Playing Catch-Up (and an excerpt)

Good morning, readers, and Happy National Book Lovers Day! I hope your August is going well.

It hasn’t been the greatest month for me so far. My dog passed away last week and I’ve been pretty devastated. Matilda was adorable and devoted and wiggly and goofy, and I just miss her like hell.

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My Matilda Furface.

I’ve been alternating between throwing myself into writing/research and binge-watching Netflix to drown my sorrows. But there’s only so many hours you can sit in the easychair watching House of Cards and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend before your eyes start to cross, so work it is. I am in the heavy research stage of a new novel, one that I’ll likely be writing for NaNoWriMo this year. It’s an idea that has been rolling around in the noggin for a couple of years at least, and it’s finally starting to gel enough that I’m ready to put pen to paper. I’m very excited. It’ll be the most challenging thing I’ve written, at least in terms of research, so I’m a bit nervous, but so far it has been a dream. I thought I hated research, but it turns out that I’m totally in my element. My heart is currently residing somewhere in 1930s rural Georgia among the cotton farmers.

But you’ll all have to wait for that, though, because I’ve got other irons in the fire. On Friday the first Goodreads giveaway for Ka Kite goes live, and I’ll be posting the link here.

A few friends have asked me to post more excerpts of my writing, and I had a short story all at the ready (at one point a couple of months ago, I was researching this new project, in the final editing stages of Ka Kite, and stopped both for several weeks to write eight short stories. Because I am insane.) but then I thought, nah. It can wait. Because it’s all about Ka Kite right now. I’m still coasting on the fact that I’ve finished my sequel and that the world of Aroha is done. I’m proud of it! And I want you all to read it!

So here it is, an excerpt from Ka Kite, just in time for National Book Lovers Day.

Coders, if you can tell me why my “read more” tag isn’t working, I’ll lurve you forever. I’ve messed with it for eons. Ugh.

But back to the excerpt. If you enjoy it, click over to Amazon and score yourself a copy. Or wait until Friday and try your hand at the giveaway. And don’t forget to leave reviews! Whether you do so on Amazon, Goodreads or your own blog, they help indie writers like me more than you can imagine.

Ta, Darlings.

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Continue reading

Art Imitating Life and the Benefits of Self-Publishing

So…

Ka Kite is out, y’all! I’m so excited, you guys. Probably more than I should be. I got my hard copy in the mail from Amazon two days ago, and I promptly sat down, put everything else aside, and read my novel cover to cover in the span of a day. I remember getting such joy of doing that when I published Aroha last year, and this time it was no different. That new book smell, the glossy cover art, seeing your words in print: it never gets old. When you’ve got a tangible copy in your hands, even though you wrote it and edited it and conceived of it all, for a brief, lovely moment, you read it through new eyes, and fall into the story yourself. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Now I’m all done, and the sad realization has hit me that my Aroha-world, the world that Miranda and Hemi and Rae and Georgie and Nick and Dusty have been bumbling around in for the last three years of my life, is all finished. I knew that I’d feel deflated and aimless once it was over, and I do. But I’m also really chuffed.

It has been a fun experience, a stressful experience, a learning experience. I’ve watched myself grow as a writer. I’ve watched myself navigate through things that once caused pain and turn them into fiction that touches others. I’ve learned the ins and outs of the self-publishing business. And after all of it, I can say that I’m the author of two novels.

So I’m sad, but it’s happy-sad.

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A selfie from Instagram with my self-published books because ain’t nobody got time for pretense.

For a long time after I published Aroha, I felt conflicted about it. I was proud, and I loved hearing people’s praise of my book and seeing the reviews, but there was also an underlying current from certain spaces that was judgmental. And the nagging little voice in my head would say, “You aren’t a real writer. You aren’t selling more copies or getting as much positive feedback because you self-published. People who know literature aren’t going to buy your book because it’s not legit.” I told that voice to shut up, but it crept back in more than once. And the thing is, it was more than partly true.

