D is for Diner

Connections

A writer’s life can be a solitary one, or it needs to be. I find that the times when I feel happiest, most connected, and most satisfied with life are the times when I write the least.

When life fulfills me in every way, why would I want to stop living and write about life instead? As a child, adolescent, and young adult, I often wondered why I wrote best when I took time out from living. I loved capturing a slice of life to re-read later, but I paid for this act by removing myself from life.

When I write, it’s as if I float in an in-between state. Neither living nor dying, but an odd stasis. A bubble. A separation.

To write, we must isolate ourselves.

Even as an introvert, that isolation hurts. We cannot live life while we write about it. To do so (or attempt to do so) is akin to tying our shoes while running.

When the solitude of writing turns from peaceful stillness into sad silence, I come to my favorite diner. The booth is comfortable, the plug-in close by, and the food (while not fantabulous) is comforting.

Most of all, though, the employees are kind. I’ve come here for the past five years, and that’s longer than some of them. There are lemons, of course, but mostly they are hardworking, earnest people without pretensions or egos.

I like that. My day job involves people with egos and pretensions, and I appreciate people who have their feet on the ground. It’s a mixture of college kids, college graduates who are getting their start after school, and those who have worked in service forever.

When writing is difficult, I always find my happy place at the diner. I have a few other places I like to work, but the diner reminds me I am still part of the human race. Even if I have to write 30K in a week and a half. 🙂

 

How do you stay connected when you need to do work that is isolating?

 

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Advice for Newbie Authors: Don’t listen too much to advice (Tuesdays with Ana, Part 3)

I’m over at Adaline Raine’s today, and Kat and Natalie are giving an interview! Please say hello. 🙂

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Well. My post for today has changed dramatically from what I had originally intended. I was planning to introduce the first scene of The Way Home and talk about when we have lost the person most special to us. That will have to be a topic for another day.

Instead, the shocking success of The Way Home has prompted questions and discussions from more than a few people in the past week. How did I get into the Top 100? What did I do? What did my publisher do? How can other people succeed?

I am embarrassed to be asked these questions because success is such a chancy thing. This week’s Top 100 may be next week’s garbage can liner. It’s not that I mean to be disingenuous, but I honestly don’t know. Wonderful people who have supported me, a wonderful publisher who believed in me, and luck?

What I can offer today, however, is this piece of advice to new and aspiring authors:

Don’t listen too much to advice.

Yes, really. Don’t try to publish too soon. Don’t focus so much on writing to a market/publisher’s demands/algorithm of what will sell well…that you lose sight of why you began writing in the first place.

Because, honestly, if you are writing solely for the money–fiction is not the best place for you.

I have been told a great deal of advice on this journey:

  • Don’t make it too difficult to understand. You need to spell everything out for the reader.
  • If you want to sell well, you must have sex.
  • If you insist on not writing sex, you must include gratuitous details of the spanking in order to satisfy readers’ needs for titillation.
  • You must include characters on your cover, or else the book won’t sell.
  • Write what readers want to read, not what you want them to read.
  • If you insist on writing your way, your books will never sell.
  • No one will read F/F.
  • No one will read F/F without sex.
  • You use too many fancy metaphors.
  • You can’t use first-person point of view.
  • You can’t write in the present tense.
  • Your book won’t sell unless it has a romance.
  • You book must be a romance and alternate between the two main characters’ point of view.

The problem with this kind of advice is that it fails to take into account individuality of writers. I don’t want to be the author of the next Fifty Shades. Nor do I want to be the next Stephen King.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticizing either, just saying that’s not the kind of writing I do. Instead, this is the kind of advice that I have found helpful on my journey:

  • Go to your readers for advice. What do they think?
  • What I keep hearing you say is that you like the story the way it is.
  • You have something important to say.
  • You won’t be happy writing for the mass market, so why try?
  • Writing should be difficult. Take the time to do it right, and don’t let it become facile.
  • Make me feel something.
  • Sometimes you need to step away and take a break.
  • You can’t control how well your book sells. All you can control is producing the best product possible.
  • I know that you can do better.
  • I want your story to give me permission not to like the characters all the time.

