After I signed my contract with Griffyn Ink, Eli Jackson, indie publisher badass, sent me an envelope with two really nice pens. The enclosed note said they were for signing copies when my book came out. I put them in my desk box, the closest thing I have to a drawer because I work at an old IKEA sofa table with the legs cut down. That I would be signing books seemed like an impossibly far off and surreal thing.
I’ve signed a few now. The first one went to my sister, who has always encouraged me, in life and in writing. A stack went off to Slovenia and a few to heart-friends who have supported me along the way. I’ve also signed a few to readers who bought my book at the first few pre-release events on the mini-tour. Those pens are really nice and the readers were even nicer. It still boggles my mind that someone picked up my book, read the back, and purchased it. That happened. I got to watch it happen.
A book with my name on the spine on my shelf, and now a few others’ shelves as well, is an undeniable fact and yet…
I’m incredulous I finished writing and editing a manuscript, someone wanted to publish it, and it’s a thing out in the world. Surely not me. I kept telling myself if one person who’s never met me and doesn’t know anything about me said something nice about the book, then it would be real. It happened and I still didn’t believe it.
The crushing insecurity of the creative mind is a real thing. Self-doubt or imposter syndrome or whatever name you want to give it, is a giant hurdle for a lot of people. There is fantastic work missing from library shelves and gallery walls and concert halls because it is so easy to talk ourselves out onto the I’m-not-good-enough ledge. Trust me there’s a lot of room out here on this jut of land; I’ve built a house on it and farm turnips.
On this journey from idea to dead-tree book in my hand, I’ve learned a few things. Having the idea is a good thing. Putting my butt in the seat to write was an act of will. Finishing it might have been an act of divinity. I did those three things. Of course there were hours and days of “who could possibly want to read this”? Those still happen; I know it’s not literature for the ages. There was the crushing reality of a typo on the opening page (fixed after I ordered my copies for the mini-tour).
Nothing is for everyone. And everything will have at least one devoted fan (I’m totally cool with the fact that it could be my sister). Someone is going to write a review somewhere savaging my book. It is guaranteed to happen and I might print it out and frame it. Someone might also write a review because they laughed out loud (in a good way) at a scene. Someone might cry when a character dies. I hope I hear about it, but I might not get to.
I fully believe when you put anything you create out into the world – a book, a film, a painting, even your kid – you have no control over how anyone else sees your work. That’s a scary prospect but it’s ultimately the thing that makes it real for me. I told a story I wanted to tell. It made me happy to write it. I hope you enjoy reading it. I’m writing the next book in the series.
Step. Step. Step. Back from the yawning canyon of self-doubt. Don’t look down.
I listen to music when I write. It helps set my mood and puts me in the place I need to be with the characters. Who by Water was influenced by a copious amount of Leonard Cohen, both back catalogue and his last release You Want It Darker. At some point, I imagined myself mailing a copy of the book off to him, but, of course, that won’t happen now.
Most of the first book was written and edited in 2016, better known as The Year of the Suck. For me the albums of 2016 that sum up the year best are the previously mentioned Cohen release, David Bowie’s Black Star, Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, and Beyoncé’s Lemonade. I think there are traces of them all in the work. Whether it’s overt or not is another story.
I’ve put together a couple playlists for Who by Water. I don’t know that I necessarily recommend you listen while you read. Each song takes me back to a place in the book and in the lives of the characters and maybe these will work that way for you, too. Let me know.
They are a little different based on what was available on the platform and just to mix it up a bit.
“Bring It On” – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
“Rebel Girl” – Bikini Kill
“Wanderlust King” – Gogol Bordello
On iTunes: Who by Water soundtrack
On YouTube: Who by Water soundtrack
I’ll confess that most of my knowledge of plotting is from field research, mostly reading and watching mysteries since Nancy Drew. I think I’m better at creating characters. Or characters are better at finding me than story arcs, depending on how, or if, you think the muse works. The jury’s still out for me. I tend to straddle that line between wannabe mystic and skeptical pragmatist in the rest of my life, so no surprise I’m suspicious of some external force being the only source of inspiration.
My sister has been my alpha reader, cheering me on from the new and rewritten chapters I’ve inundated her with. (Thank you!) I saved a character because she liked her and was sad to see her disappear. That changed the final arc of the story. She also asked me if I was the protagonist. That stopped me cold. I really didn’t think so, but we definitely have a few things in common.