I’ve been at this game a long time.  I’m friends with lit majors and English teachers and professional authors and book critics. I have run across more than one person who would light up when they heard I’d published a book (“Oh!”), only for that light to dim into a look of barely-disguised boredom when they find out that I’m self-published (“Oh…”). It happens everywhere, all the time. People don’t even realize they’re doing it half the time (and then there are the ones that do, the admitted “book snobs” that I have literally zero fucks for – don’t get me started).

I get it. Self-publishing takes this highly sought after thing – getting an agent and/or signing your book with a publishing house – and makes it possible for everybody. It dilutes the pool, and fills it with mediocre, amateur authors, which makes it harder to find the real gems.

Except that it doesn’t.

I’m not in there, milling about with the likes of Stephen King and Diana Gabaldon (I wish!). Self-publishing makes it easier to get your work in print, but that’s it. The rest is up to you. All the marketing, promotion and grunt work is yours, and it is not easy. Self-publishing puts your work into a printed object, but it doesn’t ensure an audience and it definitely doesn’t ensure success (the opposite, in fact, as publishing houses and PR folks use that snobbishness towards “indie authors” to their advantage). For many, self-publishing is the kiss of death. The success stories are few and far between (most of us aren’t going to end up as E.L. James – which I’m okay with).

Why did I self-publish? I didn’t want to at first. In fact, after I finished Aroha, I spent the better part of a year querying it around to agents and publishing houses. I got some really good feedback (see my post from a few weeks ago about niche writing), but no bites. I got a personal, long letter from one agent that really meant a lot to me, because she had clearly read my work and actually took the time to give me some pointers. She told me that my novel would be a “hard sell” because the subject matter was grim and unflinching, but there was also this sweet love story, and most publishers wouldn’t be able to fit it between literary fiction and romance and find an audience. She encouraged me to continue writing, and not to give up, because she felt it was good. But she warned me that it might be hard to find someone willing to take the risk.

After I read her letter, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t upset. I was inspired. Because I had figured out what to do. I had never really considered self-publishing before; I’d always just assumed I’d try to shop the book around. But the entire time I did, I was nervous. Nervous about the things they would edit out of my story. Nervous that they would chop and hack at my words and make them not mine anymore. I was afraid of how they would market it. Afraid they would want me to write under my real name. Afraid they would plaster my picture all over the promotional material. Afraid of critics picking me apart when I still felt very raw and vulnerable. The idea of putting my book, a book that I took ten years to get up the courage to write, in someone else’s hands, filled me with anxiety.

If I self-published, I could control all of that. I could choose my pen name, the look and style of the book, everything down to the cover art and the words on the back. I could promote myself as little or as much as I wanted, and take baby steps out into the world of authorship. I would be in control. And that was something I desperately wanted and needed, even if it took me a while to realize it.

Aroha and its sequel are deeply personal. They are fiction, but so much of it is pulled from my real life, from experiences I’ve had and people I have known. The subject matter is hard, and it is not an easy read. It was even harder to write at times. It is a deep-rooted narrative that I am forever entwined with. For that reason, it is more important to me to simply have it “out there” than it is to sell a hundred or even a dozen copies, to make real money at it, or to have notoriety and “fans”. Just having those books in my hands is enough validation for me. It is my legacy, my tale of survival, as melodramatic as it may sound (I am a writer, after all). Would the rest be nice? Of course. But I’ll tell any book snob to go get stuffed, because for me, the real triumph was writing them and putting them out there on my own terms.

Self-publishing Aroha is the best decision I ever made, because I have been hands-on every step of the way. It is my baby, and this is how it should be. Yes, I get discouraged sometimes when I see the pitiful sales numbers, when friends or colleagues make offhand remarks about “indie authors”, or when the shops in town have book signings for people I know but won’t carry my book because it’s from Amazon. It burns. But I wouldn’t change it. My book has found its niche, and even though it may take twice or even three times as long, it will find the audience it is meant for.