But the best piece of advice is something I learned on my own. Because I don’t write sex, don’t (usually) write M/F, don’t write conventional romance (don’t write conventional anything)…I never had the opportunity to be blase about my identity as an author. From the very beginning, it’s been clear and simple.

Anastasia Vitsky is an author of F/F DD fiction. She writes about the real-life ups and downs rather than the fantasies none of us can hope to achieve.

My first big success, The Way Home, came about because my publisher insisted on marketing it as a F/F story…rather than apologizing for it containing a F/F storyline. I will never appeal to everyone, so instead my publisher helped me to appeal most strongly to the people most likely to buy the book.

Your author identity will be different. Only you will know your strengths. Don’t let anyone else tell you that you must fill a certain mold in order to succeed.

Don’t apologize for who you are. Make it your strongest asset.

The-Way-Home-3D

The Way Home
Natalie always wanted a little sister.  Kat didn’t know she was allowed to want anything…or anyone.

Kat, a shy farmgirl, arrives at her freshman dorm with a backpack, a suitcase, and her mother’s wish for Kat to attend college “at least until you get married”. Her roommate Natalie, a confident and fun-loving social butterfly, decides sight unseen that Kat will become her best friend for life. Natalie teaches Kat about college life, academics, and friendship by taking Kat under her wing…and over her knee.

Then their lives fall apart one fateful night on campus, and for the rest of the decade Kat and Natalie struggle to find their way back to each other. Their way home.

How to hate an author in five easy steps

First of all, please stop by Celeste Jones’ book club discussion of Desire in Any Language today. This discussion is amazing! She has a few great questions about F/F, reading F/F…and I am finding out that I was the first F/F reading experience for more people than I thought! I’m flattered and a bit nervous at the same time. I worry whether Mira’s tutor is so perfect that now every character after her will be held to the same standard.

Today I’m going talk about ways that authors screw up. Turn off their audience. Become relegated to the “do not reply” slush pile of emails and requests. I have met many more wonderful authors than lemons in this journey toward establishing a writing career, but some of the lemons have been bad enough experiences to alienate me from the author and the author’s work.

Bottom line: There are millions of authors out there hoping to get noticed. If you make people hate you, there are 9,999,999 (margin of error of plus or minus a few thousand) other hopeful authors who will happily take your place.

Anthea Jane has written a wonderful, insightful blog post on how to promote books (she says indie, but it can be true for anyone). Regarding blog commenting, she says:

Don’t make it an opportunity to promote your book, just make thoughtful comments that relate to the article, and make sure your signature contains a link back to your book or website.  [. . .] You have to read the article so that your comment can be relevant. Otherwise it will look like an obvious cheap attempt to put a link back to your blog. Your comments should add to the discussion. [. . .] Don’t put in a plug for your book.

Well said, Anthea Jane. Very well said. Which brings me to my first point:

1. MAKE EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU. MENTION YOUR BOOK(S) EVERY TIME YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH (OR TYPE).

Facebook posts. Replies. Blog comments. Tweets. Emails.

Everyone has experienced the nauseating parents who will NOT shut up about their nauseatingly perfect children doing nauseatingly perfect things. How often do you deliberately seek out their company, purely for the enjoyment of spending time with them?

Or what about your friend who just got a new boy/girlfriend and manages to work in a “Susie/Scotty says” reference into every single conversation? Are you thrilled at each reference and eager to learn more?

I thought not.

It’s a good rule of thumb that, unless you have been invited to do a guest blog/promo spot, you should treat people’s blogs as their homes and skip the self-promo. Their home; their rules. Same with their Facebook page or other social media sites. If someone visits my page or blog only to insert a reference to his or her own book every other sentence…or if that person only ever posts to promote his or her own work, I stop engaging.

Yes, it is true that as an author of a book you are absolutely certain that your book relates to the discussion and absolutely certain that everyone else is as fascinated with it as you are, but the sad truth is that few people enjoy relentless advertising. Think back to that nauseating parent who is sure that everyone must be fascinated with the latest tale of Susie’s latest amazing exploit, remember how you rolled your eyes and vowed never to get stuck in a conversation with this person again…and you will get a taste for how people react to authors who only talk about their own books.

