Motivation

My eldest daughter turns eight today. A little less than nine years ago my world came to a grinding halt when my wife asked me to stop at the pharmacy. I was twenty-five, recently married and searching for a house. And, of course, I was working on becoming a writer.

I distinctly remember a conversation my wife and I had about a month after the realization that we were going to be parents had settled in. We talked about the changes coming, our lack of preparedness, and our overall thrill. And then my wife said, about my writing, “I know this will change everything for you, the amount of time you will have, and I’m sorry for that.”

I was crushed. Not only because she was right, but because I was so transparent. I was, indeed, scrambling to figure out how I was going to be a father, husband, homeowner, teacher, AND writer. More than that, her words hurt, because being sorry wasn’t anywhere near what I wanted her to be feeling. The conversation altered my perspective, because I knew right then that for my marriage to work, and for me to be the best father possible, I needed to straighten out my priorities. Writing mattered, but not nearly as much as family.

Somehow we made it through those zombie days of infancy, and through it all, I kept writing. My schedule shifted to early mornings, because it was a race to see if I could write before the morning feeding. Once our daughter was old enough, and slept through, I’d become accustomed to the hours and kept them. They served me well as three years later, we had our second daughter and two years after that This Side of Normal was published.

However, being a parent to an infant is difficult, but being a father to two toddler girls is wonderful and all-encompassing. My wife and I are both educators. We understood the importance of those early years, how vital they are to building the foundation of personality and intelligence and security. To say I struggled balancing that demand and my writing is an understatement, yet one very important element crystallized: my motivation.

I was tempted to quit writing after This Side of Normal. My next work didn’t sell, the publishing industry was changing and I wasn’t sure if I had what it takes to succeed in this business. But both of my daughters, when the saw the cover of TSON, would say, “That’s daddy’s book. Daddy’s a writer.” How in the world could I ever say to them, “Well, I used to be.”

And so I forged ahead, not solely for me, but because of how I felt after that initial conversation with my wife, after the grind of writing while half-awake, the excitement of seeing my work in print, and for my daughters.

This kind of story is not unique. People work hellacious hours at jobs they despise for the sake of their children. Some work two or three jobs to provide. I have to believe that they feel as I do, that this work is not about me anymore. It is much bigger. It is about us.

I would not have that motivation without my wife and daughters. The roadblock my wife thought children might be has become the best kick in the pants. I love writing. I love my daughters. I cannot imagine a world without either. I get up early and write to the last minute before work, and I think about the craft all the time. And I parent. I am their daddy who writes. This is my life.

So thank you, Carrie, for putting it all into perspective.

And that leads me back to Grace, the birthday girl, to whom I also want to say, thank you. Without you, I would be a shadow of the man I am today. My wish for you is a life that provides insight into just how amazing you are. Enjoy this birthday and every one over the horizon.

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Book Giveaway

If you’d like to win a copy of Tap Out, please head over to The Literati Press Blog to enter. The post today includes an excerpt from my novel (Tony’s first time at the gym), and is a great way to capture the attention of any MMA fans you know.

So head on over and give Starr some love. She’s shown me nothing besides. And she is awesome. Thanks.

Hollywood proves my point

Over at Teen Librarian’s Toolbox, for a guest post on YA and guys, I wrote the following:

I believe the zombies and romance elements are rooted in the same concern: love. This is a giant untouchable for boys. They don’t talk about love. They don’t talk about feelings much, period (at least in a class). Men don’t either. Not stereotypically or theoretically, but in the majority. So why should boys buck the trend? Because they’re still naive enough, still hopeful enough, and still vulnerable enough to learn.

Zombies are the manifestation of death of the human spirit. They exist, but have no emotion, just pure desire for the ultimate taboo. Romance is on the other end of the spectrum, the pining, the swooning, the tears—all of which gets made fun of during Romeo and Juliet, but in reality hits home when it’s delivered correctly in YA. Boys stumble, are inarticulate, are overwhelmed by hormones. They need a character to be there, too, but somehow still manage to go out with the girl. Not because possession of the girl is the goal, but love is. Feeling. Not being a zombie.
Hollywood has proved my point. Thank you Warm Bodies.

