Recently, I received a reivew on BUKU and BUKU: Sun and Shadows from a reader in Australia.
First off – Australia! There are many challenges to being an indie author. You have to be your own “general contractor”, hiring out or DIY-ing your own editing, cover, formatting, marketing, etc. It can be overwhelming. You also face the task of trying to sell your book when you are one of millions of authors on sites like Amazon. On the other hand – I sat at my computer in little Gallatin, TN and uploaded my book to the internet, and a reader in Australia was able to find it and read it!! Pretty dang cool.
Even cooler, the Australian reader liked both books. I think one of the fears I battled when writing BUKU 2 was that I wouldn’t capture what I had done in BUKU1. From reviews, it appears that I was successful, so I am relieved and happy.
What prompted my post today was what the reviewer had to say. I loved the reader’s review for BUKU, which in part said, “This is a story really worth reading – the storyline is engaging, the characters are believable, and the baddies are just bad. Have a read – it’s a good one.” That had me smiling.
The reader also reviewed BUKU: Sun and Shadows, (which I really appreciate!) He writes: “What I really like is reading a story and thinking, ‘I want more of this style of writing.’ BUKU has this in spades.” He goes on to say: “The first book was about the creatures that made these people who they are – filled with love and foibles and everything that makes us human. This book is about these people wanting to be better and the hurdles they face trying to do this. Every character here is relatable and realistic to a point where you can’t help but see where they are ‘coming from’ even if you cannot agree with their actions. This book is actually about human frailty and where it can lead the individuals involved – for better or worse.”
So here’s the thing. I can tell you a lot about the elements of both books – they involve spirituality and politics and survival and love and duty. But I don’t think I would have ever described them this way. I don’t think I saw that one was about the creatures that made these people who they are and the follow-up being about human frailty and people wanting to be better.
As the author, I’d tell you I simply followed the story. I created the characters, put them in different scenarios, and tried to figure out what they would do. Don’t get me wrong. I was deliberate with the overarching themes, and I carefully constructed the outcomes, but I don’t know that I was aware I was writing about human frailty. Though, yeah, I guess I was.
I think it’s cool, and part of the wondrous world of art and literature, that what we create becomes more than us. Bigger than us. It transcends us. You can’t take a picture of the moon without it calling up emotions of awe and fear, if not for you, then for others who see it. You can’t create a painting of a rose without making someone consider beauty or their dead grandmother or God. And when I write a post-apocalyptic, dystopian thriller with giant hippo monsters, someone on the other side of the globe contemplates human frailty.
How very thrilling. More thrilling, even, than running from buku. I’ll be frank. I’m not making much money at this whole indie author thing. But creating stories is a calling for me. Something that has called me since I was a child. It means the world to me to have you read my words, enjoy my stories, and perhaps get out of them things I wasn’t aware I was putting in. Thanks for reading. Thanks for the letting me know what you think of what I wrote. Thanks for being the other part of what I do. I am a storyteller. I wouldn’t get to be one without you to tell my stories to.
It was a nice round number. The start of a decade.
Those of us who graduated in 1980 were born in the rebellious ‘60s, and we felt a kinship to long hair and peace signs even if we were just kids in the summer of ’69.
President Kennedy was assassinated while we were learning
how to walk. While we were outside playing whiffle ball and riding our bikes,
the great nations of the world were engaged in a Cold War and a space race to
the moon. We sat on the floor and watched on black and white TVs as man first
set foot on another planet. We were going into junior high when the U.S.
stopped drafting teenagers to send to die in Vietnam.
