Archive for category writing
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
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.
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.
This morning, I really, really wanted to chew a head off, or at a minimum, a hand. This is the absolute bane of all small business owners, particularly artists and writers: setting up a new business. Yeah, yeah, it’s exciting and I’m grateful and, well, yada, yada. But when three children are yowling, busting heads and basically working through their Ophelia, Hamlet and Polonius routine and the man is conducting scientific experiments in the kitchen, the whole process of arranging a freaking PayPal button on WordPress becomes more a bloodletting experience than anything else.
And no decent mom refuses to take a child to the library, right? Right, but only after I get my new page set up on WordPress: this one. But right now, I gotta confess something: I’m not feeling like a decent mom. I’m trying, but I’m also working as hard as I used to work when I practiced law. Don’t get me wrong: this time around, I love my job, but I’m getting too obsessed with line edits, double spaces after periods (damn my eyes, I’m switching to single spaces), proof copies, mailing advance reviewer copies, and a plethora of other small details.
You see, even though I’m self-publishing, I refuse to compromise quality. I’m rolling the dice on my own name and reputation, and it’s not like I can blame a secretary or intern or junior associate or asshole client if anything gets messed up. This book must look as good as anything that is traditionally published.
And you know what’s getting sacrificed right now? Sigh. Yep. My family. Or as Helen realizes in Ripple:
Excellence may not be about making beds and cooking brownies, but excellence was about more than rising to the top of your profession. She’d fucked up. She hadn’t meant to. She really hadn’t meant to hurt her daughter, but she had. Her own excellence had been achieved by sacrificing her family and now she was paying the price for it. No, now Phoebe was paying the price for it, she realized, and she winced.
Sometimes fiction mirrors life; other times, life mirrors fiction. All I know is that I need to find a balance, somehow. It doesn’t mean that I should give up trying to create the best product I can, but I need to try harder here on the home front. These twelve and fourteen hour days, after all, are nothing to be proud of—not when those hours take too much time away from my children.
How do you all do it, your working moms and dads? Do you feel trapped between work and home? As if you constantly fail work or family at the expense of the other?
Hey there (peeking up from my [can’t say the brand because it annoys some readers] keyboard, coffee mug in hand, looking a little wild-eyed. It’s been a crazy-busy month, and I’ve loved almost every minute of it, with that confusing sort of loathing, glowing love-fear-hate that all new business owners feel at the outset of their respective professional ventures.
Hmmm, that sounds both pompous and intimidating, but it’s also accurate. To do it right, to turn out a well-heeled, smooth final product, a self-published writer must take the reigns, learn the ins and outs of all aspects of publishing, or as I keep muttering under my breath in times of stress, “We’re going ALL-IN, baby!!!”
I keep trying to write an organized summary of what I’ve been doing, but that’s crazy, because it’s been a whirlwind, a cyclonic-blending of associated pieces of the crashing-wave-puzzle that is self-publishing. So here are a few pieces of it . . .
I have a friend who is a graphic designer and many other things extraordinary, and we agreed that the cover should look Salvador Dali-esque. Many private messages and phone calls later, and after many purchases of stock photo licenses, we ended up with the following, and we declared it beautiful. So did many-fold Facebook friends and followers. But then I got a message from a dear friend, and with some trepidation, this writer-blogger friend let me know that the traditional publishing house that put out Wicked used the same model with a different background.
“What?” chuckled my graphic designer, and so did I. “You mean a super-rich publishing house bought the exact same photo I did? No wonder traditional publishing houses are dying!”
Even though we weren’t violating any intellectual property laws, we agreed, without a split second of doubt, to nix the cover. The new one will be based on an actual friend rather than a stock photo. We’re not taking any chances this time. And it should be ready in the next day or so.
I’ve spent hours and hours talking, mostly on my main social media platform, Facebook, to friends and acquaintances. I devised as part of my marketing plan a legion of advance reviewers who will read mailed or e-mailed copies of a not-yet final version of Ripple. After helping me print pre-paid postage mailing labels from Stamps.com on pieces of white paper and taping them to bubble envelopes, my husband, chuckling, and a little tired of packing books, wondered how big “El’s Army” was going to get.
