A better word than joy?

I knew from the beginning that my second novel would be centered around the theme of joy. My first novel was all about our connection to others; I wanted this one to celebrate the authenticity of being oneself.

Because I’m the kind of person who gets carried away with an idea, I decided to center the action around the place on the globe that was exactly opposite of Nigeria, where my my first novel took place. Turns out that location is just south of the equator, smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This fact might have discouraged someone else, I but I was determined to introduce this symbolism of opposites into my already half-developed plot. So I delved deeper and discovered the island nation of Kiribati, and began to write a novel that encompassed a swath of the sea.

Just as “peace” seemed an inadequate word to describe x0, “joy” barely touched the surface of my overarching theme for y1. What I wanted was a word that meant

the sheer exhilaration that can only be found when a person is true to who they are.

We do need a word for that.

The book was orange in my head. Orange for sunsets over the Pacific and orange for crazy-strong exuberance and for all that glows. This had to be a book about the fire within.

I already knew that later in the series I would write a book that was blue, and it would be about the virtues that tug us in the other direction. I’m still struggling to find a single word that encapsulates the theme of my blue book, but I know that it is about something important, too.

(For more thoughts on words we need, see A better word than loyalty?, A better word than peace?,  A better word than hope? and A better word than courage?)

Why would anyone call a collection of books 46. Ascending?

I spent most of my free time over the past six years writing a collection of six novels. I’d never written a book before and, now that I’m finishing the last one, I’m starting to puzzle through what possessed me to do such a thing.

It seemed like fun? I’d always wanted to write fiction? Why the hell not?

Part of the answer lies in something I wrote today to put at the end of the sixth book to explain to any curious reader who had stuck with me exactly why I called this collection of books 46. Ascending.

Here is how I explained it.

  1. It is an I Ching hexagram.
  2. It is what I came up with when I decided that my six proposed books could be made into an I Ching hexagram. Those with a female protagonist would have two lines and those with a male protagonist a single line and book one would be at the bottom and book six at the top because I was pretty sure that was how you were supposed to do it. I thought it was a cool idea.
  3. The lines make Sheng, the I Ching hexagram number 46, as I discovered when I looked up the above cool idea.
  4. Sheng answered the question that bothered me most. The question was not “will my books make money?” or “will I sell a lot of books?” It wasn’t even “will these be good books?” or “will I enjoy writing them?” Those would all have been fine questions. But, this I Ching hexagram answered my question “should I do this or not?”
  5. Researching Sheng, I read that “it is a time of development and progress, the direction is correct” and “hexagram 46 shows a time where a steady progression will occur where the predicted outcome is positive  and “keep working on your plans and maintain confidence in their success.” Those all sure sounded good to me.
  6. My research on 46 Ascending also put this quote in front of me. It is always better to fail in doing something than to excel in doing nothing. – Chinese Proverb . It is undoubtedly a good quote for anyone contemplating anything.
  7. I learned that Sheng was also referred to as the Symbol of Rising and Advancing, Ascending, Ascension, Rising, Promotion, Advancement, Sprouting from the Earth, and Organic Growth. Who can argue with all that?
  8. Sheng’s details included “The emphasis is on upward motion, from obscurity to influence, with growth that is supported by adaptability and an absence of obstacles.” and “Make a sincere effort to apply resolute effort against the forces of inertia, bending around obstacles that arise, and good fortune will follow.
  9. In other words, everything I read about the I Ching hexagram told me loud and clear “write the damn books.” So I did.
  10. Was the universe talking to me? Was I talking to myself? Am I lucky I didn’t put the lines in the reverse order? Those are all great questions. But the one I started to consider was how well did the hexagram fit in with the books themselves.
  11. If you asked me what this collection of books was about, from the beginning I would have told you it was about how all humans have so much more potential than they realize. We can improve, we can rise, we can ascend. Climb the mountain. Move towards the light to the south. You know. Grow.
  12. So this collection of books is named after an I Ching hexagram that not only got me off my butt and writing, but just happened to perfectly describe what it was I was trying to say. Go figure. At the least, it seemed reasonable to name the collection of books after it.