We both ran off to Slovenia in the early 1990s, but where I came home, Jo stayed. She, like me, is weirdly organized despite having a chaotic mind sometimes. We both have a penchant for mono-chromatic wardrobes and have very similar tastes in music. I used to think I wanted to open a teashop. I get to do that vicariously through her. We both swear like sailors around our inner sanctum folks. We have similar coloring, or used to. I wanted a character that would read American in Slovenia and that’s a tall, cornfed, blue-eyed blonde. But I’m not as brave or impulsive as she is. I’m also not as free from the daggers of others’ opinions as she is in living her life. I strive for that, but I am so not there yet.
I think all writers have a bit of themselves in their characters. It’s a point of connection for figuring out the psychology of their stories. Every character is also a creature of the writer’s mind or plucked and molded from amongst the personalities the writer knows in real life viewed through their perspective. My sister’s question gave me pause though. Maybe Jo was just a vehicle for wish fulfillment and I needed to reevaluate. I took a quick online Myers-Briggs assessment as her to see if she and I were indeed the same person. I’m an INFJ. Jo is an ENFJ.
Uh oh. Is she just an outgoing me?
Nope. According to 16 Personalities, INFJs are the Advocate personality and ENFJs are the Protagonist personality. Funny that. There are similarities but ENFJs are mesmerizing leaders (think Barack Obama or Oprah). The thought of leading the charge scares the absolute crap out of my INFJ self. I’m much happier behind the scenes writing, not starring, in the action.
Just for fun, or for the things writers do to procrastinate from actual writing, I took the MB for my other characters, too. You know, to make sure they weren’t all the same person with different hair. They weren’t. It was really helpful for fleshing out the character sketches I had for each of them. And the assessments became handy references for how each character might act given a choice or situation.
I don’t know that I recommend living your life by the tenets of your personality type, however insightful they feel. Can 8 billion people really be divvied up into 16 buckets? Maybe. Despite our desire to cling to our snowflake uniqueness, I think we are all driven by the same altruistic ideals and base desires fighting it out in our psyches. But it’s at least a little more scientific than a horoscope, says the happily self-confessed Scorpio.
Whether or not you see the MB as infallible or not, it can apparently be a useful tool for writers, or at least this writer. I’m curious if anyone else has used the MB assessment this way or uses other things, like horoscopes or the Enneagram, to flesh out characters’ personalities.
Last May I started writing a novel. That was a surprise. My dream of being a writer was to be a poet. Then it was to be a fairly obscure blogger with a small but dedicated following. Then it was to be a memoirist. Then this novel slammed into me out of nowhere when I rounded a corner onto a quiet street in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
No one really prepared me for being a novelist. In school, I took poetry workshops. I tried fiction, short stories mostly, once in undergrad and once in grad school. Though I thought I learned a lot, both instructors where not, how shall we say, encouraging about my future as a fiction writer.
I do still write poems. They are mostly for me and I show them to Keifel when I think they aren’t particularly terrible. There isn’t a precise moment when I stopped wanting to be a poet. There was something about me needing to focus on being a parent and putting food on my damn family. I will not say those were necessarily rational thoughts. Now the kiddos are grown and can put food on themselves for the most part, the idea that I can’t be more than one thing at a time has wilted. (Thank all the gods for that.)
I finished the first draft of the novel with a working title of Still Water. Then I worried over at least three heavy rewrites and am now into the editing stage, or about to be. One more pass for egregious errors. (That thing I said about not being able to spell. It’s true and I think way faster than I type.)
That book has a new title, Who by Water, from the second line of Leonard Cohen’s song “Who by Fire.” It’s haunting and has followed morbid, Scorpio me around for years, especially this cover. When I realized just how many other books in the world had some version of still water or still waters in the title, I had to come up with something else. I landed on the current title for two reasons. In my heart of hearts, I knew water was at the core of this book. Jo, the main character who informed me I needed to write this book while I was standing on that quiet street, listens to Leonard Cohen when things are going badly for her.
The book is slated for an April 2017 release with indie imprint, Griffyn Ink.
So more about the book will follow. I just wanted to start this new adventure by saying, even though I’m not a hundred percent clear on how I got here, I’m glad of it. And I’m already working on book two with Jo and her tribe.