I remember when microwaves came out. And the first video
game. And home computers, unwieldy as they were. Phones you could carry in your
pocket were sci fi, kinda like Star Trek, which debuted on tv before we started
kindergarten. We were something of an in-between generation, growing up in the
shadows of the trauma of the 60s, but belonging more to the polyester 70s, as
the nation tried to knit itself back together and find its way. We looked up
information in encyclopedias and learned to type on manual typewriters even as
a technological tidal wave grew beneath our feet. It was just starting to crest
when we graduated in the spring of 1980. We faced our careers with the need to
adapt quickly and often because the world morphed almost daily, right before
I met up with some of my classmates from the Class of 1980 a few weekends ago. We were a small class, those of us who graduated from Eldorado High School in the small, rural town of Eldorado, IL. Ninety-nine of us received our diplomas together. We almost had the nice round number of 100, but one guy found out at the last minute he didn’t have enough credits.
I was valedictorian, but I say that only to make the point I
sat down to make today, before I got carried away with our history. Because I
was not valedictorian at our class reunion. I was just another adult pushing
60, who had gained pounds and lost hair and made my way through life to this
point. I found it fascinating. The planning committee wasn’t made up of class officers.
It was the people who were still local and willing, and an eclectic group it
was. The man who felt called upon to speak before the meal was not the class president.
It was the guy who confessed to having stolen a lot of lunch money back in the
day but served our country for years and now owns his own business. The guy who
prayed over our meal hadn’t been involved in church youth groups when we were
kids. He was a high school drop out who is now retired military and found his
faith as an adult. For the first time, I noticed that one of the guys who got
teased as a kid has the bluest of eyes.
We weren’t the kids we once were. The cliques, the groups,
the designations we gave ourselves — I realized that’s something kids do, but
adults don’t have to. All of us – the nerds, the jocks, the stoners, the cheerleaders
– we share a common history. And even though some stuck close to home while
others now live far from Eldorado, Illinois, we’re not so different. We’ve made
a living and bought cars and houses and
funded retirement accounts. Or not. We’ve found and lost love. We’ve raised
kids and battled disease and many have been hard hit by tragedy. Some of us who
grew up poor are doing alright now.
Some of us have retired. Some are grandparents, while a few are still in the midst of raising children. One friend is raising her grandchildren. One man needed a walker. A few are medical professionals who are having to contend with this world-wide pandemic. One of our classmates goes on mission trips to Africa. A few have faced incarceration. Some are gone. One guy still works as a lineman, airlifted by helicopter to the tops of electrical poles out west.
And for a few hours, many of us gathered in a park we all
went to as kids, and hugged and talked and laughed and remembered and
celebrated our common roots. I guess my point in all of this is – even though
our past molds us, it doesn’t have to define us. It does not have the power to permanently
label us… to tell us who we are and who we will become. We do that ourselves. By
We are the class of 1980. After hanging out with a few of the
folks I knew back before I truly knew myself, I see us both as the kids we were
and the adults we are. And think we’ve done alright.
It’s a rainbow kinda day. I saw three different ones as I was running errands. I understand that there’s science behind rainbows, but the improbability of streams of bright colors lining up in order and arching across the sky feels magical.
Two things have to be present to make a rainbow. Rain and sun. Things that don’t usually go together. I was thinking of trial and triumph. Grief and hope. Brokenness and strength. Other things that don’t usually go together but create something improbable and magical when they do.
Just the meandering thoughts that come to me on a rainbow kinda day.
For several years, I was in what we called a creative workshop. Just a handful of folks discussing the creative process, led by my pastor Kyle Gott. I came to see the creative part of us as very childlike. Eager to experiment. Fed by instant gratification. Fragile to criticism.
Here’s the thing. We wouldn’t nag a child into painting a picture. We wouldn’t berate a child if they didn’t build a lego project when they had all day. We wouldn’t tell a child that their painting isn’t very good.
If you get stuck while writing – or painting or playing the guitar – try treating the creative part of you as a child. Be understanding and encouraging. Try to make things fun and exciting. Be complimentary. Give your child a new journal and ask it to tell a story.
There is no denying that discipline is a part of this whole writing thing. A big part. But so is letting our creative side play.