What I don’t address at the end of my novel is the question “did writing the books make me happy?” It’s an important question, but it’s important to me, and not really to my readers. That makes it a more appropriate topic for my blog.

Well …

I can tell you that I wrote these books filled with a sense of energy and purpose unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. Many days, writing wasn’t just what I wanted to do, it was all I wanted to do. It was an addiction, an obsession, and a nepenthe against all the world’s ills. I let it consume me, and I enjoyed the ride.

I emerge at the other end, tireder, older, fifteen pounds heavier and with six years of my life mysteriously gone. But, I was lucky enough to have five people in this world who loved me throughout this process and I was lucky enough to have a way to make a living while I wrote that kept serious worries away. Neither is to be taken lightly and for both I count my blessings.

Everybody always tells you to pursue your passion in life. I don’t think that “everybody” has much of an idea of all that really entails. It changes you in ways you do and don’t like. It’s not always fun. It doesn’t always turn out well, certainly not in the Hollywood kind of way.

But once you’ve done it, you can’t imagine not having done it, if that makes any sense. Like not doing it wasn’t even an option, or at least it shouldn’t have been.

Is that happiness? I’m not sure, but I think it might be something even better.

 

Still caring about those reviews

Hope 1y1 has been out for a while now, and it has several dozen reviews under its belt, here and there. None-the-less it makes my day when I find a new one, especially when the reader enjoyed the book. Let’s face it. I’ve poured my heart and soul into this story, and yes I do crave feedback. Sales only provide me with a cold, dry number.

A writer wants to know what total strangers, ones who like the kinds of books she writes, think about her book. So yes, reviews matter to a writer, whether they should or not.  I imagine they must mean as much to an actor, or a musician or anyone who puts themselves out there to entertain and amuse the world, and there is no way around that. Once a books has hundreds of reviews, I suppose that individual ones matter less. I hope some day to find out.

Imagine my joy the other day when I was doing a search for something else and found the wonderful blog The Printed Word which features reviews by Melissa. There it was, a review of y1 posted January 10,  2014. Her review begins with “I give this book a 5 out of 5. Once again, Sherrie Cronin shows off her amazing research skills! Like the first novel in the series, x0, she weaves real facts and controversial, sensitive topics in with the fictional Zeitman family. This time we follow Lola’s son, Zane, as he learns at a young age that he can adjust his appearance to better blend in, much like a chameleon.”

What a wonderful surprise. I’m going to kick up my heels and dance for joy.

(Thanks to Zen2Zany on Facebook for the image that appears above.)

It’s about you.

zen2zany 1Or her. Or him. But not me.

I’m about halfway through d4 now and finally starting to roll. Today I came up with the final tweak to the final scene in the book. Mind you, there is many a occurrence in-between that I haven’t figured out yet, but I know from experience that once I get the very end in my head, I will find a way to get there. d4 will happen.

And with that done, part of me moves on to the next book.

This time around, however, it is the last one in the collection, and that is scary for me. It helps that I know already that this last book is not about me, it is about you. Whether you are young or old, healthy or struggling, male, female, who ever you are, I am going to be writing about how you were born with something you need to say, a truth you hold deep within yourself, and how desperately you need to find a way to sing it, dance it, whisper it or shout it. Pretending otherwise will just frustrate you. Your truth needs to be told.

There. Doesn’t that sound like a fun story? I will do my best to make it so, I promise.

(Please drop by the Facebook page for Zen to Zany and drop off a “like” for the image above.)

