La Belle Italia, Roses and a Dying Gaul

I leave for Italy in less than two weeks. I’ve been cramming my head with as much Roman history as I can. To that end I was in the library last night picking up a book on Celtic myth and art- yes, the Celts have a long history in Italy. I like to know what my peeps were up to back in the day, in Rome. 🙂 I pulled the book I wanted off the shelf, and knocked another off in the process. Weirdly, it was Eat, Pray, Love. I may well be one of the few women in North America who has not read said book. I am one of those perverse souls who, when a book/show/movie is uber-popular will not read/watch it. I chalk it up to the mulish stubborn suspicious nature of my ancestors- if everyone likes it that much, it can’t be good. But I had watched a TED talk with the author of Eat, Pray, Love a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. She was witty, funny, humble and had some ideas on creativity and the muses that I am pondering weeks later. So I’m reading it. I already finished the section in Italy. It’s funny and just good. I am fine with eating crow when it’s tasty. 🙂

I read a section this morning that talked about the one word that you feel describes you- not your appearance, or your job or your social status- YOU- your soul if you will. Just the words that come up first, before you censor or self-deprecate or criticize yourself. Mine were Seek and Transcendence. I am always seeking those moments of transcendence, where time stops and the everyday world melts away for a few seconds and you forget your corporeal self, and live in your spirit. We all seek those moments in a variety of ways- in nature, in our children, in the simple play of light across water, in something you’ve seen a million times and never really noticed- and then suddenly you do and it’s never the same for you- it’s been transformed, it has transcended to a different place in your spirit.

The roses are blooming here in Brigadoon. The wild ones, as they do, bloomed first and now have shed their petals in a translucent pink carpet on the grass verges of my daily walk. They remind me of how swiftly time passes- for roses, for dogs (I have an old girl who isn’t doing so well these days) and for, of course, we humans. That’s why we have to snatch at those moments of transcendence as often as they present themselves.

Now to that Dying Gaul, there’s an image of him just below this post. I wanted to post it within the body of the post but WordPress has swallowed three versions of this blog and so I don’t dare try to post the same way again. I’ve seen images of this statue many times over the years, and the impact never lessens, even through the watered down lens of a computer screen. I can’t explain what it is about this dying marble warrior that so pulls me, but he actually makes my heart ache just to look at him. He is on my list of ‘must sees’ in Rome. I can only imagine what it will be like to stand there looking at him in the flesh, or marble as it were. 🙂  He makes me think of my favourite scene in the HBO series ROME- where Vercingetorix (leader of the Gauls) is brought in chains to kneel before Caesar. (How ironic that Caesar is played by the lovely Irish actor Ciaran Hinds). I don’t know why I say favourite scene really, because it makes me cry and makes me furious. The first time I watched it I cried enough that my husband gave me one of those sideways looks that asks a question without words. I said, ‘It’s just that someone has always been making us kneel before them thinking they were superior to us.’  He looked at the wild-haired, naked barbarian on screen, looked at me and wisely chose to say nothing. I figure he was either noting the similarities- wild Celt hair and rebellious nature ending in disaster, or thinking ‘what exactly does she think her and her hard-nosed Prod ancestors have in common with this man?’

So I will go to the land of the Romans, the Florentines, the Venetians and seek those moments of transcendence- in the soaring cathedral of Brunelleschi, the bronze lions of St. Mark’s, in a twilight ride down a canal in Venice, in the holding pen of the gladiators beneath the Colosseum and in the eyes of a dying warrior. I will seek those connections where I feel with every cell that I am one petal in one bead on the unending rosary of humankind.

I will also seek it by drinking sunshine (also known as limoncello) and tasting every flavour of gelato I can manage before my Lactaid runs out. 🙂

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Liberation- or at least something like it.

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I had an epiphany the other day. They don’t happen often, but when they do arrive it’s not so much like a light going on as a realization that my way of looking at things has changed- without my actually noticing. I have to stop and scratch my head a little and wonder when the change actually took place. In this particular instance it was my view of self-publishing.

Self-publishing has long had a stigma that I think is pretty unfair. Yes, there is some real dreck that makes it out onto the market via the self-publishing channels, but I think the same can be said of the mainstream publishing houses. They publish some great stuff, but they publish some really bad stuff too.

