Be Yourself? Which self?

“Just be yourself.” I’ve been given that suggestion hundreds of times, and it was particularly unwelcome coming from my waitress who I suspected had indulged in a few too many free shots at the bar.

In a way, it was my own fault. I’d broken one of my cardinal rules and shared a piece of personal information with this complete stranger. Once she knew I was apprehensive about meeting my fellow diners, she proceeded to offer a steady stream of unwanted advice until they arrived. This morning I’m still miffed that my oblivious husband tipped her 20%.

But bad restaurant experiences aside, that is a horrible piece of advice. Pretty much anything you do or say is yourself. Some sides of you are more likeable, or more fully developed, or more integrated into the whole you, but if it is coming out of your mouth without an intent to lie, it is you.

The problem is that we are all complex creatures. I have a squeamish side that gets nauseous at little things. I also have a this-is-an-emergency side that steps in and deals with the grossest of injuries if need be. I’m not faking either one. I’m not a simple person, and neither are you.

So when people tell me to be myself, my answer is “which self?” I’ve got at least dozen different genuine responses in my head to anything you have to say. Some may lead to a budding friendship, others to hostility. Over time you might get to know most of those sides of me, but which one do I let you see first?

This dilemma of defining the real me has recently spilled over into my writing, or more accurately into the marketing of my books. I love my book titles and my book covers. They are the real me. However, I’ve been told by those I respect that neither titles nor covers are helping me sell books.

After quite a bit of reflection, I’ve decided that being effective is also the real me. I’m practical and I like to achieve my goals. My goal is to find more readers. So, the real me is renaming my books and has sought out a professional to provide covers that will be a lot more like the one shown here. (It is for someone elses book about an appearance changer.)

What will those new names be? I’m having a lot of fun deciding on them. What will the new covers really look like? I can’t wait to find out. I’ll be sharing some of both here over the next few months, and if all goes according to plan a new crime novel about a gay genius who can change his appearance will be released in early January 2019.

The real me can’t wait.

 

Live like you are going die?

The worst piece of advice I ever received was to live like I was dying.

The timing was bad. My father was, in fact, dying and doing it rather quickly. Cancer was tearing through his body, leaving his doctors and my mother baffled by its virulence.

I was grown, with small children of my own, keeping a stiff upper lip for all. The “live every moment as if it was your last” verbiage didn’t sink in until after his funeral, and then it engulfed me so completely that instead of grieving, I stopped being a reasonable person.

Somewhere, deep inside, I now understood I was going to die. It was a fact I’d heard before, of course, but until it happened to my dad, I guess I didn’t really believe it. Didn’t get it would happen to me.

Then, with my father no longer standing between me and eternity, every minute was precious. It wasn’t precious in a “thank-you-universe” kind of way. It was more like a for-god-sake-how-long-am-I-going-to-have-to-stand-in-this-grocery-line-while-you-pull-out-your-damn-coupons kind of way. It was a move-your-car-so-I-can-make-this-stupid-light kind of way. I had things to do and life to experience and now that I understood I didn’t have forever, I didn’t want to waste a minute of what I did have putting up with anyone’s shit.

I was miserable, and I was miserable to be around. It was no way to live.

This lasted for awhile and then I got tired of it. I mostly forgot about the fact that I was going to die, because we’re just not wired to hang on to that sort of thing. I went back to normal, wasting time and letting other people waste my time and usually not getting upset about it.

Much later, I would realize this had been by own way of grieving, and a few tears would finally come. I would find ways to celebrate my dad, and to enjoy my own life more.

I’m pulling out my passport for a trip I will take soon. I’m headed to Machu Picchu, a place I’ve always wanted to go. A closer look at my documents shows that in the past couple of years I’ve been to Portugal, Morocco, and Kenya. I imagine a customs official looking at me and asking “Did you win the lottery? Or are you dying?”

No, I haven’t won the lottery and even with budget travel I’m risking insufficient funds later in exchange for grabbing opportunities now. That’s an equation requiring balance, and I know I’m leaning to one side. I don’t intend to lean too far, but I’m okay with the imbalance.

You see, I am dying. Not any faster than anyone else, as far as I know, but I accept that my time is a limited resource.  I’ve decided to do the things I really want to do now.

During one of the last exchanges I had with my dad, he told me he wished he’d gotten more time, but he was grateful for all the moments he had. All the things he did. “It was a great life,” he declared and even as I heard him say it I thought I want to be able to say that, too.

Which is why this year I’m going to Peru, and participating in at least three other interesting things that matter to me and I’ve not made time for. Yet.

Because, of course, it isn’t about going places. It’s about having the time of your life. I realize having the time of my life is something I should have been doing all along, but it’s never too late to start. I’m thinking of what I might add in 2019.

You see, the best piece of advice I ever received was to live like I was dying.

(For more thoughts on how to use one’s time with wisdom see Spending time.)

 

 

Living vicariously through your characters

Authors note: My third novel z2 is currently on blog tour through the fine folks at Reading Addiction Virtual Book Tours. The post below is part of that tour and it appeared a a couple of weeks ago on a blog called My Devotional Thoughts. It was inspired by a post I wrote here back in 2012, three whole books ago. A lot has changed for me since then, but apparently other things haven’t changed much at all.