We get it. You’re excited. But remember that everyone else is just as excited as you…about his or her own book.

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2. ONLY SHOW UP/CONTACT PEOPLE IF YOU NEED SOMETHING. DON’T DIRECTLY STATE THAT’S WHY YOU’RE CONTACTING THEM.

Call me old-fashioned, but I like relationships. I like honesty, integrity, and above all I like someone to be interested in me (don’t we all?) as a person rather than as a conduit for advertising.

If you only want to contact someone to advertise your book or to serve as a platform for you to mention your own book, it should be a paid service.

If you’re going to make me your call girl, I want to get paid like one.

There are some people who are consistent about their contact, and they ask for help in promoting. In that case, I am pleased to be asked and pleased to help–when it is phrased as a direct, clear request rather than something sneaky. When authors only post in groups and blogs right before or after a book release (and I never hear from them otherwise, and they only post about their own books or books associated with them), I tend to write them off. (Pun not intended.)

If you become a trusted colleague and even a friend, I will do anything for you. One loyal friend in the author world is worth one hundred acquaintances who tolerate your self-promo only long enough to make sure that they get their own turn to promote themselves.

Make relationships, not sales.

A sale is over in one day. A relationship, if you are lucky, will last you throughout your career.

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3. ENGAGE IN NEGATIVITY. DO NOT WALK AWAY! YOU MUST PROVE THAT YOU ARE RIGHT.

As grown-ups, and there are fewer than biological age might otherwise indicate, we come to a conclusion that would have shocked us in childhood:

People have different, equally valid perspectives and opinions.

Someone might misunderstand something you have said or written. Someone might post an unflattering review, say something unkind, or perhaps even begin a smear campaign.

While I have sympathy for people who receive these kinds of responses, I quickly become frustrated when authors then turn the occasion into a spitting match.

I have seen people post negative things about me and my work. I have read public messages that accused me of things that I did not do, or they distorted the actions and assumed intentions that were not there. I have been on the receiving end of snarky, mean-spirited comments that served no purpose.

I’m not talking about a thoughtful, intelligent critique that says my book sucks for reasons that the critiquer then outlines. Although that kind of critique is painful, I have received strong criticism that I incorporated into my work to make it even better. If I can win over a naysayer, I count it as an enormous victory.

But to engage in flame wars and drag something out makes you lose credibility as a professional.

Protect your name and your reputation. While there may be certain cases severe enough that you do need to post a public clarification, engaging in negativity will nearly always make you look like a donkey.

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4. GIVE ORDERS. AFTER ALL, YOU NEED TO MINIMIZE YOUR EFFORT AND MAXIMIZE YOUR RETURNS.

It’s another funny thing about being a grown-up. The things we learned in kindergarten really are true.

I host Fika. I hosted the Advent Calendar last year and plan to do it again this year. I’ve been the contact person/coordinator for Love Spanks and Spank or Treat. We hope to bring you another event in the summer. I truly love it. It is such a joy that at times I have to remind myself to go back to my “real” writing. However, there are always a few lemons who seem to confuse “request” with “order”. I would say that I make a sincere effort to give back to the reader and author community.

However, some people seem to think that they are entitled to my services, not because we are friends or because we have built up a professional working relationship, but because I (pick one or more) am a woman, write about women, write spanking fiction, have done similar things for other people in the past, have worked hard to build up a blog following, have published two books…or who knows what else.

When I receive a short note commanding me to do this or that (whether it’s to follow someone on Twitter, retweet, add someone to an event, promote his/her book, vote in a contest, like an author Facebook page, visit a blog, buy a book, or anything else), very rarely do I respond. More frequently, I unfriend or unfollow the person. If there are reasons why I can’t do that, I certainly don’t like or buy or visit.