What I find funny is that while self-publishing has this stigma, there is nothing cooler than indie films and indie record companies. I’m not sure why the writing world still labours under this stigma, but it does to a certain extent. I have had many people say to me, ‘oh, but you’re self-published, aren’t you?’ and I knew they were dismissing the possibility that I had any talent, right there and then. As if they were certain that if I had any talent at all, I would be published traditionally. For a long time that stung, but I learned to shrug it off as I’ve learned to shrug off so many things- you have to if you’re going to keep writing. I just kept plugging along, hoping that one day the NY industry would ‘discover’ me and after more than a decade of struggling in anonymity, I’d be an ‘overnight’ sensation. Well, that never happened, and sometimes I really let it get me down over the years. The rejection letters were all in the same vein- ‘wonderful story, such descriptive writing, so vivid, etc’ but in the end they passed. And in the end, I always felt it was me and my lack of talent, or ability to somehow break through that wall that seems to exist between writers and publishers.

But the industry is changing, a LOT. And the game changer is Amazon. I know many people see them as the bully on the block, and in some ways, I suppose that’s accurate. Amazon’s Kindle Select program really changed things for me, I sell far more books now than I ever did before and my royalty rate is 70%, which is nothing to sneeze at in an industry where many of us are used to getting 10% and even that’s high in some cases. I sell more books, I make more money, I reach more readers.

Recently, as many of you know I participated in the Kindle Select Free Days with my first book, Exit Unicorns. Just under 12,000 copies of it went out on the ether onto people’s Kindles and all the other devices that support a Kindle app. The other two books in the series sold well that weekend, and have continued to sell well and sales of the first book have boosted quite a bit too.

The epiphany occured when I was out weeding my roses- epiphanies often seem to happen when I am in the rose garden. I think the fairies must be belling me upside the head. I realized that I have what I wanted- a growing readership, direct contact with many readers, the knowledge that my books have a place in many people’s lives and the freedom to do what I like with my stories and the characters and to take the time necessary to do it. A traditional publisher likely would never have allowed me that freedom and maybe that would have been a very bad thing for the books. Maybe the story would have changed, or died on the vine if I didn’t have the freedom to write it as it came to me.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I am really glad that there is a way now to write and actually make money- no, I’m not getting rich any time soon, but at least I’m helping to pay the bills occasionally.  And you know, if Liam Neeson shows up and offers me a movie deal, I am not saying no to the man. 🙂 But I do feel free suddenly and strangely, and know that my self-worth as a writer is no longer in the hands of a stranger in NY. It never was, I just needed to be belled upside the head to truly see that.

The picture of the ostrich- well that represents me having an epiphany. 🙂

My KDP experiment, Part 2.

The great KDP experiment of three ‘Free’ days is now almost a week behind me. As I had stated in my previous blog, it seemed very counter-intuitive to give books away for free- and wow, did they go! The final count was 11,451 copies of ‘Exit Unicorns’ downloaded in the US and Canada, 80 in the UK and 46 in Germany. I sold a good deal of the other two during the promotion as well, which was a bonus I hadn’t expected.

Since the book went back to a paid entity, it has sold steadily each day and several more copies of the other two have sold. Certainly, doing the free days has brought my books a great deal more notice. Hopefully, it is notice that will last for awhile. There are so many books in the marketplace today, that it’s very hard to get one’s book far enough above the water to get and keep notice.

I have to mention that my readers were hugely instrumental in the number of downloads. They shared that my book was free all weekend, many making multiple posts on FB and to various groups of which they are part. I would not have had the numbers I did without them, they truly are a terrific group. I don’t know all of them, obviously, but I appreciate each and every one.

I may try another free promotion of one of my books in the fall, for now though I need to get the books out there and available for Kobo and Nook- many readers have been patiently waiting for the books to be in these formats for a long time- I feel I owe them the courtesy of making the books available to them, even if it’s only for a few months to begin with.

I hope that many of those copies of ‘Exit Unicorns’ have landed in hands that will enjoy the book, and perhaps go on to read further of Jamie, Pamela, Casey and Patrick’s adventures in ‘Mermaid in a Bowl of Tears’ and ‘Flights of Angels’.