I like the term he coined. I love the grassroots feel of how I’m marketing this first novel of mine. So far, the feedback has been wonderful, and I’m hoping and praying this translates to buzz and increased sales. Even if it doesn’t . . . I’m giving it my all and enjoying every minute of it.
What I haven’t enjoyed so much, wait, okay, what I deplored and resorted to hair pulling, teeth-gnashing and much cussing over because of has been CreateSpace. Great company—don’t get me wrong. But for awhile there, I spoke of it between gritted teeth. I would upload a file (versions 7.1 through 8.3 and on and on) and then would wait for their file review process. Again and again, it came back with margin and font issues. I went through at least twenty uploads before I finally just ordered a hard copy. Once it arrived, I got out a ruler, measured the margins, and then applied the measurements to my latest working copy of my manuscript. And I chose a number of different fonts, from Cambria to Garamond to Calibri . . . and each font change messed up my italicized passages until I figured out how to use a template for italics.
Right. It’s boring to write about and your eyes are probably blurring up . . . unless you’re also thinking about self-publishing, and if so, please feel free to ask me what the hell I’m talking about. The way I see it is that if my meanderings into the sticky-icky world of CreateSpace can save you some trouble, then please let me help you!
So that’s about the size of it. I could write another 700 words about El’s Army and CreatePurgatoria, but my graphic designer is on the other line and there’s a note from Amazon’s Online Store that I must attend to . . . something about how pre-orders can begin in a couple of days, in advance of the actual 1/21 release of Ripple. And that’s worth a Snoopy Happy Dance or two or three.
I grab my jacket and my wallet and my cell phone and my room keycard and my Sportsband and I head out of the Clarion Hotel, down a hill or two, and walk for about a mile until I spot an old white building which is almost blocking traffic. It’s the old library here in Shepherdstown, West Virginia and as crazy as it sounds, the damn building was not so much built around the street as the street was built around it.
I peer into a window of an old red brick building and try to make sure that Hypnocoffee is open and it is, so I open one door, step into a vestibule, and open another door, which takes me into the best coffee shop I’ve ever visited. Maybe that doesn’t sound right; after all, this is a small town and a small shop that lacks name brand recognition, but it’s the truth and I swear it.
I’m on a working vacation with my husband. He’s working, that is. I’m supposed to be working too, but I’m a writer and I spend most of my time walking around and taking the sights in and trying to find stuff to write about. Travis is busy from eight to five. Anyway, this leaves me lots of time to search for stuff to write about and to me, that’s another way of saying that I’m going on an adventure.
Before we left, that fine man of mine spent hours researching coffeehouses in Shepherdstown. “Cutie, I just want to make sure you’re really comfortable,” he explained. He’s either really solicitous or I’m a pain in the ass when I travel, or it’s a combination of both. The truth is, he researches coffee as if he were the coffee version of an oenophile and I’m downright picky about what beans I drink.
There is a really popular coffee house here, called Lost Dog Café. Fortunately Travis warned me that there baristas were rude; their coffee, bland, so I didn’t take it personally when the young woman at the cash register tossed an empty cup at me when I ordered a large brew. She barely made eye contact, and I felt out of sorts and shy as I paused and looked around. Lost Dog is a cool place. It’s all funky, with lots of color, a kaleidoscopic array of chalk scrawled all over chalkboards, t-shirts and mugs for sale, and a directive to be artsy-cool or drink coffee somewhere else. That made me laugh because I’m making my living as a writer. I write real stuff. But looking at me, in my 41-year old mother of three very imperfect body, baggy jeans, running t-shirt and Brooks running shoes, well, no one would ever know that I’m a creative type. And that’s all right with me.
After all, it’s what you do, what you create, not how you look when you create it, that really matters.
And that brings me back to Hypnocoffee. They are first, and above all else, a coffee roastery. You won’t find any t-shirts in here, or fancy mugs, or poseur political slogans. And that’s okay with me. Because what you will find, or what I’ve found, is the best cuppa Joe I’ve ever quaffed.
