We read to know that we are not alone.

~C.S. Lewis

What is it worth to you?

Sitting across the table from my handsome husband, I sipped my Manhattan and listened to him talk about video games. Again.

We enjoyed a medium deserved, much-needed date night in the midst of the whirlwind around Christmas and New Years. The conversation turned, as it so often does, to a beloved Twitch streamer. We attempted to pinpoint what exactly is the source of his success. We cited his unthreatening everyman video game skills and his hilarious fluctuations between absurd confidence and wallowing self-pity that translated into moderate charisma and lots and lots of money.

Honestly curious, I asked aloud, “I am at least as charming as this guy. How do I implement his business model to my writing career?”

“Give your book away for free,” my husband answered.

My head felt like it exploded.

Do you even know how much work I already do for free as a stay-at-home mom and housewife? Do you know how little that unpaid labor is valued in our society? And you want me to put my passion project, the fruit of my intellectual and creative self, out into the world for free as well? No.

I blinked in shock. Mike may or may not have been pleased to render his chatty wife speechless.

“That’s how you would do it,” he doubled down on his assertion.

“But…”

But the hours of work! The literal years of my life spent writing and learning how to write better. The money spent on conferences, how-to books, and paper. Don’t these sacrifices deserve some sort of reward?

Not really. I’m writing for fun and self-development. Nobody has held a gun to my head to say I need to write this story. What would a fair hourly rate even be? And who in this “fair” art market could afford a book of passion written by a first-time author? Books would go for thousands of dollars! And who would pay thousands of dollars for art? That’s right… art collectors.

I took a deep breath. Trying to slow my mind enough to come up with a reasonable objection to his crazy plan. “But I want the approval of being traditionally published,” I said embarrassed to so openly need the approval of others.

“Who care’s about publishers? You care about readers.”

“That’s true.” The readers are the people I am hoping to connect with after all. Some will obviously pay nothing, but some might pay a lot.

And this is where I got stuck for days. My mind churning in the background, as I do all my other unpaid work, picking away at why I should or should not give away my book for free.

Isn’t this model the honest meritocracy that I want in the world? If a reader likes it, they will pay, if not, they will not. The Twitch phenomenon has proven that there can be serious money in providing free content and asking for small donations from people who care to do so.

But there is the other side of The Twitch coin, the unknown number of streamers who are just as charming, skillful and engaged as the big names, but for some reason, the alchemy of popularity didn’t work for them.

‘What if I’m one of the unwatched streams?’ Comes a voice from the increasingly widening pit in my stomach. ‘What if I build it, but nobody comes?’ The failure of a cornfield ballpark is still statistically likely even if I do get traditionally published. So why not let it get out there for free at least make it easy for readers to get their hands on?

And after weeks of churning…  I’ve decided my story is valuable and I don’t want to give it away for free. That is weirdly difficult to admit, and embarrassing. But, yeah. My novel has worth. (Still awkward… I’ll keep practicing.)

How much worth? In terms of dollars? I do not know. Value, especially in art, is in the eye of the beholder. The same book can be thought-provoking and literally life-saving to one reader, and a simple ‘meh’ to another. Which one is correct?

Is my book collector-level worthy of thousands? Maybe for some readers. But most of my readers will be in middle school, and that is a lot of allowance money. Is it worth the $.99-$25.00 that a bookstore will charge? Perhaps. Maybe since it is born of love and hours willingly given it should be my free gift to the world.

Perhaps someday there will be a machine, or more likely an app, that can measure the increased serotonin levels in your brain when you experience art. Then they will equate those chemicals with a dollar amount, or even better, a percentage of your income. (Like taxes, but fair.)

Until that technology arrives, I’m at a bit of a loss.

All I can say is that my book has worth. My story has value. I just don’t know if I’ll get any money. If that makes cents.

Terror and Growth

“Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it. And by doing it, they’re proven right.” – Amy Poehler

As a woman of a certain upbringing and disposition, I want everything I produce to be perfect. All the time.