The Darkness comes from within

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg discusses the Artist’s desire to create: “…though she [the artist] expresses vitality, must behind it touch down on quiet peace.”

In On Writing, Stephen King describes how he writes to Metallica. Most recently I read an interview with him and Neil Gaiman, and King discussed how he writes in his Florida home with his desk facing the wall, away from the distracting windows.

Goldberg and King are both touching on the importance of the process and how we keep it from managing us. Ever since Tap Out hit readers’ hands, I’ve had questions about my process and the environment in which I write. Most assume because of the pervasive darkness in my novel that I will lean toward King’s image: sitting alone in a dark room, cranking heavy tunes and hammering away on the keyboard.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

But first, let me explain how my office came to be.

We bought our home while my wife was pregnant with our first daughter and we had no cash; of course during the real estate bubble. Therefore, we grabbed up a two-bedroom ranch with a large enough yard for a future addition. The “spare” room became the nursery, and my wife did not want a traditional theme. She wanted something unisex and something that would last for our second child (we didn’t know the gender of either child until delivery). Also, since my wife is 100% Irish, she wanted the room to reflect that, and so why not paint the room like the hills of Ireland with cute little sheep and a rainbow, etc? And while at it, why not make it panoramic, painting the popcorn ceiling with a multi-toned sky and puffy white clouds?

Exactly.

Of course I said yes, because that’s what you do for your wife in your new home with your first baby on the way. Fortunately, our friend’s sister is a talented artist. She came and sketched and then painted, and within a week the nursery was complete. And it was perfect once our daughter was snuggled inside.

Fast forward three years, the addition has been built, and we now have four bedrooms, two daughters and I get an office. The new “bedroom” in the addition was perfect. Spartan like King’s, painted a peaceful blue, ala Goldberg. Only there was one problem: the windows in the nursery had become excessively drafty. We didn’t have the money to replace both, so a decision was made–paint the office pink, add a cutsie theme and convert it into the new nursery. As for the old? It became my office, complete with a space heater to combat the cold, with the hills of Ireland over my head.

So when I write, I guess I implore both the wisdom of Goldberg and King. The room is incredibly peaceful. When I look up while writing a scene, lost with where I want to go or what I want a character to say, I’m faced with serenity, not insanity. And I believe that is what keeps me from getting pulled too far into the darkness within. Because I crank away at my work with a fevered pitch as if Metallica–or more likely Slipknot–is roaring in my ears, but I am surrounded by peace. That balance keeps me sane and maintains the humanity within my work. It is impossible not to. I sit and write in the room in which my firstborn dreamed.

Can I get a little help?

As authors, we write, market, build platforms, create connections, and successfully live in both the virtual and real world. We do all this because that’s the job. That is not a complaint, but a fact. People with more intelligence on the matter will discuss tribes and such, and of course they are correct. But what underlies all this activity is a four-letter word: Help.

For me, someone who is ruggedly independent (at least in my mind), I struggle with that. I don’t like asking for help, and certainly do not like to the idea that I might need it. Yet, that word and all it embodies is precisely what every author needs. I didn’t get a publishing contract without my agent. Heck, I didn’t get my writing up to spec without a writers group. And now I continue to try and raise awareness for who I am and what my work is all about on social media outlets. Social media. A multitude. Of people who help.

I am new to the social platform, and not surprisingly, am hit or miss. Yet, I recently had the opportunity to help another writer, who in the past has helped me. None of this would have occurred without our connected lifestyle. And that opportunity, more than any article I’ve read or conversation I’ve heard has made all the difference, because it had nothing to do with me helping me.

I think the term “Karma” is overused and often misapplied, but maybe it works for this situation? If so, then I feel better about “getting myself out there.” Because shouting for attention does not interest me. But seeing the circular help does.

And as I consider my work as an author, this fact doesn’t surprise me. Every piece I have ever written has an element of someone needing help–the one thing I’m afraid of seeking.

Well, then, as Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Don’t we all? Therefore, I’m coming to terms with platform and attention-seeking and all the rest, as I’m sure so are many of you. I would offer then a paradigm shift on the perspective of help. We still need to help ourselves, but more importantly, answer this: How can what you post, tweet or share assist not only you, but that multitude who has your back?