As a teenager, writing angsty love poetry in my little notebook, I never dreamed that I’d grow up to write the complicated and flawed female characters that seem to dominate my work. But I wouldn’t change them. Somewhere along the line I made the decision to thread much of myself into my heroes and heroines, to put the truth into my writing, warts and all. I probably have Margaret Atwood to thank for that. My writing is deeply, deeply personal, no matter how remote it may sometimes seem. So it only makes sense that when writing such a personal narrative, an author might want to control their own narrative, too.

Ka Kite is available for Kindle and paperback, and is now up for reviews on Goodreads.  I’d be overjoyed if you read it.

 

Release Day! Ka Kite is Here!

Good morning! It’s release day! I’m so excited to launch my new book, the sequel to Aroha – Ka Kite! Pronounced “ka-kitay”, which roughly translates into “see you later”, it picks up on the story of Miranda Robbins about a year after the events of Aroha.

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Blurb:
“One year ago, Miranda Robbins carefully extracted herself from a life of terror in which she had no future. Back home in Birmingham, Alabama, surrounded by family and friends, and embarking on both a new relationship and a new career, she should be moving on with her life, safe from the clutches of the man who hurt her. But the vacant lot next door holds more than a few memories, and the terrifying nightmares are a regular reminder of what she hasn’t fully left behind: the country she called home and the men she’d loved: one whom she fled in terror, the other whom she still loves, but can’t bring herself to contact. More than an ocean lies between them now.

Then one day an unexpected visitor shows up on her doorstep, and her world is thrown into a tailspin. Miranda is compelled to help this stranger, a mysterious woman whose story is every bit as harrowing and sad as Miranda’s own. As the two enter into an unlikely friendship, Miranda finds that nothing is what it seems, and nobody can be trusted – not in Birmingham, or in Auckland, New Zealand, the home she left behind. Betrayed, alone, and sinking fast, she’s faced with a choice between the life she thought was behind her and the future she is trying to build. She must choose between letting her past claim her for good, or saving herself once and for all. Spanning two countries an ocean apart, Ka Kite is a story of lost loves, confrontation, sacrifice, and most importantly, the ability of unconditional love to heal.”
Find it on Kindle

And in Paperback! 

I can’t wait to hear everyone’s thoughts, and as always, please leave me a Goodreads or Amazon review when you’re finished!

 

I am feeling all sorts of feels about the release of this book and what basically feels like a chapter of my own life ending, but I think I’ll save that for another post and give you all a chance to start reading! I really am so excited to share this with you, and I hope you enjoy it. Feedback welcome!

Happy Friday, readers!

You might not ever “find your niche” and other truths about writing (while female).

What a title, huh?

I’m tired, you guys. The long weekend isn’t even over yet, and I’ve already crammed so much socializing, working, cycling, baking, and errand-running into the past few days that I am in that weird high-from-exhaustion stage, and when I get like that, running on fumes and dark roast coffee, I always want to write.

It makes little sense, but I’ve always been that way. The more tired, busy and frantic I am, the more I want to pick up my pen or sit down at my laptop. When I’ve got free time in spades and schedule out a nice, quiet moment to write, I end up sitting on Facebook or watching Golden Girls while playing Plants vs. Zombies. My brain is very fickle. I rebel against any attempts to make myself adult.

Last night would have been an ideal time to sit down and finish up one of the five short stories I’ve currently got half finished, or to do some last minute editing on Ka Kite. Instead, I went to a friend’s house and ate pizza (and also gouda and spinach dip) and drank blood orange wine spritzers (and also pina coladas) with two of my best girlfriends, both of whom are also writers. We got tipsy and talked shop, and between bouts of uproarious laughter, things got kind of depressing.

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Alice Hayes, author of the Thread that Binds, and one of my best galpals, and I. See how proud we look? After this book signing we drank key lime pie shots and toasted our “success”. And maybe cried.

