When I think of a femme fatale, I think of an alluring yet dangerous female. Like a black widow spider, only sexier.
I read an anthology of the century’s best mystery stories, and I was struck by the portrayal of women. Most of the stories had been written by men, and an awful lot of the protagonists were males drawn to that mysterious woman who might be the death of them, but they kept walking toward her anyway.
When O’Neil de Noux, a Shamus award-winning writer, invited me to participate in a Storybundle of femme fatales, I felt like the antithesis of a femme fatale. First of all, as a doctor, my job is to heal, not kill. And because I spend so much energy on studying and working, I end up wearing scrubs (“Yay! I get to wear pyjamas to work!” said my friend and fellow ER doctor, Mai-Anh). I usually wear zero makeup. This is not universal—one of my French female colleagues reapplies her lipstick at 3 a.m. on a night shift—but let’s face it, most of the French are much more femme than I am.
Of course, I could react to the sexlessness of medicine by dolling myself up in my off hours and in my fiction, but I don’t. My brain just doesn’t work that way.
O’Neil helpfully sent me two definitions of a femme fatale.
An attractive and seductive woman, especially one who will ultimately bring disaster to a man who becomes involved with her. -Oxford Dictionary
A beautiful, seductive, and usually evil female character in drama and literature. She is usually shown as a cruel, man-eating seductress. Men fall victim to her beauty and are eventually brought to ruin by her. -Urban Dictionary
O’Neil added, “If she’s a ‘kick ass’ woman going around shooting people, it doesn’t fit.”
Luckily, my characters and I don’t go around shooting people. See “healer,” above.
It wasn’t supposed to be this easy, watching life seep out of a body. Knowing you were the cause of it. Standing in the motel room, fingers against the carotid, feeling the pulse dwindle to a weak, irregular tremor. Smiling, as his skin became translucent, a bluish tinge to his lips. Not so hard, now, to understand that doctor who helped people die. And sometimes stuck around to watch. Hadn’t someone said at the moment of death, he’d shout at his patients, imploring them to tell him what it was like?
Today he’d prove them all wrong. He wasn’t, as The Boss had said on more than one occasion, “the second or third dumbest fuck in the universe.” Bubba Winslow didn’t think he was even in the top twenty.
They popped him in Alabama that last time, and the first thing Forest did when he got out— after he got drunk and laid— was call his buddy Roy. Roy was out in East Jesus, Florida this time— Forest didn’t quite know where, but it didn’t make much of a damn. It was somewhere to go.
Roy was so tickled to hear from him, he hollered at the phone like it was Forest himself. “Hey, ol’ buddy. Get your ass on over here. Where the hell are you, anyhow?”
“It’s where I ain’t that I’m callin’ about. I ain’t in jail in Alabama.”
“Hey, congratulations, ol’. buddy. Where in Alabama ain’t you.in jail?”
She said to meet him in a train station lot. Jay drove there and waited, listening to an AC/DC mix tape Tony had left in the Challenger until a blue Aston Martin DB9 pulled nose to nose with him.
Ramona grinned above the wheel from behind black shades.
On the highway, she winced at the red marks on his nose and cheek. “If I wanted to help you, I should’ve gone to med school.” She weaved through traffic and drafted behind a box truck, the spy-car’s nose to the bumper.
“Way you drive, it’s good you’re a lawyer,” Jay said. “Maybe you can teach me sometime.”
Ramona wore navy slacks and lipstick that gave her the prim air of a strict schoolteacher. “I trained on the Nürburgring,” she said. “Driving here’s easy. Just expect everyone to behave like a complete jerk or a total idiot.”
You know Lawrence Block? Maybe you’ve heard of Matthew Scudder, portrayed by Liam Neeson last year in a Walk Among The Tombstones. Now you can buy our books together, along with New York Times bestsellers Rebecca Cantrell and Julie Hyzy, Edgar nominee Kris Nelscott, plus five other cutting edge crime writers, through the Dark Justice StoryBundle. The main bundle is a mere $5. Buy at https://storybundle.com/crime only until November 19th.
Like, comment, or share this blog for a chance to win all ten books absolutely free! One winner will be chosen from each of the following lists on Wednesday, Nov. 4th:
1. One commenter right here, on this blog post.
2. One subscriber to my newsletter. Just sign up on the top or bottom of my website. Since I only have a few subscribers, this is a good path. I promise not to abuse your e-mail.