“Woooo, Cutie. Check this out. They employ the pour-over approach.”
I glanced at my husband, barely paying attention. “Uh-huh.”
He shifted his iPad in his hand so that I can see it. “Look. Check it out.”
I nodded, and he showed me what looked like a giant hourglass, with a white paper filter filled with fresh-ground coffee and almost boiling water on top.
“They say this makes the best coffee, ever. It’s the latest thing, and it’s taking the coffee house by storm.”
“Mmm, nice,” I murmured, my eyes searching for the pages of my book.
“So you’re going to like, no, love this place.”
And you know what? From the moment the coffee hit the roof of my mouth yesterday, I loved the dark brew and the place that brewed it.
The barista is a young guy, and yeah, I’ve reached the age where all creatures under thirty are young guys. Getting old can be a bitch, you know? This young guy wears a bow tie and his eyes twinkle when he talks, especially about coffee. “Yeah, you’re going to love the pour-over,” he predicts, with a smile that starts near his eyes. “It blows the doors off French Press coffee. And I know French Press coffee,” he adds, in response to my own benchmark for comparing coffee brewing methods. “I used to work at a place where we made coffee out of these industrial size French Presses.”
I take a sip and smile, again feeling shy. It’s hard for me to know what to say to people, so I usually stop trying to figure it all out and just tell the truth. “It’s awesome. Great coffee.” I tip my 12-ounce white cup at him and smile, crossing the small shop in about seven steps before I reach the inner door.
That was yesterday. It’s Tuesday, and I’m back again. It’s my kind of place. As Hemingway would say, it’s a clean, well-lit place, and I’m comfortable here. I’ve met Tony, the owner, and he’s a runner and a father and a busy man who, like me, is doing what he loves, loving what he’s doing, and doing it pretty damn well.
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.
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 . . .
I’m in a crowded room and my family’s there, waiting, and I’m holding my breath. I see my brother. He’ carrying this biological terror inside him, this virus that he’s going to unleash on the world, so I take a deep breath and slip out the back door. I end up in a bathroom, and there’s no toilet paper on any of the dispensers, so I dig under the sink and grab a handful of rolls, which I’m handing to several strangers. And then I hear my name, and it’s my husband screaming for me. Come help me, El, so I go to him, and he’s fallen in this shallow pool with tiles on the bottom.
I hesitate. I’m scared. Then I see blood dripping from his mouth and eye, and I leap in there and grab him. I lead him by the elbow to the infirmary. But then I must leave. I’m the only one who knows how to stop the virus. The secret is orange juice. The scene changes, and I’m sitting in the back of a car watching a long line of cars queued up for gas, trying to get the courage up to run inside and buy orange juice. I must buy it, and save myself, and then save everyone else. But first I gotta get out of the car.
It’s 9:45 AM. I zip up my red running jacket and tap my Nike sportsband. It’s 38 degrees, so I’m wearing shorts but once I get a mile under my belt, I’ll be warm enough. My body is tired but my mind is not. As I jog along, slow and steady, my thoughts flit and fly about and I let them be without trying to control what comes into mind. I don’t have any agenda when I run today. I just run.
My run follows the trail along Burke Lake. Light brown leaves hang from tall pen oaks above me, and many more leaves obscure the soft dirt underfoot. It smells like burnt wood and mold and dirt and lake water, which for me is what Heaven must smell like.
Last night, I stayed up until three AM working on draft two of I Run. It occurs to me now that I once ran to keep from drowning under the sea of troubles I then was facing. There was something almost superhuman in the miles I covered, but even as I ran and ran from my pain, I ran my body almost into ruin. I smile, gently, thinking of the odyssey of healing and faith I was on, and thank God I don’t have to run like that anymore.
An old man wearing gloves nods at me, and I wish him a good morning. I need to go to WalMart on my way home from this run because we’re out of laundry detergent. It’s not the worst task I’ve ever faced it, but I’d rather be outside running past the birdwatchers clutching binoculars than negotiating the blue aisles of a discount store. I sigh, and allow a small half-smile, because I’m happy now.