Gatekeepers. The term came up on a Facebook post about self-published books. Someone suggested that since self-publishing bypasses gatekeepers, it is populated by mediocrity – poorly written, poorly edited, poorly conceived novels. Now, I will not deny that there are a lot of mediocre books out there. Some are downright bad.
But I had a job in radio for many years, working closely with record labels on Music Row. Before the digital age, I had accumulated a very large box of CDs (probably 150 at least) by folks you’ve never heard of. They were all professionally produced. All the artists had made it through several gatekeepers – managers, A&R people, heads of labels, producers, etc. – gatekeepers who said they were willing to invest hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars into their career. Each of the CDs in that box of unknowns represented how wrong the gatekeepers had been.
Sure, gatekeepers are pros. They know things. They’ve been around the block a few times. But they cannot predict who will connect with an audience and who will not. Who has that special something that will inspire a following and who doesn’t. Who will create something that people will lay down their hard-earned money for and who won’t.
Gatekeepers are not a bad thing. But they are not and should not be the arbiters of art. They don’t guarantee greatness over mediocrity.
Take a chance on an indie musician. And an indie author. Be your own gatekeeper.
I learned the lesson when my husband was in law school. But I do admit that I have to relearn it from time to time.
When my husband and I got married, he had two children from a previous marriage who lived with their mother outside of Nashville. I had a house in Nashville, and a decent job. Plus, Nashville was where we wanted to live.
But, he had a dream of going back to school, and he was accepted to the University of Memphis Law School. So less than a year after we married, he moved in with his parents in Millington, TN, (north of Memphis) while I remained in Nashville.
As you can imagine, it was not ideal. We saw each other during the summer, and on weekends, every other of those with two hyper boys in the mix. We really hadn’t even had the chance to figure out how to live with each other, much less not live with each other and still remain close. Fights lasted weeks. Communication was by phone, which we neither one really care to use. My stepkids were challenging. I spent a lot of those three years telling myself I just had to hang on until he graduated and came home.
And then he did. And it was “better”. But it wasn’t “all better”. In between learning how to live with each other again, one of his sons moved in with us. Mike had the stress of studying for the bar and then launching his own practice. It was better having him close, but life did not suddenly become easy. And it was then that I learned the lesson.
I wished away three years of my life instead of appreciating what I had.
I had wished away three years of my life instead of appreciating what I had. When I drove to Millington to spend the weekend with Mike, without the kids, it was almost like we were dating again. We went out to eat. We might catch a movie. I didn’t feel obligated to clean his parents’ house (though I did sometimes.) When he came home and his son moved in with us, we struggled for money and the demands of work and launching a business and dealing with an aging house were often overwhelming. I found myself longing for those weekends spent in Millington when times were “simpler”. Go figure.
So that was my lesson. We shouldn’t wish away time. We shouldn’t think that when this thing happens or this point is reached, then we can start living. Because, this is life. Every second of it. We don’t get time back. And what we are longing for more than likely won’t be all that we think it will be. When we look back, we’ll realize we failed to appreciate the moments we let slip by.
In this pandemic, time is weird. Of course, we all long to feel normal again. Of course, we want to get back to socializing, to shopping, to eating out. To getting on with things. But… this is life too. These months are a part of our allotted time on this earth. Let’s find the good in them — the time to ourselves, the chance to slow down, the time to reflect and ask ourselves the big questions. Let’s not wish away time.
“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,” he said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
“… your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
That enlightening passage is from Stephen King’s “On Writing”. It was the advice passed on to him by a newspaper editor. And it’s the big lesson I walked away with. Take out what’s not the story. It helped me tremendously while writing my first novel BUKU.
It kinda applies to life too, doesn’t it?
In this unprecedented time, in the midst of a pandemic in which our commitments are canceled and we are forced to isolate, many of us have been given the chance to rethink the story. Our story. Maybe our lives need a little editing to get down to what our story really is. And should be. And can be.