3. One participant on my Dark Justice Facebook post.
4. One commenter on my Sleuthsayer blog.
5. Audience member at Vanier College. Claimed!
For those of you who want to know more:
Q. What the heck is a StoryBundle?
A. Jason Chen, founder: I started StoryBundle because back in 2012, video game bundles and app bundles were extremely popular, and no one had yet applied the same idea to ebooks. When I looked around (because I’m a reader myself) to try and find a way to discover lots of new-to-me authors in genres I already like, it was pretty difficult without spending hours reading reviews and trudging through sales lists. Plus, since these are authors I haven’t tried before, I may be left with hit-or-miss quality. Having curated bundles where quality is guaranteed AND readers can set the price solves both these issues.
Q. Okay. Why should I buy this StoryBundle?
A. Kristine Kathryn Rusch, editor:
The Dark Justice bundle comes as close to crime fiction perfection as possible.
It boasts one Grand Master, several award-winners, bestsellers who’ve hit lists like the New York Times and USA Today with multiple books, household names, and writers who’ve just entered the mystery field—sometimes with a bang.
We also have a lot of diversity here. Our investigators include an African American detective, a Canadian doctor of Asian extraction, a disabled stockbroker and a group of retired cold case detectives. Throw in a few amateur detectives, a disgraced ex-cop, a female bounty hunter, and the famous Matthew Scudder, who has appeared in film (most recently A Walk Among The Tombstones), and you’ll encounter the full range of characters the mystery genre has to offer.
I’ve read and loved the work of each and every one of these writers. Some of them I’ve read since I started reading mystery and some I’ve read since before they ever had a book published. In one of my other incarnations, I’m an award-winning editor, so believe me when I tell you that if there were some kind of Kristine Kathryn Rusch Gold Seal of Approval, the books in this bundle would receive it.
Q. All right, but how does StoryBundle work?
A. Kris: For those of you who have never purchased a bundle from StoryBundle before, welcome! StoryBundle makes ordering and downloading these books spectacularly easy.
The initial titles in the Dark Justice Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:
Cold Call by Dean Wesley Smith
And Then She Was Gone by J. Daniel Sawyer
An Eye For Murder by Libby Fischer Hellmann
Code Blues by Melissa Yi
A Fatal Twist of Lemon by Patrice Greenwood
If you pay more than the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular titles, plus these outstanding books:
Fatal Destiny by David DeLee
Playing With Matches by Julie Hyzy
A Dangerous Road by Kris Nelscott
The Night and the Music by Lawrence Block
The World Beneath by Rebecca Cantrell
Q. How did authors get in that StoryBundle?
A. Kris Rusch: I’ve curated a number of bundles, and I’ve found that I am better off partnering with writers whose work I love. I can sincerely tell readers to buy the bundle because the works contained herein are great. I’ve been in bundles (not curated them) with writers whose work I’m unfamiliar with, and I can’t issue that blanket “I love this” statement. When I curate a bundle, I make sure I’m a fan first and an editor second.
Q. Yeah, but Melissa, did Kris really like you? Or were you just kind of an add-on?
A. Hey now. She liked me enough to write this:
Code Blues by Melissa Yi
When I first met Melissa Yi, she was a resident emergency room physician with dreams of becoming a professional writer. Her writing, including her award-winning short fiction, has always had power, but she has truly found her niche with the Hope Sze mystery series. Drawing on her personal experiences in the ER in Canada, Melissa has created medical thrillers that shine with authenticity and are impossible to put down.
Another first book in a series (like others in this bundle), Code Blues provides the perfect introduction to a world we often experience, but rarely understand.
Q. What about the other authors? Do they have any words for other readers and their fellow writers?
Rebecca Cantrell: For writers: read all you can, write all you can, and enjoy the journey! I think that writing should be fun—a giant extravaganza of imagination and joy. Sure, it’s not like that all time, but I always reach for that. For readers: Thank you. I’m so grateful to you.
David DeLee: Don’t stop. Don’t stop learning, don’t stop practicing, don’t stop trying new and different ways to write, if you’re an outliner, write a seat-of-your-pants story and see what happens, or vis-a-versa. Don’t stop writing, and most importantly, don’t stop believing in yourself.
Julie Hyzy: Writers: If anyone can dissuade you from writing, let them. This is a tough business and not for the faint-hearted. If, however, you know that nothing can keep you away from the keyboard, then turn your back to the naysayers and pay no attention. Never stop writing. Find a way to celebrate every win, whether it be a glass of wine because you made your daily word count, or a dinner out when you type “The End.”
Readers: I hope you’ll take a chance on this non-cozy novel. I think Riley is a lot of fun and I’d love to continue her stories. Let me know what you think!
Kris Nelscott: Actually, I have a word. Enjoy. I hope you enjoy what I do.
Patrice Greenwood: For writers: Don’t worry too much about perfection. Just write. Write a lot. Experience will serve you better than obsessive polishing. For readers: Thank you for giving my work a try! It gives me great pleasure to know that I can make a reader laugh, or keep them up too late reading.