Though we all live in the same town, we’ve all gone in our own direction, and have approached the publishing and marketing of our books – literary fiction, urban YA fantasy, and historical fiction, respectively – in quite different ways. Between us, we’ve done the local writing group thing, the book contest thing, the writers convention thing, the find-an-agent thing, the book tour thing, the NaNoWriMo thing, the self-publishing thing, the social media thing, and all the other things in between.

What have we learned? Well, other than learning how to write a finely tuned query letter that brags without being obvious, we’ve learned one lesson: being a  novelist is hard. Being a female novelist is even harder.

I have sent out hundreds (probably) of queries, and I’ve been lucky enough to get some really good feedback from a few agents (this is a rarity; most writers will tell you to consider yourself lucky to get back a response at all, much less feedback. The majority of my queries went unacknowledged). They all said something similar. “We love your story;” “This is great narrative fiction;” “I was very invested in your main character;” BUT (and this always followed whatever compliment I received), “We cannot find your niche;” “We wouldn’t know how to sell it;” “You need to narrow down your genre”.

My novel, Aroha, and its upcoming sequel, Ka Kite, are hard to market, because they don’t fall into a simple genre. There is romance, and I don’t shy away from a good sex scene, but because I also have heavy themes and a somewhat grim subject matter, it isn’t light enough to be considered romance. Because of the romantic/sexual subplot, it isn’t straight literary fiction. The narrative style doesn’t lend it to a modern day gripping fiction read that a publishing house could market as a beach-side vacation read, either. The subtle feminist slant might turn off conservative readers. The violence might be triggering. And so on and so on.

This isn’t unique to me. My friends have received similar feedback. The “niche” is so important in publishing that these days, agents actually post on Twitter to ask for such specific criteria it’s a wonder that writers even bother coming up with original material. “Looking for a YA novel set in a dystopian society but with a diverse cast of characters, all of whom have fantastical elements and a strong LGBT romantic subplot.” Like, okay, but can we come up with our own ideas?

Apparently not.

It’s even harder for women writers. It’s not impossible, but it’s incredibly hard to publish outside the “acceptable” genres for female writers: if you’re a woman writing sci-fi or historical fic, or god forbid, a combination of the two (Diana Gabaldon doesn’t count, because she’s apparently some kind of god-like writing machine and an exception to the rule), good luck getting anyone to take you seriously. My friend mentioned the fantastic writer NK Jemisin last night and how her writing career seems to be a constant uphill battle to be recognized (as a woman and a person of color writing Fantasy, she’s had to fight constantly to be let into the club).

One of Aroha‘s first ever test-readers told me that it was good, but “the domestic violence storyline is a little heavy-handed. Maybe even it out by having the love story come into play earlier? Can you make it more of the focus?” When I said no I couldn’t, she told me good luck selling it. And the most maddening thing is that she was right.

My friends and I have joked that we have enough immensely talented female writers in our inner circle, amazing writers who have amassed an incredible body of work spanning multiple genres, that we could start our own southern feminist publishing company and not stop putting out work for a couple of years. And you know, it’s tempting. Sure, I like Girl on the Train style thrillers and romance (especially the new breed of feminist romance) as much as the next person, but what about the books that don’t fit in a niche? What about the books that push the envelope, that make you feel both good and bad, that straddle the fence between history and science or romance and grief, or politics and fantasy? I want to read those books.

Writing is hard, y’all. We’ve all seen the endlessly pinned memes about the process of writing, the ins and outs of jumbling words together to make a short story or a book. But what isn’t talked about as often is how hard it is to get your work out there once it’s finished. It is damn hard.

A few truths nobody but a struggling writer will tell you:

Don’t expect writer friends who have had success to help you. It’s an understood but rarely talked about truth that writers have to make it on their own. Knowing someone successful might get your foot in the door, if you’re lucky, but most writers aren’t going to stick their neck out to help someone else get ahead.