When I was a kid, my family spent a lot of time at a lake called Pounds Hollow in the hills of Southern Illinois. We had picnics there. We swam there. We fished there. For a few years, my father held church services for the campers there. We would drive down on a Saturday night and hand out flyers, then drive back early Sunday morning for dad’s church service.
To this day, my best notion of church is sitting on a stump in a little clearing, tall trees overhead, pine needles underfoot, people sauntering up with lawn chairs. My father wasn’t a pastor. He was a shoe repairman. But during the summer for a couple of years, he held church in the wide open. He would share a message and we would sing familiar hymns with only the accompaniment of birds. Nothing compares to singing “Blessed Assurance” with the smell of bacon in the air.
Driving home from Pounds Hollow, there was this moment when we topped a hill and rounded a curve and in front of us was this stunning vista. We could see for miles — rolling hills, groves of trees, rich farmland. My mother and I always made a point to watch for that moment and take in the incredible view.
Until they started strip-mining it. One day, we topped the hill and rounded the curve and saw that they had laid waste to all that beauty. It was ugly. Vulgar. And the thing about strip mining is that they don’t fix it. They take what they can get and then walk away. It’s destroyed forever.
“… Giant shovels dug up the earth and left it for dead.”
I tell you that story, so I can tell you about a song that has always hit me in the gut. It’s called “Paradise” and it’s by John Prine. The song is actually set in Kentucky. But to me, John was singing about that once beautiful scene near Pounds Hollow, where giant shovels dug up the earth and left it for dead.
“Daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County, Down by the Green River where Paradise lay. Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking. Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.”
I am on quite a few Facebook pages with other authors, and I have read several posts by autistic writers. So maybe creativity is not just tied up in emotion the way most of us experience it, though it feels that way sometimes. These writers confess to not knowing how their characters would feel in given situations, and when they post, they are often asking others to help them determine that.
What a challenge to have the compulsion to tell stories but have such a handicap! And how awesome to do it anyway.
I remember one woman in particular. She said that when people would ask her to tell a little about herself, she would say “I am beautiful.” And indeed she is. She’s worked as a model and she is striking. But, in the absence of knowing what to say about herself, she used the words other people most often said to her. “You are beautiful.” She didn’t realize it’s not really the way one describes oneself. This struck me in another way though. She is a writer, so she is talented and she came across as smart. She is strong and has obviously overcome many challenges. And yet, the most common thing people say to her is that she’s beautiful. It has become the most common way she thinks of herself.
It made me think of my granddaughters. They are pretty girls. I’m not going to say otherwise. But, I don’t want the loudest, the most frequent thing they hear to be that they are beautiful. Because beauty changes. It’s in the eye of the beholder. And it can be altered in a heartbeat, heaven forbid. I want them to know… to hear… that they are smart, fierce, funny, charming, creative, good. The kinds of things that are more than skin deep. The kinds of things that are permanent and aren’t affected by make-up and weight and time.
Words are important. We need to examine how other people’s words have affected our image of ourselves, perhaps in negative ways. And we need to be deliberate with the words we say to others, especially young people. Because we could be defining them in ways that will affect them for life.
I am something of a do-it-yourselfer. Not the kind of do-it-yourselfer who confidently steps up, assesses the situation, and whips together a solution out of twist ties and electrical tape. I’m more the kind who grunts and groans getting down on the floor, stares at what’s broken for at least ten minutes, spends half the afternoon looking at youtube videos, wastes 30 minutes searching for the right tool somewhere in the garage, and gets it wrong at least five times before success.
Still, I did fix my leaking refrigerator last week by replacing the valve that feeds the water to the icemaker. This only happened after I forgot a few steps, found out the first part I ordered was defective, got soaked because I forgot to turn off the water, had to mess with the new valve to get it to quit leaking, and got up and down from the floor about twenty times. In the end, the refrigerator is fixed and I saved at least a hundred dollars.