Logically I understand that it is an impossible standard, but emotionally I just really really want things to be perfect. Hence, I am terrified of taking the next step in my writing and start to consider publishing. Continue reading

How to Fix “The Last Jedi”

Star Wars is one of the mega-dynasties of filmmaking, and everyone has an opinion. Today you guys get to hear MINE.

Since this is a space to talk storytelling, I want to momentarily set aside things like aesthetics, sound design, and performance to instead focus on comparing The Last Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back.

The stories are similar. In Empire: heroes Han, Leia, and Luke are being tracked and harassed by The Empire. In The Last Jedi : Our heroes Rey, Poe, and Finn are being tracked and harassed by The First Order. Both are the second installment in trilogies, both are set in the Star Wars Universe, and yet one is a beloved cinematic classic and the other I found really disappointing. Why? Continue reading

Pitchapalooza 2018

I want to share with you all that I learned while putting together my very first attempt at a book pitch.

NaNoWriMo is teaming up with The Book Doctors for Pitchapalloza 2018! In addition to offering prizes, they will be broadcasting a live critique on March 15th. I am excited to tune in then to hear the pro’s advice on how to put together a good pitch. (They are collecting submissions until February 28th, so if you have something awesome to pitch check out the rules.)

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Gender, Pronouns, and Storytelling

One of the many perks of having a child is that I have the opportunity to read a lot of children’s books. I have a great collection. Some are old classics lovingly saved by my parents, some are new gifts from friends and family. I love being able to look again at books I remember being read as a child, as well as reading the offerings of a new generation of picture book authors.

I find myself paying close attention to how gender is assigned to characters in these stories. In children’s books it seems that gender doesn’t play a very important role. There is no romance, there often isn’t even a traditional hero’s journey plot. And yet… It seems to be that so often the ‘default’ gender of the protagonist is male. This is particularly interesting to notice in characters that are animals or inanimate objects.

For example, take the “The Little Engine That Could“. I was shocked when I read it for the first time in (at least) twenty five years. The train that breaks down? Female. The three trains that refuse (or are unable) to take the toys and food over the mountain are ALL male. Then along comes our heroine, the Little Engine that Could. When I read this as an adult I was applying all kinds of analysis to the choice of gender in this story. In one sense it is about women helping women. In another it could be about men thinking of women’s work is beneath them. (The toys and food were for children after all). Is it condemning or condoning that women feel obligated to do work that men either refuse or are unable to do?

I know I’m probably taking things to far. Reading too much into a simple children’s story. But I also know that a culture’s views about gender is taught to each generation through the stories we tell. That is reason enough for me to be careful.

Why are both The Little Blue Truck (beep beep) and the antagonist dump truck male? Why is The Very Quiet Cricket a boy? Why is The Very Busy Spider a girl? There is no reason at all story-wise that these characters even need to be assigned a gender at all.

I worry about the subconscious lessons I could be teaching my daughter: The only stories worth reading are about boys. The girl characters are nice and hard working and the boy characters are bold and curious. Her brain is absorbing so much so quickly, I wonder (and worry) what she might be picking up by accident.

My imperfect solution? I switch the pronouns of the characters every few readings. That way I know she cannot attribute the actions the characters take with a particular gender. The same character who is nice and hardworking will be a boy one day and a girl in tomorrow’s reading. I do this with heroes and villains alike, being sure that it isn’t always an boy vs. girl situation either.

I want my daughter to see herself in characters regardless of their gender. She should know that women and men can be brave and cruel and kind and thoughtless. Instead of establishing limits of how a female “should” behave, I want stories to open up worlds and adventures for my daughter. Because, that is what storytelling does best, it opens up possibilities.

You Can’t Bullshit an Ending

Human’s are natural storytellers, and as such, we can sniff out a bullshit ending a mile away.

At a lecture this weekend, Benjamin Gorman (Not A Pipe Publishing) spoke about the covenant between authors and their readers. While he was speaking about the world-building part of the equation, the set up, I want to talk about the pay off. The ending is where readers find out if you make good on the promises of an interesting, moving, surprising story. If the pay off doesn’t pay out, then you have betrayed the covenant. You’ve lost the reader’s trust.

Continue reading