Melissa Yi: Readers: Whenever I start to despair over the world, like environmental destruction, I cling to the idea of smart, creative people who can turn the tide. Readers tend to think outside the box with a sense of humour. I heart readers!
Writers: Never surrender. Someday, someone will love your stories. One of my stories was just published twelve years after I wrote it. My own brother told me, “You’re a doctor, Mel. Why not just be a doctor?” Now he says, “That’s a good book cover.” Hey, baby steps. You can do it!
“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” John Cage
Bullish readers, this will be a long post about money and mindsets. Brace yourselves.
“Learn how to manage your writing money,” said Dean Wesley Smith at one workshop. “If you keep thinking of it as found money, you’ll keep frittering it away. Then one day, you’ll wake up and realize that you’ve spent all your money.”
At break time, I went up to him and Kris Rusch and said, “I see how that’s a problem if you overspend. But why is it a problem if you’re cheap?”
They say women are better than men at saving money, and worse than men at taking risks that make money.
I could feel this happening with me. Now. When I’m at a point in my writing career when I can feel the need to ascend.
Frugality has always been my double-edged sword. I can squeeze pennies like a champ, but when I think back on my life, I’m ashamed of some of the things I did to save money.
So I flew to Los Angeles, knowing I only had a 1/6 chance of winning the Roswell Award, but I got to meet actors and producers and entrepreneurs and ask them the thing that’s most on my mind: what made you decide to take the risk of moving to L.A. for a career in the industry? Isn’t that basically a crazy thing to do?
I’m going to paraphrase from memory. Actors, please correct any errors if I’ve misquoted you or you want to change something.
Me, sabre tooth cat & Betsy Zajko
“There are more opportunities here, and less access to opportunities. If in a smaller town there are 1000 actors for every job, here there are 10,000 actors for every spot. But I knew I would be able to make something work.”—Betsy Zajko
“It’s like a circle. Sometimes you’re at the top, and everything is great. Sometimes you’re at the bottom and you think you’ll never get anywhere. But most of the time, you’re in the middle, heading toward the top or the bottom of the circle.”—Burl Moseley
Burl was working in New York, but he saw more opportunities in L.A. Getting his first break was tough. The whole “how can you get a job if you don’t have experience” trap, multiplied a thousand times.
For the first year, he spent his time acting at kids’ birthday parties. It took a year for him to get his first break, and two years for things to flow. Now he can’t do parties anymore because he’s too busy. We only got to talk a few minutes before he skateboarded away. (Like I said, everyone drives, and parking is a problem, so he skateboards to and from his car.)
He wasn’t worried. He knew he’d be able to figure something out. “It’s all about the mindset.” I told him he was a rat with an island, too. I wrote about rats with islands over here (just search for rats; all my LiveJournal posts got imported as one block).
Me & Cheryl Francis Harrington
“Everyone wants to be a star without doing the training. I had the training.”—Cheryl Francis Harrington
I had no doubt. Not only was she a fine actor, but she was serious about her acting as a craft. She was willing to put in the time and energy.
Cheryl was the first actor to take an interest in my career and suggest I go on Imdb Pro and write a speculative script. “Did you go to the Writers’ Guild?”
I asked her about being a woman of colour in the industry, because even in 2015, it limits your options. She said, “Everyone gets pigeonholed. I’m a character actor.” Instead of worrying about politics, she said, “I’d rather be working.”
Tucker Smallwood is standing in a grey shirt.
“Only five percent of SAG members make enough money to pay into the pension and get health insurance. This is not a good industry if you want to play the odds. This is something you do because you can’t not do it. Artists don’t get to choose.”—Tucker Smallwood
Tucker: What does failure mean to you?
Me: Well, what if I write something and nobody likes it?
Tucker: So it’s not commercial. Is that a failure?
Me: Well, no.
Tucker: If you wrote something worthwhile, something you believe in, then it has intrinsic value. If I get to interpret something, illuminate a scene in a way that no one else has done before me, then that’s a success.
“What kind of money are you talking about? A thousand dollars is nothing. Take ten thousand dollars a year, or whatever you’re comfortable with, and use that to get yourself out there. Go for it, girlfriend!”—Sasha
Sasha was my airbnb host. She was also an entrepreneur at the co-helm one international business before she spearheaded two more. She made me a feta omelette and toast for breakfast, and we talked on her little balcony. When I told her about my hesitation about spending $1000 to come here, a look of disgust swept across her face.
She believes in taking risks.