Feel free to help me figure it out.

Notes from the Road

In the eight weeks since Tap Out was released, I have held six events, from bookstores and libraries to an MMA gym and a local bar. Throughout these events I’ve taken notes on what worked, what didn’t. For those of you interested, here’s what I’ve learned:

Libraries:

I went to one local library on September 25th. For those of you who are unaware, as I was, Yom Kippur began at sundown. Thus, traffic at the library was not high. Fortunately, I was able to talk leisurely with the patrons who did show, as well as the booksellers who were with me. Next year I will be much more mindful of the calendar.

Bookstores:

I held three events at bookstores. One with an independent and two with a big-chain store at two of their locations. The indie store was as charming as ever, and I spent a fair amount of time chatting with those who turned out, but traffic was, again, low. I cannot attribute this to the calendar, and can only wonder about my promotion. I relied on Facebook, twitter, flyers and postcards. People knew, but not enough, so possibly a different medium would have been a better fit.

The chain stores were a night and day experience. One was holding a book fair, and the sight of so many people flowing through the aisles would make any author or publisher smile. I received a lot of attention, both from people who knew I was going to be there, and from those who had no idea who I was. I stayed for an additional hour because the traffic was so brisk and signed the remaining copies of Tap Out. Definitely a success.

I went to the other chain store location on a Sunday, and that right there, might have been my flaw. It was quiet. Very quiet. However, I did have sales and I did meet people, who are now hopefully new fans. I even challenged a teen to read the first page of Tap Out and if he liked it, well, we could talk. If he didn’t he could throw it at my face. Fortunately, he was glued to the page, as every teen boy I’ve set this challenge to has been. It’s a wonderful sight, and for that a worthwhile event. And they let me sign all their stock, too.

MMA Gym:

If you put the author in a cage, the fans will come. Seriously. This was a fun event because of the location and its atmosphere. Fighters were sparring off to the side while I was signing. I had hardcore music playing. Everyone who wanted a copy signed had to take off his or her shoes to enter the cage with me. Just beyond cool. I would strongly suggest to any writer to find a location that in some way is an integral piece of your novel and go there. Good times all around.

Local Bar:

There’s just something perfect about an Irish bar on a cold and rain-filled Friday afternoon that screams, “Books!” No there isn’t. What a local bar offers on a Friday at 4 pm is a place to go, forget about the week, eat, drink and be merry. And oh, yeah, check out that guy’s book. Far and away McGrievey’s was the best experience. There were many factors at play that I believe suggest why my bookseller left with only two copies: food, drinks, friends and community support. The owner was kind enough to donate appetizers from 5-7 pm; I arrived at 4:00, because that’s when happy hour begins; and people came out to be part of something fun, unique and cool. I will hold a signing for every book I sell at McGrievey’s because all the necessary elements for a good time were under one roof. And book signings, in my opinion, should be more party than anything else.

Final Thoughts:

While some events were more successful in terms of sales, it is impossible to know the effect one sale may have. Word of mouth is enormous, so I do not discredit the value of any of the more quiet venues.

Promotion via Facebook and twitter is sensible and free and worked well for me. I distributed hundreds of flyers and promotional postcards. I don’t know what return I received from them, at least not in person, so I can’t judge in either direction.

At signings, stand as much as possible. Some locations aren’t amenable to such, but if possible, be upright, even at a pub table. There’s just something natural about meeting a person face-to-face, as opposed to making them do the work of stooping and questioning.

As feasible, find a novel setting to hold a signing. Give people something else to do besides buying a book and chatting. Yes, they may love you and your work, but if you can provide more than just your presence and words, go for it.

I thank everyone who hosted me. Without your willingness I would not have had nearly as much success as I’m enjoying. Next fall, when my next novel is out, we’ll do this again. Sure I’ll tweak some things, but I’ll retain the core purpose: connecting readers to the author. I cannot stress how important that is. The people I met and had a moment to speak with will remember me. And hopefully because of my work, I will stay with them, and they will want to meet me, again.