But when I ran fifty, seventy, even ninety miles a week, as I did in the pages of I Run, I wasn’t so happy. It was never enough to be average, or good enough, or middle of the pack. It wasn’t enough to run 15-20 miles a week, or get Bs in school, or less than excellent reviews as a young lawyer. If I wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t enough. I needed that external proof of my own value; I needed it like a woman needs oxygen, because I did not have my own source of self-value. I knew not the unconditional love that God’s grace provides.
An Oriental woman runs past me in the other direction, and we smile at one another. Fast or slow, tall or short, we’re all runners, and we’re in this together somehow, even if we never see one another again. I used to be afraid to be like everyone else, “in it together with them,” because without trophies or a high enough salary or a low enough average running pace, I would be left with just me, my essence, my very being, and that could not possibly be enough. After all, how could anyone love just me, without a good reason why?
I check my watch. I’ve run 2.5 miles, and it’s a good time to turn. A five-mile run is nothing heroic, and that’s okay. I don’t need to be a hero. I’m healed now, healed from so many things, including this sick sense that I have to accomplish anything to earn the title of being lovable.
Because that is what I am. You see, I’m just like you and the next man or woman. God loves us all, just the way we are. I smile again. He loves me. And as I head back in the other direction toward my Mazda, I think about picking up the orange juice. Today is my day to be like everyone else, and if that includes making a trip to a discount store, then I’ll face it with a smile.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
Stephanie Saye is one of my friends. She’s also the author of Little 15, which tells the story of a high school girl who has an affair with her basketball coach. Little 15 raises a number of provocative issues, like: whose fault is it anyway? What sort of moral culpability, if any, does the teenager bear? What kind of girl gets involved with a married man? What kind of married man violates all moral and legal precepts by sleeping with a child?
The plot of my upcoming book, Ripple, does not shy from difficult subjects either; indeed, by chapter eight, the main character has killed her child-molesting husband with a golf club, and yes, friends, Helen Thompson would do it again. Why? Because he had it coming to him? Or because he had threatened to rape their daughter again? Did the main character act in self-defense? Could she have prevented the rape from occurring? How does a girl heal after having been raped? How does a girl overcome the pain and stigma of rape and incest?
Like Stephanie Saye, I write about subjects that are taboo–that make grown men cringe. When I first pitched my book to friends and acquaintances, many people gasped, winced, or simply stared at me slack-jawed. Soon enough I realized that many people couldn’t get past my one-sentence synopsis. I know that Stephanie has encountered similar resistance. But you know what? If people can find the courage to read our books, and to delve into the deep issues we explore, they might find the tools they need to carve a path out of their own darkness.
But there’s the rub: our books must reach the public. And so when Stephanie dropped me a line the other day to let me know that Little 15 had been banned from a private literary event in Houston, well, I got fired up and asked her to write about her experience here. Without further ado, I present–
• • •
Do you know what sometimes happens to fearless authors who write controversial books?
Their books get banned.
And that’s exactly what happened to my book just last week.
Long story short, I was uninvited to market and sell my book at a high-profile literary event this week in Houston.
I’m not going to tell you the event name, because I’m not devious and I don’t believe in revenge. But I will say this: the keynote speaker for this event is a best-selling author (I’m talking New York Times Bestseller list here), whose blockbuster novel was recently made into a hit movie.
Up until a few days ago, I was one of a handful of authors selected to sell books before and after the big name author’s speech, which based on ticket sales, is expected to draw a crowd of over 1,000. And for an indie author hungry for sales, that’s like striking gold.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve worked diligently back and forth with the event coordinators on copy and images for promotional materials, including the event program that would feature a write up on my book. I did exactly what they asked of me every step of the way. I made travel arrangements. My husband set me up for wireless credit card processing. I ordered promotional materials for my booth, along with a couple hundred copies of my books from my publisher, which were delivered to my door step in six separate boxes that have since taken over my living room.