Doctors take calculated risks every day. The average American emergency physician gets sued every five years. So I’m used to taking risks at work. Just doing airbnb is a risk—my husband’s parting words to me were “Good luck, and stay in a hotel.” I take risks in my writing all the time, to keep it interesting for myself. I make friends with anyone.
But I never risked my writing money. I sat on $17,000 in my American bank account for four years because I thought “Better not touch that. I may never make another dime from my writing.” Which meant that I missed the big upsurge in index funds during that time. (Now it’s in the market, making a few hundred dollars. Well, better than nothing.)
It’s not that I’m suddenly going to spend $10,000 a year promoting myself. But I realized that I was asking these questions because my end goal is not selling a few books and patting myself on the back. I do want to explore every opportunity that comes by, on the off chance that something big might come of it.
Which meant I had to detach from my balance sheet. Yes, I would lose money on this trip to L.A. no matter what. And everyone here was saying, “So what?”
These are the dreamers, the artists, the actors and entrepreneurs who were all willing to move to the epicentre of the entertainment universe on the unlikely chance that they’ll make it. Or at least make it enough to keep on going.
For them, a thousand dollars was nothing.
Natalie Goldberg wrote a chapter in Wild Mind called “Who gave you permission?” She says that a writer will usually find someone who encouraged them along the way. For the past few months, subconsciously, I’ve been looking for permission to get a little crazy, more impractical, to stop counting pennies and start throwing down.
So I went to the Roswell Awards trying not to mind so much if I won or lost.
Robert Babish told me, “You remind me of Sandra Oh.” He’s not the first to say so, but he’s the first who actually acted with Sandra on Grey’s Anatomy! (As a surgeon on episode 4.)
I’d decided to wear my beautiful full-length Oonu dress, a dress I could wear to the Oscars. And after my daughter Anastasia led me on a walk where she wore fairy wings and I wore a witch’s hat, I remembered the last time I was in L.A.: I won second place at Writers of the Future, and one of the artists, Aja, bought a large pair of red wings made out of real feathers and wore them down Hollywood Boulevard. Now I’m back for another award ceremony, I have a daughter I occasionally nickname Asia, and I would wear her wings.
The 300 submissions for the Roswell award came from around the world, including Russia, India, and the rest of Asia. Here are the final judges:
On stage for the Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction
Rosalind stressed how difficult it was to choose the finalists, and for the first time, I thought, Hey. That is pretty impressive. It is pretty unlikely (a 2% statistical chance) of getting picked. It is an honour to be here.
I should’ve known that before, but I guess it’s a bit of imposter’s syndrome, that at the back of my mind, I think, Well, I did it, so it can’t be too major.
But look how hard it was to get here. Hats off to the honourable mentions! I’d like to read Catherine W. Cheres’s story. She seemed very cool, and not just because she shared her bruschetta with me.
Next, the Hollywood actors read our stories. They didn’t tell us ahead of time who was reading or what order they’d read.
1. Grandma’s Sex Robot by William Hawkins: well, what would you do if Grandma made her sex robot an active part of her life? Funny with a poignant ending, read emphatically and unapologetically by Gates McFadden, the Dr. Beverly Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, so I was a little disappointed that she wasn’t reading my story, but she was perfect with this one.
2. Sowing Seeds by Donna Glee Williams: a story about giving your children up for an uncertain future. A touching story read beautifully by Jasika Nicole (“Scandal” & “Fringe”), a young woman whom I could just picture as a mother making this heartbreaking choice. Interestingly, she was the only actor who used an electronic reader. The others read their stories off of paper copies.
T. Lucas Earle thanked me for wearing my wings.
3. RN2399 / 2037 by Liam Hogan: a letter to the narrator’s alternate self, who could save the world. Armin Shimerman (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) did such a good job on this one, flowing right through the jargon at the beginning to the meat of the story without a hitch.
4. Inside by T. Lucas Earle: Great story about a relationship where you have to dig past the surface, but the narrator likes to act instead of asking questions. Patricia Tallman (Babylon 5) rocked deadpan lines like “Sometimes he goes down on me….Sometimes I go down on him, but he doesn’t seem to like it, but he says it’s him, not me.”
5. Cardiopulmonary Arrest by Melissa Yuan-Innes. This one’s mine. By now I was really wondering who would read my story.
So when the bio said he was from London, I thought, yes, this calculating story would work so well with a British accent. And then Simon Kassianides (Agents of SHIELD) came out in his perfectly cut black suit and black shirt, and I was thrilled. Thrilled, I tell you. Look at him!
Plus I got to listen to him. Sorry, we weren’t allowed to record it, but he delivered the word “proboscis”—and the rest of the story—flawlessly.
After he finished, he mouthed the word, “Brilliant.”