Up to a certain point, letting people know is fine. Getting back to the parenthood and dating example again, if your child is getting baptized or performing in a recital…or if you are getting engaged or going on a special trip…I want to know. I would be hurt if I did not. The difference is whether you tell someone close to you or randomly spam 5,000 people on every social media site.

Remember those emails telling you to wire money to Nigeria or to enlarge a body part that you don’t own? You don’t want to become relegated to the same category.

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5. FORGET THE FOLLOW-UP. AFTER ALL, YOU HAVE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO.

The truth is that there are many wonderful, generous, kind, and intelligent people out there. The “conventional wisdom” of “Circles that are only authors promoting each other are worthless” is not true, particularly for new authors. I slid into writing from the back door, so I was lucky enough to have readers and followers. Maybe not enough to turn The Vengeance of Mrs. Claus and Desire in Any Language into instant bestsellers, but I had some. (I adore each and every one of you! Thank you!)

While I consider myself extremely lucky to get to talk with readers, I also am lucky to be connected with other authors who can help me out with questions about submissions, anthology calls, formatting, publication procedures, and especially to get tips on which publishers, reviewers, and advertisers might be worth my time.

That network also includes discussion of which authors are gracious colleagues…and which fall into the categories listed above.

If someone invites you or allows you to visit a blog, show up and comment. Thank the person afterward. If someone hosts your book as part of a giveaway or other promotion, visit the person’s site or blog. If you find something that would be helpful, share it with others.

As I said in my recent interview with Blushing: Be real, be honest, and be true. It’s hard enough to make it in the publishing world already. Epublishing has opened the market to new writers in new fields, but it has also meant that authors need to work that much harder to get noticed even after getting published. Treasure the connections you make, show your appreciation for those who have helped you, and never be afraid to help out someone who can’t do anything in return.

Oh, and the people who are only nice in order to get what they want?

We call that manipulation.

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Anyone can write a book. But can you be an author…without making people hate you?

Do you still think Ana needs a spanking? You’re in luck!

Want me to get spanked?  You’re finally in luck!  (sigh)  Or prefer for you to get spanked instead?  Sounds much better!

If you leave a comment on my Spank or Treat story between October 29 and 31, your name will be put into a drawing.

The prize?  A short-short story (500-1000 words) describing you and/or me getting or giving the spanking of your choice*.  

*If the winner wishes another real person to be written into the story, that person must first give consent in writing.

(Yes, even including you, naughty Alice.)  Only one spanking, however!

Limits will be negotiated individually with the chosen winner.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll have a sense for what I’m willing to write.  I will, however, go outside of F/F if the lucky winner decides it.

NO sexual content whatsoever!!!

No, Bas and the rest of the peanut gallery (you know who you are!), you may not enter more than once.  😉  Yes (sigh) if your winning wish is for me to get a spanking for not finishing my prospectus I will honor that.

I think I shall go work hard on my prospectus now.  Just to be safe.  😉

Happy Spank or Treat!!!

Ways that our books are like babies

Many of us say that our books are like babies.  While few would disagree, I was surprised after some reflection to realize just how true this truism actually is, as they say, “in real life”.

Ways that books are like babies?

  • They keep me up at night when I should be sleeping.
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  • They follow me around everywhere.  I can’t stop thinking about them, either.
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  • No matter how much time and attention I give, it’s never enough.
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  • Each change or correction is painful.
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  • I am so close to them that it’s hard for me to see how other people see them.
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  • I asked many people for advice but finally had to learn to trust my own judgment.
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  • They compete with each other so that it’s difficult to focus on one at a time.  Plus, they get jealous of time I spend with the other ones.
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  • I want everyone else to like them.
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  • If they don’t make a good impression, I worry what others will think about me.
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  • Someone being mean to or about them will make me furious.
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  • It was a long, long, long painful gestation and delivery.
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  • Mood swings, irritability, and emotional highs/lows were a part of life until they were born.  Sometimes afterward, too.
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  • Sometimes I despaired whether conception would actually happen.
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  • The first time someone said something nice about them, I was over the moon.
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  • Sometimes I only see all of the mistakes I made in creating and raising them.  Other times I am amazed that they really came from me.
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  • I could spend hours talking about them and showing pictures, and the way to my heart is to say that you love them.
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  • They never would have come into existence without the help, support, and love of an extended network of friends and family.
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  • Sometimes I need to learn how to let go and accept that others can give me better advice about my books than I can.
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  • I support other book-babies in the community, but wayyyyy deep down inside I secretly hope that people will like mine just a teeny bit better.  Or at least one person will.  😉
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  • Sometimes when I look at all that other authors’ book-babies are accomplishing, I sigh and wonder if my book-babies will measure up.  Then I try to reassure myself that each one is special in its own way.
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  • When we finally have to send our book-babies out into the cold cruel world, all we can do is hope for the best.  We loved, nurtured, and prepared them as well as we could.  Now it’s time to let them flourish on their own.