It occurs to me that being a do-it-yourselfer around the house is similar to becoming an indie author.
And interestingly, some of the same rules apply.
1. Just try. Sure, appliance repairmen and publishers are experts at what they do. But they are just people with a very particular set of skills, skills they have acquired over a very long career… okay, sorry. Got carried away with my Liam Neeson impersonation there. Sure, experts know more than you, but they had to learn what they know. You can learn it too. I’m not saying there aren’t times when it would be wise to hire an expert. It’s almost always easier and more expedient. Sometimes it’s most definitely the best course of action. However, it also is oftentimes way more expensive, and you give up a lot of control. Why not examine your situation and look into doing it yourself?
The first thing to consider…
2. No matter how simple someone else makes it look, it’s not. Whether you’re replacing a part on your fridge or trying to learn how to format the interior of your first novel, remember that the people who are instructing you have done it before. Probably lots of times. Even if you follow their directions to the “t”, you will do it more slowly, you’ll probably do it wrong at least once, and your end result may not look as slick. That’s alright. No one expects a newbie to look like a pro on the first outing. You can still be good. You can still get the job done. Don’t worry if you take a while to do it, you get dirty in the process, and your results aren’t perfect.
The fact is…
3. The internet contains a whole world of teachers. Whether you’re a handyman or you’re writing a post-apocalyptic romance about space alien zombies, someone has already done what you’re trying to do. And they’ve made a video about it. Or written a blog. Or developed a course. You do not have to start from scratch. The things people used to have to learn in college or as an apprentice can be found online.
A good tip…
4. Always read the comments. Or join the student Facebook group. It is true that you will learn from the teacher. But you will learn just as much if not more from your fellow students. Someone else has already tried it and failed, and then bless their hearts, they shared their failure with the world so you can learn from it. On the video about how to change the valve, one of the commenters pointed out that you had to push down the collar surrounding the tube to pull it out. He said he spent 30 minutes fighting with it and finally found the answer on someone else’s video. I read his comment and saved myself all of that time. While working on my first novel, I took an online course from a guy who makes tons of money as an indie author. The course was great, but the most valuable thing he offers is an exclusive Facebook group made up of all the other authors who have taken his course. If I have a question, I post it or just use the search feature to find the dozens of times it has been asked and answered.
Speaking of the search function…
5. The right tools are vital. The difference between an easy job and a difficult one often comes down to using the right tool. I have found that out as a do-it-yourselfer, and it directly translates to creating a book. Invest in your tools. You can remove a nut with pliers, but a socket will do it much quicker and with less potential damage. You can meticulously format a book in Word, but programs like Scrivener and Vellum make the work a hundred times easier and produce predictable results.
Which brings me to…
6. Know when it’s worth it. Sometimes you just need to hire someone to do what you need done, or at least part of it. My husband used to change the oil on our cars. He probably saved us 10-15 bucks every few months. At the time, he had more time than money, so it was sensible. Eventually, the savings didn’t justify the time he had to put into it. When I got ready to self-publish, I looked into formatting my first novel myself. I researched on the Facebook groups I mentioned above. I played around with the various free programs. Then I decided I was spending way too much time trying to figure it out. So I found a guy on Fiverr who did it really inexpensively. What I might have saved in money I would have overspent in time.
I think the key is…
7. Know your abilities and your limitations. My father was a handy guy. We never had much money, so he was the one who fixed our cars and appliances and lawn mowers. He even built an addition on our house. It was while watching him work that I became familiar with tools and saw how things are put together. When it comes to being an author, I have written for a living. I have a degree in advertising. I worked on websites and social media in my jobs. My skillset is well-suited to becoming an indie author. If it wasn’t, maybe I would have been better off seeking a publishing deal. (Maybe one of these days, I still will.) But I knew, for the most part, I had the skills to handle the many tasks that are required. Just like I knew I could probably change that valve.