Now, I know that British people throw the word brilliant around more than North Americans do, but it still felt good. The author stood up after every story, so I planted my feet and waved my wand at the audience while they applauded. And I loved chatting with Simon onstage afterward (more on that later).
6. Heaven Scent by John McCollum. A light-hearted story about a dog who discovers an aquatic man, read comically by David Blue (Stargate Universe) who was dressed in a chicken T-shirt.
And the winner was…Grandma’s Sex Robot by William Hawkins! Who can resist a sex robot, after all?
Stop by my Patreon if you want to support my nutty adventures.
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” ~Winston S. Churchill
“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”― Thomas A. Edison
“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” — Mary Lou Cook
Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith had beaten into me that the surest path to success in writing is simply production. Sit in your garret and write, day and night, month after month, year after year. Your craft will improve, and once you have hundreds or thousands of items for sale, someone will take notice. You don’t need to go to cons and promote if you don’t want to.
But then I got this Facebook message from Steve Steinbock:
How could I say no? I plunked down $190 for the conference fee. I’d already booked that weekend off for Yocomo, the Montreal yoga conference. But I’d go to Bloody Words instead. Maybe I’d sell a few copies of my book.
Then it started to haunt me. What if nobody bought my book? What if I spent $199 per night at the Hyatt Regency and just went into debt? I started calling my friends to angst about it. My friends Bob Jeschonek and Richard Quarry told me not to think about it like a return on investment, just go and network.
My friend Kandy said to have fun. “You get to go to Toronto. You’re getting away from your kids. You don’t have to cook or do dishes. What are you complaining about?”
“OH MY GOD,” said her husband, Vince. “You’re going to a con? GO AND PROSTITUTE YOURSELF, LIKE ANY AUTHOR.”
So I did.
This is me. On Pixabay. Obviously.
I drove myself to downtown Toronto and hurried to Scene of the Crime Books, the book dealer who would sell my books during the con. Right afterward, I realized that I had lost my phone. With cash in the case.
Aaaaagh! After worrying about losing money, I’d just lost an smart phone plus cold, hard cash.
I’ll save you the suspense. Someone had already turned it in. THANK YOU.
I don’t know what I would have done with myself next, since everyone else was saying “Hiiiiiiii! It’s so good to see you!!!!!!” and I was more like this tree:
Fortunately, I already had plans. I headed out to dinner at Aroma Fine Indian with my Medical Post editor, Carol Hilton. I tried the fiery Goan prawns, in honour of my most recently completed book, The Goa Yoga School of Slayers, sequel to The Italian School for Assassins. We talked about everything from medical politics to technology to travel. Kind of like the Medical Post, actually. Thanks, Carol!
Did you know that Carol (on the left) has a degree in marine biology? Pretty nifty, eh? And did you know that it’s hard to take a selfie in front of a window?
I hurried back to Bloody Words for Steve’s cool panel called The Sage, the Saint, and the Sleuth (religion, philosophy, and the “modern” sleuth). I didn’t want to rush up and mob him at the end, and it was possible he might not recognize me from my teeny Facebook photo, but he walked up to me, hugged me, and said, “It’s my newest best friend.”
Steve Steinbock & me, Melissa Yi. The bag is medical swag because his wife is a radiation oncologist. Another fun fact: Steve interviewed Stephen King for Ellery Queen. I move among royalty now, people. Kings and Queens.
We ended up having dinner and drinks with Tanis Mallow, a Noir writer, co-host of Noir @ the Bar in Toronto, and a warm and funny person; John McFetridge and his wife Laurie, who would whip out appropriate props like his latest book, Black Rock, and the newest issue of Quill & Quire with John on the cover. (Wow!) I’d already Tweeted Rob Brunet, because he’s a fellow Canadian who had a story accepted to Ellery Queen, as well as many other markets—he tries to have a new story published every month, and his novel, Stinking Rich, will debut in September. Ken Wishnia did show up to offer some Yiddish swear words, but it turned out that his writing has also been nominated for the Edgar, the Anthony, and the Macavity Awards. Uh huh.
Rob Brunet & Steve Steinbock
Steve said these mystery conferences are like Brigadoon, a town springing out of nowhere. What I saw was a tribe of intelligent, crime-loving writers and super readers who enjoyed meeting like-minded people. One thing I find really sad about general North American society is that intelligence is undervalued. “You’re smart, aren’t you” isn’t always a compliment. Neither are the terms “intellectual” or “perpetual student.” Asian and Jewish cultures value scholars, but outside of universities, you’re a bit isolated. But here, you’ve got a bunch of people who like the same things you do! What a miracle!