Redemption, reconciliation, and love

Can a domestic discipline story be about redemption?

I am a bit shy to say this when Kat and Natalie’s relationship is in no way Christian domestic discipline and, although Natalie’s family is Christian (Kat’s is not), religion plays only a very small part in the stories.

But…to me yesterday, thinking things over, the Kat and Natalie stories have become about redemption.  It is a fairly big claim and I am sure there are those who will scoff, call me blasphemous, or ask how a silly fantasy can be about grand things like redemption.

Yesterday I worried whether I was foolish and silly to make up this superhero of a mother who could make everything right.  Wondered how foolish and childish I was to play let’s pretend when I was sure everyone could see through my fantasy.

Then a kind friend told me that fantasies are not foolish.  Especially not about love.  And the more I thought about Kat and Natalie reuniting with the family they thought they’d lost (and Jane and Curtis were reunited with the daughters they thought they’d lost), it made me think of divine love.  Of the ways we hide ourselves thinking we have blown our chances and that we will never be able to face God again.  (I try not to talk too much about religion because I respect others’ views and never want to push them on anyone.  I hope, if you are reading this, that you can read it only as me working through things in my head and not trying to push an interpretation on anyone.  These are not Christian stories.)

I think of Natalie, sure that her family will never forgive or love her or want her.

I think of Kat, sure that they no longer even consider her family.

I think of Jane, crying for her children when they think they are protecting her.

I think of Curtis, furious and hurt and helpless watching his wife cry for their children.

The moment when they come together and sort through all of the choices Kat and Natalie have made to shut each other and their parents out of their lives…and yes there is anger but in this case anger is because there is love.  We experience our greatest anger and hurt and fear because of the people we love most.

When I started this story, I thought it was going to be about Kat.  About her personal demons and how she pushes her best friend away.  In the past few weeks, it’s become about so much more.

And I am left, today, with the image of a father weeping for his daughters and a wife kneeling and giving him her strength.  (I have feminist tendencies; I like strong women.  Part of me rebels at the “Father Knows Best” flavor of the family rushing to serve the head of their household.  But most of me knows that in this particular family, this is how they have learned to come together.)

I write love.

Kat, Natalie, Jane, and Curtis are not a perfect family.  But in another way, they are.  They are there for each other.  They don’t give up on each other.  They accept each other’s flaws.  Spank them for it, maybe.  (At least Natalie does to Kat..)

Just their presence, just the physical presence of Mama Jane and Dad is able to bring healing.  When they have years-delayed conversation, the healing becomes even deeper.

Healing deep wounds almost hurts as much as receiving them in the first place.

Today, I write like a maniac because writing is healing something inside of my heart.

I never write myself into my stories.  My characters have some of my quirks because it’s easier to give them things I know about (cooking, etc.), but ever since I stopped writing fiction almost 15 years ago…I never wrote myself into a story again.

Some day, I will tell the story of why I stopped writing fiction.

For now, I will just delight in releasing years of pent-up glorious story-making.

Come and enjoy my stories.  If they make you smile, I couldn’t be happier.  If they touch your heart and remind you what it is like to be loved, then I will cheer.

But for me, I have already won.

What I write becomes my truth.

And my truth for today is knowing that we are loved.  Whether we can feel it or not.  Whether we are in contact with the people who love us…or not.