8. Be fearless. That is… without fear. Because there’s nothing to be scared of here. What’s the worst that could happen? Yes, I failed the first time I tried to change the valve. Turns out, the part was defective. Yes, I did get sprayed in the face with water, but that was worth the laugh! Yes, I did spend quite a bit of time on it. But, because I learned from youtube and the comments, because I had tools and was familiar with them, because I understood this was a repair I could probably do… I was out $25 on a part and expedited shipping. Pretty sure if I had called a repairman, it would have been $150+.
As an indie author publishing on Amazon (and probably other platforms one of these days), I make 70% on every ebook I sell. If I had found an agent who would represent me, if she/he had found a publishing company willing to take a chance on a 50+ newbie author (and those are really big ifs and would have taken years), I would be getting pennies… pennies per copy. I may never make a lot of money at this. But there are indie authors who are. And many of them are making a lot more than they would if they had gone the traditional route. The cost/benefit analysis is in their favor. Maybe it will be in mine. I’ll never know unless I try.
Doing it yourself can save you money. And sometimes it can mean the difference between having something – whether it be a working fridge or a novel for sale in the largest bookstore in the world – and never having it at all. So why not just try?
Okay, hopefully we’re not hearing real voices. I’m talking about those subtle voices. The fearful, doubting, negative words, perhaps once spoken to us and about us, that we still carry around.
I had a conversation with a woman who had been divorced for over twenty years. She sat there crying, talking about the awful things her ex had once said to her. He had wounded her, and shame on him for that. But it occurred to me that he said those things two decades ago, and yet she still allowed them to have power over her. She was the one who repeated them, who let them echo in her head, dragging her down.
I had someone who meant a lot to me, who tended to be critical. She has since passed away, and I miss her greatly. However, I sometimes wonder if I would have written my novel if she was still around. I have to admit her negativity was a weight on me.
Here’s the thing though. I know that her critical nature was not because of who I am, but because of who she was. So allowing her words to stifle me… is on me. She wasn’t the one who held me back. I was. I was the one who let her voice – my perception of her voice – echo in my head. I was the one who anticipated her negativity… and adopted it. She may have planted the seed – quite unintentionally – but I gave it room to grow, watered it, nurtured it. Her words would have been buried long ago if I hadn’t given them fertile soil to blossom into something they were never intended to be. I did that. Not her.
Now I’m not beating myself up about this, and I don’t expect you to either. What I’m saying is we all need to examine those voices – the fears, the doubts, the criticism — and understand where they come from. And then choose to release them. Or bury them. Or whatever metaphor you want to use. Let’s silence them. In their place, let’s put our voice. Our true voice. The voice that has something to say and wondrous things to create.
Disprove the naysayer. Convince the doubter. Drown out the whispers. Shut down the shouter. Create what you love, no matter what’s said. Silence the critics who live in your head.
When I was a child, before I started giggling on the back row with friends, I sat with my parents in church. Because kids spend those long hours trying to entertain themselves, I have several images locked in my mind. Like my dad’s arm resting on the back of the pew, encircling my mother’s shoulders. Every once in a while, he would rub her arm or run his hand across her back. They didn’t look at each other when he did it. It wasn’t a big moment of public affection, it was just an acknowledgment that while they were intent on the sermon, he was also thinking of her. Every now and then as we sit in church, my husband will do the same, and it makes me feel secure, protected somehow. I feel like a wife, in all the best of ways.
I also remember sitting beside my father, playing with his hand. The one that wasn’t wrapped around mom. Dad’s hands were strong. He ran a shoe repair shop, so his hands were often knicked and calloused, and permanently stained by the dyes he used on the leather. And while he concentrated on what was being said from the pulpit, I would hold his hand in mine, trying to hold onto his moving fingers or dodging his thumb as he tried to pin my little fingers against his palm. My dad worked a lot, and he wasn’t into playing games with my brother and me. But when I sat quietly in church with his hand in mine, I felt like I had him to myself for a while.