I have to give a special shout-out to Steve Steinbock, though, and not just because of this, which I already blogged about here:
Steve signed this and wrote, “Thanks for sending me Hope!” Words cannot express the goodness of this man. By a stroke of luck, all Bloody Words participants received the July 2014 copy of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The one where Steve pronounces Hope Sze an “utterly likeable character.” I’ll just keep repeating that. When I’m on my deathbed, I’ll be like, “utterly likeable character,” and my great-grandkids will be like, Wot?
Steve is a walking encyclopedia, certainly of the mystery genre, but of Jewish mysticism and, I’m sure, other topics. He was embarrassed that I called him a scholar, but it’s rare enough to meet people who genuinely love learning. Not for a degree, not because of publications or prestige or money, but just to discover. Perhaps more importantly, he’s kind and caring. Rob Brunet said that Steve had taken him under his wing a few years ago, and Steve’s obviously doing the same for me. Most people have their group of friends and figure they’re busy enough, but Steve will recruit newbies and make sure they’re not just standing in the corner, looking agonized.
I did buy Steve a drink (he said I didn’t have to, but I spoke to the waiter), and ended up paying for his salad too, which embarrassed him again, and Steve and Tanis and Rob walked me back to my apartment, since I stayed at a lovely airbnb instead of the Hyatt.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.’
I have two things two say about this. Nowadays, most people lead lives of unseen desperation. They’re not necessarily quiet. They may be loud. Buy my book! I have a new car! Check out my abs! I am so smart! My cat is cute!
The problem is, it seems like no one else cares. For example, you may write a book, but no one reads it. Or they read it and tell you it’s terrible.
Steve read Terminally Ill. And when I asked him if he understood how the plot twists incorporated the idea of magic and illusion (one of the book’s themes is magic, and Steve is a magician as well), not only had he understood it, he told me the magical term for it: misdirection. He said that in the past, mysteries used to rely on plot twists more than an escalating body count, and he respected that. He told me that my greatest strengths were my character, the fascinating setting, and the plot. When I said, okay, so what are my weaknesses, he looked at me and said, “No weaknesses. Just keep working on your strengths.”
You can tell that, between medicine and writing, I’m always waiting for the left hook.
I respect Steve even more because, I, personally, would find it hard to listen to desperate writers blather on and on about their work. It would be easier to turn away and say, “Don’t worry. Have a drink.” And I’ve heard that many critics grow bitter, forced to read and review books they don’t like. So imagine Steve going to a con on his free time and surrounding himself with writers instead!
Steve Steinbock surrounded by writer Melissa Yi, without the medical swag. Why am I repeating our names? I heard it’s good for SEO optimization. I know it’s annoying. Sorry.
To get back to the Thoreau quote, I’m generally cheery. My friend Yasmin once told me I was one of the happiest person she knows. But between medicine, writing, and life in general, I have tasted despair.
With Steve and the rest of my new friends, though, happiness wins.
And I loved how the people at Bloody Words were singing their song, loudly and clearly. The rest of the world may not understand or appreciate their writing or their weirdness, but they kept on singing.
I finally realized that Bloody Words was not about making or losing money. It was about friendship.
Also creativity and craziness. Like this.
Oy oy oy oy oy. Oy.
Why am I wearing a sign with my book cover? What am I doing to Ken Wishnia? Did I sell any books? How can a con inspire creativity? Tune in to my next blog post, Bloody Words Part II, for the answers.
I’m going to have to disagree, respectfully, on the latter point.
Of course I know most people go on Facebook for entertainment and connection. But I still post sometimes about the earth, animals, and oppressed people. Even if no one “likes” it. Even if no one comments. Even if I lose “friends” over it.
Why? Because I don’t believe I’m here just to sell books or get “likes.” I want to leave the earth a slightly better place, if possible. So yes, I post about my kids sometimes, because I love them and their beautiful faces brighten up my newsfeed. However, if I’m going to take the time to write or post, I will occasionally point out injustice.
Because I can. Because I’m lucky enough to live in a society where I can speak out.
I will point out that it’s possible to be political and entertaining. The Bloggess gets up to 2 million visits a month, and when she’s comparing male vs. female body bag costumes, y’all, she’s really pointing out the double standard, but it’s funny right down to the comment about a sexy ramen noodle costume.
On my much more modest scale, one of my FB posts started off, “At the risk of becoming the crazy rhino lady, I’m posting another petition…” My witty friend commented, “I will sign the petition. But in exchange, I want you to change your name and profile pic to Crazy Rhino Lady.” (I did change the picture, but could not figure out how to change my name—maybe Facebook doesn’t let you do this anymore?) And we all had a good laugh, and maybe a few more people signed the petition.