Knowing where you are going

signWhen I start to write a book I have a general idea of how it is going to end, but the specifics have surprised me every time. I’ve recently finished the first draft of my fourth novel, c3, and I am still enjoying some of the  unexpected twists and turns. The good news is that I always know exactly where I am going once I have finally gotten there. 🙂

A few months ago I wrote a guest post answering the question of whether I used an outline or not. My answer was yes I did and yes I didn’t. That seems to have become more true with each story I’ve written, and I’d like to share the post with you.

catWe’ve gotten very into particle physics at my house lately, mostly because my husband is reading about entanglement.  We are household of geeks, and the three of us and my older daughter who is visiting are fascinated by Schrödinger’s cat, hidden in its box simultaneously both dead and alive. For until you open the box, every possibility exits. It’s not a case of an “or”, it is an “and”. Dead and alive, simultaneously, as impossible as that seems.

And so it goes with my writing. In my twenties I thought planning was evil and that true creativity would spring forth from my subconscious only if it was unfettered by something mundane as an outline.  I still have pages of long hand creative brilliance that go on and on in a fascinating if somewhat illegible fashion and then go nowhere in various interesting ways.

My thirties brought children and a real job and a need for order, and my attempts to write went with it. Carefully planned lists and plot outlines filled neat folders on my computer, and my first book was outlined so many times it got ridiculous.  I didn’t write, I just made outlines, but they were really spectacularly thorough ones.

Today I do both, or neither. My fourth book started just like my first, with a series of chapters each defined only by four to six bullet points that got me from where I wanted the story to start to where I wanted it to end and provided a sense of pace for getting from here to there in about twenty chapters. No details.  Each time I have written the first few chapters with no further constraints and watched to see what happened. Each time, there were surprises, mostly in the subplots and additional characters that emerged.

outlines 1

research and outline in progress

Then for each chapter after the first couple, before starting  that chapter I expand the bullet points out to maybe ten to twenty items for just that chapter, so that I can now make sure that all the growing complexity is getting moved along in a timely fashion.  Every few chapters from then on I stop and look ahead, adding a bullet point or two to my later chapters to make sure that all emerging subplots will get carried through to conclusion. But I never plan details, leaving room even in the current chapter for my characters to surprise me.  They do that a lot, and I think that is the most incredibly fun thing about writing fiction.

So it is a little like Schrödinger’s cat.  It is both outlined and it is not. Only in the cat’s case, the probability function collapses when you open the box, and it becomes one thing or another, dead or alive.  My novel’s probability function collapses when the book is done, when it becomes both a story with form and structure and yet a tale full of events I could not have predicted when I started.

This appeared as a guest post at
Bunny’s Book Review
on June 8, 2013
Kindle Nook Books on June 13, 2013
The Book Connoisseur on July 28, 2013

Check these blogs out for a wealth of information on reading, writing and publishing as well as leads for many fine books you aren’t that likely to hear about elsewhere.

Fireworks a few days late

fireworksI suspect that I care more about accuracy in my books than I should. I write fantasy, for heaven’s sake, or at least a fantasy/science fiction hybrid, but I still like to get things right. So when my fire dancing  character from Kiribati went looking for music he liked that referred to fire, I was compelled to eliminate any song that had not come out before 2011, the year in which the story y1 takes place.

And that’s a shame because that took a few good songs out of the running. To celebrate July 4th 2013, I am letting myself revisit some of the songs I wanted to use but didn’t.

Katy Perry’s Firework had the lyrics that fit, but its late 2010 release was just a month after the scene in the book where it belonged. Sigh …. so close ……  Here’s the video with some great fireworks images to enjoy.

Firework

Katy Perry – Firework

Monarchy’s The Phoenix Alive had just the sound I was looking for, but it came out in April 2010. Enjoy the official video here.

Phoenix

Monarchy – The Phoenix Alive

For more on my adventures including music in novels, check out my xo blog here to read the rather comical saga of how and why I how I negotiated with Sony/ ATV. Check out my z2 blog here for a little fun with bubblegum music.

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.