Once your work is out there, don’t be surprised if some of your friends and family don’t read it. We all have our cheerleaders, bless them, the loved ones that believe in us and promote us and sing for us every step of the way, but you’ll be lucky to have one or two of those people. And often those people are going to be fellow writers or artists who understand what it’s like. Don’t lose heart if you put your work out there, and nobody seems to notice. It will happen, and it will hurt. But most of the time it’s not about you.

Querying really sucks. You will spend countless hours drafting the perfect query letter, you will send off manuscripts and excerpts and chapters (each agent and publishing company naturally has a different set of criteria) until your fingers bleed, and you’ll be lucky to receive back a reply for one out of every ten queries you send. Probably more like twenty. Many of them will be rude. It will be clear that several did not even read your letter or your excerpt. But every so often, a rare gem will come and an agent will give you feedback. Treasure it, take it to heart. Use it. And if they ask for more? Go treat yourself to a coffee or a piece of cake, because girl, you’ve done the almost-impossible.

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People are snobs about self publishing. And small publishing houses. And NaNoWriMo. And writing contests. And pretty much anything that isn’t a six figure deal from a major company. Who cares. What are they doing that’s so great? Try not to let it bother you. You wrote a novel, and it’s in print. Fuck the haters.

People will want your books for free. They will ask you to give them free copies. Just like with any artist, people think your time is less valuable than theirs and that what you create is to be given freely. There will be people in your life who aren’t willing to pay for your efforts and want it for free. If you like them and you don’t mind, do it. If it pisses you off, don’t feel obligated.

Promoting yourself sucks. It just does. Anyone who says they love spending hours on social media talking themselves up and running giveaways and creating banners is either lying or they’ve turned into a robot. It isn’t that much fun. But it is necessary. And you’ll have to keep working at it if you want to sell your work.

The truth is, writing is the easy part. Whoever said that writing is just sitting down and opening a vein is right. You just bleed all over the page in a way you hope is artful. It’s what comes after that that is the trial, that tests your fortitude and cements (or crumbles) your dreams. Trying to get your work out there is soul-crushing stuff. The answer to the question lies in how you handle it: is writing what you do, or who you are?

It’s such a friggin’ cliche, but it’s so, so true. Real writers write for themselves. Because the struggle is real. Someone who is just in the business to sell books and make money, or who want notoriety and fame, just don’t last in the business long (unless they just luck out and catch lightning in a bottle on a good day) because they all get worn down in the end. All the great writers who struggled and somehow managed to climb their way upwards to success have all said some variation of the same thing: you just have to keep your head down and keep writing, writing, writing what YOU want to write and how YOU feel like writing, and everything else can go hang.

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You do what you gotta.

And, if you’re lucky, you have a few writer friends to drink wine and eat pizza with, who understand how much being a writer can suck, how lonely it is, and how sometimes you’d rather go sit in an imaginary world with your characters than deal with the shitty outside world. This is why you hear about writers amassing entire bodies of amazing work that they never tried to publish, only being found out after they died and left thirteen hundred spiral bound notebooks in a locked closet at their beach house or whatever. I can understand it, I’m telling you.

But I’ll keep on trucking. Because I’ve still got things to say. 🙂

Lillah

P.S. So do my friends. If you’d like to follow their two very well-written and engaging blogs, here they are:
Alice Hayes
Green Tea Ginger

 

 

 

Ka Kite: An Announcement!

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So…I did warn y’all, didn’t I? I’m terrible about keeping up with blogs. Just terrible.

I do have an excuse, though…I’ve been writing and researching and revising my little butt off for the past few weeks. For some reason, my brain doesn’t work on an even keel when it comes to writing – I can’t just, say, write a novel, edit it, publish it and move onto the next thing. No, I have to write a novel, immediately start writing a set of short stories, stop those midway through to start researching a new novel, get halfway through the research, pause to go back to the finished novel, start editing it, and then lose interest in everything for a week to watch Outlander and Game of Thrones, then start back at point A…

Basically, I am one giant fail as a writer. But hey, at least I’m working, right? Even if there is no method to my madness whatsoever. I’m a proud pantser for life.