I admit, when I read about Ai Weiwei, for example, my first thought was, Why don’t you keep quiet? It would be so much easier. You could just do your art and enjoy your international success without getting harassed, detained, imprisoned, etc.
But then I decided that while the majority of any population goes along with the status quo, there will always be some dissidents. There will always be some people to whom popularity without morality, without justice, is a hollow victory.
I’m no Ai Weiwei. But I do care about what’s right. In the emergency room, if I wanted to do what was easy, I would just hand out antibiotics, narcotics, and sedatives to anyone who asks. Instead, I have to spend my time explaining why those things are not always in the patient’s best interest.
And I will continue to speak out on social media.
It’s really no skin off the reader’s nose either way: you can click a few keys to sign a petition, or you move on to your other millions of Facebook friends who commiserate with you about how work sucks but your dog is awesome!!!!!!
You’re a writer and you’ve decided to start your own publishing company. But in the first three months, you’ve only sold three copies of your book. You
a) start making fun of all the bestsellers. A bunch of hacks. They all sell their stuff for 99 cents. And the traditional publisher’s fat cats have publicity machines behind them. They’re all bastards;
b) start hiring people to make more beautiful, sophisticated covers or edit your novel again–the first two versions obviously didn’t cut it;
c) run to the Kindle boards and start posting and PM-ing, meeting writers, tagging each others’ work, trying to get a review or make friends with a self-professed avid reader who has 5 bucks to spend on one book (but you’d give them a coupon from Smashwords to they could save that 5 bucks!). Just, somebody, somewhere, buy my book! Please!
d) start troubleshooting. So many things could be wrong. The cover. The formatting. The language (how unfortunate that most Estonians don’t seem to have e-readers yet). The lack of reviews. The one two-star review. Should you make it free? What about 99 cents? Is that too much?
e) realize it’s a waste of time. No one makes any money at this anyway. Take the book down and walk away.
The five Buddhist hindrances (mental mind states that lead you away from enlightenment) are
Aversion (anger, ill will)
This one is pretty self-explanatory. It’s easier to blow up at other writers than to deal with the fact that no one wants to read your book.
Lust (sensual desire)
Everyone else has a nicer cover, a better proof-reader, or a more dedicated bunch of friends who buy their books and tweet about them. If only you had that, or the money for that, someone would read your book.
Restlessness (worry, remorse)
I can’t stand it. I’m checking my numbers again. Argh! Still no one’s bought it in the last 12 hours! I hate you all! I’m going to call my friend! Shoot, no one’s home. I’m going for a run. Okay, now let me check my numbers. Still nothing! Aaaaargh!!!!!!!
What’s wrong with my book? I should post it and ask people for help tweaking my cover.
Again, it’s easier to stomp around, creating a lot of sound and fury, instead of dealing with the fact that no one has bought your book in the past 8 seconds.
Because everything from content to cover to publicity is under your control, that leads to a lot of doubt and a lot of things you can fiddle with while waiting for people to buy your book.
Sloth and torpor
It’s easier to pull up your stakes and walk away than deal with the fact that very few people are buying your book.
Okay, so I’ve gone through all these things myself. This is what I’d advise intellectually, in a “do as I say, not as I do” thing:
1. Low expectations.
Three people bought your book? Wow! Good for you! They spent their hard-earned cash on your words. That’s an honour.
Nobody bought your book? Well, that will just make it even more exciting when someone does! (And by the way, if you go through Smashwords and wait for their premium distribution, etc., it will take six months to hear about any sales, so you may be selling without knowing it.)
2. Take the long view.
You have years, not days, to connect with readers and make your money. Your copyright lasts for a lifetime plus 50-70 years. Dean Wesley Smith points out that five books sales a month on the Kindle can equal $10,000 after 10 years; one book a day for 10 years can equal $30,000. (I can’t find this link right now, so please ping me if you can find it.) Sounds good to me.
3. Stop letting the numbers determine your self-worth.
From what I see, writers used to obsess about rejection by editors and agents. Now that we can easily publish ourselves world-wide, we’re obsessed about our sales.
You are not your numbers. They’re just numbers.
My husband told me to stop looking at my numbers.
This just made me more desperate to look at them and fret, and no matter how good or bad they were, I wasn’t satisfied.
I know some people input their numbers into spreadsheets every day. It’s just data. My friend Genevieve encouraged me to do this, so it would be like, “Oh, do I have to input my numbers again today?” Since then, I haven’t looked. It works better for me.
4. Write more.
The more content you get out there, the better. My Kindle sales jumped as soon as I put up a bunch more short stories. And it just feels good to create something brand new that hasn’t been rejected yet.