Everything seemed to be falling in place for this event, until I opened up my email one morning and found the following message:
Good Morning Stephanie,
Thank you so much for signing up for the 8th Annual [HIGH-PROFILE PRIVATE LITERARY EVENT]. After further review with administration, we feel that your novel is not appropriate for our event. Due to the nature of the book, we just do not feel comfortable including it at the event. I apologize for the late notice and decision. We thank you for considering to join our event and again we are sorry to have to decline.
We wish you the best with your future endeavors!
All my best,
[Event Coordinator Person]
Are you kidding me?
The thing is, the event committee APPROVED my book almost two months ago. As part of the selection process, I was required to send a copy of my book and a sample of reviews. Shortly thereafter, I got an official letter inviting me to promote and sell my book at the event.
So here’s how the cookie crumbled. When the copy for the event program went up the ranks for approval, a chief decision maker apparently stopped on the description of my book and took issue.
Little 15—a riveting story about a girl, her coach and their torrid affair.
“This points to a major breakdown in our selection and approval process that we will be sure to correct moving forward so this never happens again,” one official assured me over the phone. “We are so very sorry, but given the nature of your book, we just aren’t comfortable having it at our event.”
Fine. I know my book is edgy. I know it’s risqué. But as I told the event official, my novel is intended to be a cautionary tale—one that is helping to raise awareness of an issue that happens all too often in our schools. In fact, if you look at some of the reviews for Little 15, readers have said that my novel has inspired them to sit down with their kids and talk to them about this kind of abuse.
I used that and other reader feedback as the basis for producing a book trailer for Little 15, which I scrambled to launch last week on the heels of having my invitation revoked. Psychologically speaking, it was what I needed to do to move my artistry forward in the face of what some might consider a failure or loss. But in my mind, having my book banned from an event because of the nature of its content underscores my purpose as an author: to write books that move me, no matter how off color my stories might be in the face of mainstream societal beliefs.
On the other hand, I understand how the topic of my novel could be offensive. Literary works of art often are. And that’s OK. I knew that going in. But to change your mind a week before the event? When I’ve already invested in promotional materials and 250 copies of my books?
So now, as I reflect on the events of last week, I find myself asking the question: “Is there a silver lining to all this?”
Oh yes, my friends, there sure is.
As it turns out, having my book banned puts me in a category with some pretty famous authors like Vladimir Nabokov, Toni Morrison, Shel Silverstein, Maya Angelou and Judy Blume to name a few.
All of these authors, and many like them, have had a book—or in some cases, books—removed from school or library shelves.
This sort of thing still happens all the time. I realize that my book wasn’t actually removed from a library or school, but having my invitation revoked to a private literary event gave me a taste of what censorship feels like.
In Good Company
To give you some background, each year the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom receives hundreds of reports on books and other materials that were “challenged” (their removal from school or library shelves was requested).
Not surprisingly, J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series (which is one of my family’s all-time favorites) draws the most complaints, commonly from parents and others who believe the books promote witchcraft to children. Other frequently challenged titles include:
- “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, for its use of language, particularly references to race
- “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, for the description of rape she suffered as a child
- To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, for offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group
- Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer, for religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, for offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult, for homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
That’s a pretty impressive list, if you ask me. And I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t aspire to be a part of it. So why this allure to be part of the banned?
Because to me, being a banned-book author is more of an accomplishment than a drawback.
It means not being afraid of tackling hard-hitting topics that might make people uncomfortable. It means not shying away from writing about real-life drama that sometimes exposes the dark side of our human character. And it means having the courage to write for one’s self instead of being driven by what people think.
That’s what I did when I wrote Little 15.
And that’s what I’ll continue to do over and over again.
• • •
***Stephanie Saye is the author of Little 15—a story about a high school basketball star, her coach and their torrid affair. When she’s not writing novels, getting a wax or spending time with her husband and two sons, you can find Stephanie on the street corner trying to hock the 250 copies of her book that she’s now stuck with after getting banned from a recent literary event. A recovering corporate suit and a native Texan, Stephanie surprisingly does not own a horse, a gun or even a pair of chaps.
What do you think about censorship, banned books and controversial topics?