Should you write about what know already, or about things that you wish you could do? Conventional wisdom says that your books should be about things you know. However, writing a novel takes a tremendous amount of research, planning and day dreaming. I’ve decided to use that energy to enter worlds I barely know but have always wanted to visit.

sailboatWith my first novel, x0, I adhered to normal perhaps a little too well. The hero of x0 spends her days largely doing what I do, interpreting seismic data for an oil company. She loves her husband and three children, plants flowers and loves to travel.  Okay, she also spends a little time reading minds, but other than that she and I both have similar lives.

By the time I started y1, the second novel in this collection, I was getting restless. I have always wanted to learn to sail, and to visit the South Pacific. My husband has no interest in the first and little in the second. That’s when I discovered one of the reasons that I write.

Guess whose second book takes place on a sailboat in the Pacific? y1 let me not only learn to sail, it let me hear the sounds of the gulls and feel the plunk of the waves hitting my boat. I woke many mornings to the smell of salt air as I studied navigation charts and planned my routes. It was a wonderful year at sea, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Maya 2Of course, my second book took a lot more research than my first and it took longer to write. It got me over being shy as I sought out beta readers who really had sailed, traveled though and even lived in the areas I wrote about. Now they are part of my life, having enriched it with their details of places I may never see.

I once considered being an archeologist, visiting exotic ancient tombs and solving mysteries from times long past. I don’t do that, but as I wrote z2, I swatted mosquitoes in Belize with the best of them as I uncovered artifacts and learned to read numbers in Mayan while I was at it.

Did I mention that I once wanted to climb Mount Everest? I know now that it’s a dangerous and expensive undertaking, but my latest novel c3 boasts a young woman attempting to summit the world’s third highest peak. I climbed every step with her, and I never had to leave my front porch.

It is true that my research slows my writing down, but I consider myself blessed to have the chance to create stories that enable me and others to enjoy alternate existences that would come at too high a price in our real lives.  To me, that is what a book does best.

y1 makes it to the semi finals!

I’ve avoided entering any of my three books into contests so far, because the contests open to books not published in a traditional fashion have all struck me as mostly money makers for the contest organizers. I looked around a fair amount but entry fees were high and prizes slim. If I wanted to spend a couple of hundred dollars getting my book noticed, it made more sense to me to just advertise it.

I think the final straw came when I discovered that it costs only $50 to try for a Pulitzer Prize, and considerably more to enter most of these contests. (Unfortunately self-published works are not eligible for the Pulitzer Prize 🙂 and yes of course I checked.)

joyI was delighted to discover, however, that for a very reasonable $20 I could enter my novel y1 in the Kindle Book Review 2013 contest. I have used these folks in the past to advertise my free give-away days on Kindle and they do a nice job.

Today, they published their list of semi-finalists and I was delighted to see y1 RIGHT HERE in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category. (The list is alphabetical so of course y1 is last.) Do most entries make it to the semi-finals? I have no idea, but I’ve learned as in independent author to take my joys wherever I can find them.

Check here for news on z2 out in paperback and here for news on x0 making it onto 1670 people’s to-read shelf on Goodreads.

You’ve got to have a dream

From the Musical South Pacific

From the Musical South Pacific

The world has changed a lot since  that day in late July in the early sixties when my younger sister had a Hawaiian party for her birthday. We wore hula skirts made out of pink tissue paper and piled into the station wagon to all see “South Pacific” which was making a second run at the town’s only theater.

Check out at least the beginning of this video showing a Polynesian woman trying to get an American soldier in WWII to fall in love with her daughter.

It’s over fifty years later.  Yes, movies have clearly come a long way.  Yes, the concept behind the scene could be considered offensive.  And the message of the song itself?

musicYou’ve got to have a dream. If you don’t have a dream? How you gonna have a dream come true?

Yeah.  Still right on the mark.  Thank you Rogers and Hammerstein

write about what you do, or what you wish you were doing?

The hero of my first novel, x0, spends her days largely doing what I do. She interprets seismic data for an oil company, loves her husband and three children, plants flowers and loves to travel.  Okay, she also spends a little time reading minds, but basically she and I both have similar lives.  It’s a very nice existence, but it’s not the only one I find appealing.

y1, the second novel in this collection, takes place largely on a sailboat in the Pacific.  Have I been there? Barely. Do I sail? Not really. But I did wake up one morning about twenty years ago filled with a fire to sail around the world. It came out of nowhere and there was no explaining it.  I had to do it. When I wouldn’t stop talking about it, my family finally bought me sailing lessons.  Looked at maps with me.  Agreed that it could happen. Then slowly it became apparent that my husband could think of few things he would rather do less.  He hates being confined on anything, gets seasick, yearns to run around playing any sport involving a ball.  My children were growing up and their wasn’t a budding sailor among them. I had to face the fact that while I could still do this thing, it would be years spent on a solo venture, far removed from all those I loved.

And then I discovered a secret.  That’s what my writing was for. Those of us who create stories are blessed with the chance to enjoy alternate existences that would come at too high a price in our real lives.  Conventional wisdom says that you should write about the things you know. That makes a certain amount of sense.  However, writing a novel takes a tremendous amount of research, thought, planning and plain old day dreaming. Why not use that energy to enter a world you barely know but yearn for? y1 let me learn to sail well, let me hear the sounds of the gulls  and feel the thunk of the waves hitting my boat. I woke to the smell of salt air, ate cold canned goods when I was too tired to cook, studied navigation charts and planned my routes.  It was a wonderful year at sea, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And, just like my hopeful readers who might also enjoy sailing around paradise, I never had to leave my front porch.  That’s is what books are for.