5. Publish more.
Now get your work out there. They can’t buy it if they can’t see it.
This takes courage. I didn’t want to go indie. I dreamed of traditional publishing, with an advance and a beautiful book I could hold in my hand. Just jumping in, with no guarantee anyone would read anything I wrote? Especially when I only sold three stories in my first two months? Yikes.
Two sayings I hung on to were a) “past performance does not predict future performance” (so even if I sucked now, I might not later), and b) “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Independent publishing is rising. I can see it lifting all the boats. It’s a beautiful thing.
Copyright Melissa Yuan-Innes, 2011
P.S. I’m writing a book about the Unfeeling Doctor and Buddhism and decided to detour into Buddhism and indie publishing. If this article helped you, please consider buying my books. Thanks!
I did not want to join the independent publishing revolution. No, I wanted New York to discover my genius and send my books on to bestsellerdom.
I sent my novels to editors and garnered some interest, including one editor who asked for a three-book proposal so she could sell it to her boss and many, many other editors who asked for partial or full manuscripts.
Funny thing, though. These hard-working, intelligent editors were disappearing. Losing their jobs. Mutating into agents. Being replaced by junior editors who didn’t respond to my queries, probably because they’d just taken over two people’s jobs and didn’t have time.
Two of my writing mentors, Kris Rusch and Dean Smith, had written extensively about indie publishing. It seemed like all of my Oregon friends had joined the revolution but, to be perfectly honest, I was afraid it would be like a Tupperware party where we all tried to sell to one another.
I resisted. I wanted a “real” book. But I kept seeing good editors vanish. Magic 8 ball said: bad sign.
So, in 2010, I said, This is my last-ditch effort to do it the old-fashioned way. I attended three major conferences: NJ SCWBI (3 months pregnant), RWA Nationals (5 1/2 months), and the Rutgers One-on-One (eight months–my new friend Karen was secretly afraid I’d go into labor). I shook hands, I attended panels, I made friends with an agent or two. I also marketed two of my books as radio dramas.
On November 19th, I delivered my baby girl, Anastasia.
In January 2011, I got a deal for a radio drama pilot with the potential to go national. Aaagh! Two major dreams coming true almost simultaneously. I was so happy, I could hardly sleep. Matt looked after Anastasia while I wrote and developed my radio drama.
I kept an eye on indie publishing, sort of. But when the CBC decided not to pick up my series, I had to sit down and take a serious look.
This is what I understood, filtered through Kris and Dean and The Passive Guy:
1. Borders has collapsed, taking down 10 percent of the bookselling market in the U.S.
Other big box bookstores have moved away from selling physical books, e.g. more than one person has said, “Chapters now seems to specialize in gift wrap.”
Ergo, even if publishers are willing to gamble on my book, book-selling space is fast disappearing.
2. The publishing industry survives on about 4-5 percent profit (and just lost 10% of its physical sales in the U.S.).
Publishing is now run by bean counters and sales teams who want a quick profit on a book instead of letting editors choose books they love and keeping books around to build word of mouth.
So it’s increasingly difficult to sell your book and to get a decent contract (they want rights in all media; 25% of ebook sales is a non-negotiable term; royalty statements need auditing, etc.).
3. Readers still want to read.
Thanks to the miracle of the Internet and other new-fangled technology, I can now sell my work directly to readers and keep most of the profit myself by acting as publisher and writer. Sure, the perpetual party question will still be “Are you a real writer?” but as Dean points out, as long as I’m a good writer putting out a good product, willing to wait for years of small sales instead of getting it as an advance, at least I’m in control over the content, cover, and to some extent, the distribution. Truthfully, I love doing my own covers. I think of it as an extension of my creativity. But if I ever decide they are too primitive, I can just hire someone to redo them. I have also hired proofreaders.
(BTW, now that I think about it, the who ask me “But are you a real writer” tend not to be readers. They tend to more interested in status.)
4. I believe we are at, or near, the tipping point for e-publication. The space for physical books is dropping while the e-reading audience is growing. For obvious reasons, I want some of my children’s stuff out on the market before J.K. Rowling makes her debut in October.
5. I no longer need New York or anyone else to tell me if my work is good enough.
What the CBC really did for me was give me confidence in my own writing.
What is important to me is not so much the form (paper or pixels) or the prestige. I just want people to have access to my stories. When the CBC paid me thousands of dollars to develop a pilot, it soothed my hurt and insecurity. I no longer thought “I’ve only published short stories and non-fiction. I’m not a real writer until these novels hit the shelves.” I thought, “We’re all real writers. I just need to get to the real readers/listeners/customers.”
And that, my friends, is why I have joined the independent book publishing revolution.