Somehow despite my chaotic working style, I have managed to finish my latest novel. Many of you know that it’s a sequel to Arohawhich was released last year. It is entitled Ka Kite (pronounced “Kah – Kitay” with a soft ‘t’ – check it out here) and follows up on the lives of Miranda, Hemi and the other minor characters that we left behind in Aroha. It is set to be published on June 24th of this year. That’s right – in a little over a month!

Many of you have asked me to please, please, PLEASE tell what happens to our beloved Hemi Morrison, and I am happy to finally oblige (I can’t tell you how chuffed it makes me that people love Hemi so much. I know how you feel, believe me). You’ll be happy to learn that our handsome-as-the-dickens, guitar playing, bone-carving leading man will feature prominently in the next book – but that’s all I’m saying!

I will share more about Ka Kite, maybe even an excerpt or two, in the weeks coming up to the release, and will have a countdown and giveaway as well! Keep a check on this blog, or follow me on social media (see the links over to the left, there) to keep updated on any happenings.

This book has been something else. I wrote the bulk of the first draft for my 2015 NaNoWriMo, but it’s been a slog getting through the editing. Like Aroha, it’s been a labor of love, a deeply personal and sometimes nerve-wracking journey. I’m proud of it.

And in case you’re wondering what the story is with that stingray at the top of the page…if whales were the spirit guide of Aroha,  stingrays are the spirit guide of Ka Kite. I fully blame my muse for my bad crayon art. I also just really like stingrays. If you ever have a chance to swim with one, do it. They are as soft as velvet and surprisingly playful.

Happy reading! I look forward to sharing more about Ka Kite with you soon!

Lillah

 

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Hi!

Hello friends, fans, and party people! I’m Lillah, and I’m glad you’re here. I’m a writer, blogger and author. All of those things mean pretty much the same thing, but because I write in various different styles, I make the distinction. A little background:

I have been writing my entire life, and that’s not really an exaggeration. As an eight year old, I wrote rhyming poems and fairy tales that I scrawled out in messy pencil on notebook paper. As an adolescent, I had a ‘zine, which I dutifully typed out on my Brother typewriter on neon paper, with badly photocopied pictures and contributions from my friends. I called it “The Monthly Friend” – can you believe I thought that was incredibly clever? As a teenager, I wrote angsty poems by the dozen and clipped them carefully into notebooks and diaries, interspersed with quotes written in gold pen, art and photos of people I found pretty. In my twenties, I wrote a lot of articles and essays, some of which got acclaim, and many of which were published in various places (MSNBC, Flagpole, etc). I had a weekly column at a feminist magazine for a number of years. During this time, I also wrote professionally for an insurance company and an iPhone app company, respectively. I gotta tell you, not ALL writing jobs are fun and fulfilling. Soul crushing stuff, for real. I’ve had a number of blogs over the years: some political, some silly – one was even all about food (I really like food).

I love to write. I’ll write anything. Short stories, fiction, poems, prose, non-fiction, blog posts, ad copy – you name it, I write it. Anything from song lyrics to letters to people I love, to think pieces. You got it, dude.

I guess I just have a lot to say. I always have.

While I’ve technically written four books now, I’ve only published one. Aroha was a work of love that took a year to write but ten years to conceive of. I self-published for a variety of reasons, and I plan to talk about that journey and those reasons in a later blog post. Aroha was a big step for me, not only as a writer, but personally. I thank those of you who have read it and given me feedback, because that feedback has been as much a part of my journey as writing the book.

I am currently working on its sequel, which is due out later this year, as well as a book of short stories. I’m writing poetry and essays in between, as always, because I wear many hats (I mean this quite literally, as well as figuratively). I don’t know when to stop, and my attention span can be short. My next blog post is an open letter to a musician that I admire, and it’s about music and how inspiration can come from that and many other places. You’ll see a lot of that in this blog and in my work.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope I can entertain you and that you enjoy my writing.

Kia Ora,

Lillah Lawson