need to get you to—where you deserve to eat the chocolate.  You deserve to feel pleasure.  You deserve to feel safe.”

I look down at my knee, which clicks every time I straighten my leg.  “That’s another problem with the chocolate.  It reminds me of the good times, when we ate chocolate together.  I got that from her.  We both like chocolate, you know?”

She nods again, and I pause and gather myself.  “And then the image rolls, like in a movie, image after image, and another image comes.  Then he’s shoving the chocolate down my throat, and choking me, and I can’t breathe, and no one is helping me.  She doesn’t stop him.  And all I was trying to do was have a piece of chocolate.”

Her gaze shifts as I’m talking.  She hides her shock; she brings her professional reserve into the room but I saw the momentary hurt, and it does hurt.  I know it hurts because as I’m talking I can almost taste the chocolate.

“All I wanted was to taste the chocolate—to feel safe enough to taste the chocolate.”

She folds her hands together.  “What if, for thirty seconds, you felt safe enough to taste the chocolate?”

“Thirty seconds?” I grinned.  “Baby steps?”

Her eyes crinkle up.  “Baby steps.  Let’s start with thirty seconds.”

Baby steps.  I can do that.  I can keep going, one foot after another, until it gets easier.  Because I know there’s light.  There’s light at the end of the tunnel.

 

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Is There One Way to Write?

When I started this blog, I promised to be honest.  Of course, being honest doesn’t mean saying whatever the hell is on my mind, either.  If I’m not getting along with someone I love, I’m not going to go public with it.  My relationships mean more than my audience reach or edification.  But I can talk about me, if I’m losing my mind, or losing my shit, as I prefer to say (or did prefer until a few people challenged me for having my characters cuss too much) then I might as well talk about it with you.

I used to write this mind-bendingly honest stuff when I started my Facebook Page.  8,000 fans later, I wonder if maybe I’ve lost myself in the never-ending search for greater popularity.  This need to find an ever-greater number of LIKES on my page speaks of hubris and dependence on others to define my own self-worth, so I resist it, oh man, how I resist it.  Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate being liked.  In fact, I love it . . . right up until I find that I’m forgetting what makes me—me.

And that’s where I am now.  It’s not just my Facebook Page, or even my blog here, which is much smaller.  It’s my book.

I’m almost done with draft three, which consists of fixing inconsistency in POV (point of view). Mostly this is an easy fix.  I have three main characters and each scene either needs to be written from the perspective of one of the three characters or it can be written from third-party omniscient POV.  The thing that is confusing me to the point where I want to send the entire manuscript to the trash is if I’m in third party omniscient, how much can I show of each character’s thoughts and feelings?

I’ll figure it out, no doubt.  But I don’t want to lose my mental stability in the process.  I’m trying so hard to hold onto the essence of what makes these scenes true and real and (I hope) beautiful . . . and now I hold this Exacto-knife to each scene, cutting the excess.  But I’m scared, so scared, I’m cutting the essence, the muscle, the dimples that make a face special—OUT along with the fat.

I’ve studied both the science and the art of writing and I’m an artist, not a scientist, when it comes down to it.  I write according to feel and I try to hear my characters in each word I fashion.  I think great writing is almost a mystical process, one that unites mind and heart and soul with a seamless tap of fingers on keyboard.  There are some right and some wrong ways to go about writing, but if I had to define what makes a book great, I’d have to respond that it sounds or reads or even feels right.

Some people speak of magic formulas and objective guidelines to writing novels.  And for sure, there are rules and guidelines, but so often, these rules and guidelines exist to be flouted.  For me, citing and obeying too many rules and techniques can reduce the magic of writing to a mathematical formula, or what my friend The Monster in Your Closet calls “The Dread Writamatician.”  And when I try to apply these formulas to my manuscript, I skate into a place of angst and frustration that feels all too close to mental instability.

That’s why I quit writing so many years ago.  I could not reconcile objective standards with my inner definition of beauty, and I fucking lost it.  Really—lost it.  I made it through all of that, but only after I chose surviving over living my dream, and if I have to make the same choice, I think I’d choose a balanced, sane life over art again.  But it’s not an easy choice.  I love my art that much.

So where am I?  This third draft is pretty much making me crazy.  I’m scared and frustrated and for some reason, angry, and I don’t know why I’m angry.  I think I’m angry with myself, to be honest.

But that said–I’m fine.  Well, no, I‘m not at all fine, but I will be fine after I get over this funk.  I know I’m putting too much pressure on myself and I’m closer than I’ve ever been to sending Ripple to the trash bin.  I won’t.  Instead, I’ll go for a run and I won’t stop until this pain of creating makes me feel too much like destroying.

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