I drew on those memories to write a scene for my upcoming novel. I thought I’d share it with you.
“The image that leaped into her brain was the same one that always did when she thought of Ralph. It was before cancer had stolen his strength, before Mayor had stolen their freedom. He was sitting by the fire outside their tent in Camp Three. She was beside him, leaning against him, her small hands cradling one of his, tracing its creases and scars. She had seen those hands wield everything from pencils to axes to guns, keeping her and the rest of the village safe while he built the systems for food and sewage and oil and shelter.
She liked his hands most when they were hers to hold. Even while he spoke with the men and women around the fire, his fingers played with hers, escaping her attempts to hold them still, trapping hers against his palm. Every once in a while, a giggle would break free of her lips, and he would glance down at her and smile, sharing the fun of their private game. He was hers in that moment, despite the weight of all he carried.”
I miss my mom and my dad. But I live daily with the lessons I gained from their abiding commitment to each other and the many ways they modeled family for me. And I thank my father for his neverending labor, for his sacrifices, for his intellect that was always exploring God, and for taking me to church to idle the time away while learning about love.
I love spring. The warmer temperatures are wonderful. Walking out without a jacket is liberating. But it’s the colors that truly delight me. Right now, it’s all about variations of purple. My lilac bushes are blooming. The redbuds are in bloom. I have a few grape hyacinths in my garden and my overgrown vinca is dotted with little flowers. Soon, my iris will begin showing off.
Even the weeds are dressing themselves in this most majestic of colors. For my first mow of the season, I didn’t trim close to the trees in my backyard because of the profusion of wild violet. And before I mowed through a part of my lawn where the weeds are thriving, I stopped to take note of the eye-catching purples of deadnettle and ground ivy.
If you don’t know what those are, neither did I. I had to look them up because I have always just known them as weeds. And I guess come summer, that’s what they’ll be. Right now, they are intricate, purple flowers.
It occurs to me that God made them all – the flowers that we carefully cultivate and the weeds we curse. He made them all appealing in their own way. We’re the ones who decided that we will nurture these while mowing down those. We’re the ones who define some as flowers and some as weeds when in fact, they are all beautiful blooms. How many other things of beauty… of delight… do we overlook because of the names we’ve assigned them?
Words are important. Words shape our perception. Words help us define our world. Let’s question the words we use sometimes. And maybe in so doing, we’ll stop and notice the wonder of weeds.
I started writing a blog post about the Oscars and just kinda quit on it. Then today, I became aware of a controversy over a literary award I didn’t even know existed. It’s the Hugo Award for science fiction and fantasy books, and evidently a few years ago, it was undermined by a few bloggers who encouraged their readers to vote for a specific slate of books. Seems they had some sort of political motivation. In the end, the ballot and therefore the awards were compromised by people picking books for reasons other than because they thought they were the best. So I decided to return to my thoughts on the Oscars.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t watch the Academy Awards. In fact, I rarely watch any award shows. After having worked around the music business for years, I have come to understand award shows (and other awards) for what they are. Or at least, for what they’re not.
They certainly aren’t any sort of valid ranking of what’s “best”. Because, first and foremost, we’re talking about art. Which is entirely subjective. Awards give us an opportunity to applaud greatness, but the choosing of a “best” is really about what and who’s most popular at the moment. And in the case of the Academy Awards, the voters are all in the industry, and they look at movies in entirely different ways than we do. They also push for slate voting, trade favors and pick movies for reasons other than because they think they are the best.
Furthermore, they aren’t ultimately who the movies are made for. What pleases a movie-going audience isn’t necessarily what pleases the Academy. The Nashville Songwriters Association International has a list every year of the top ten songs their songwriting members wished they had written. I love that! What songwriter wouldn’t love to see their song on that list?
However, very little art is created for our peers. We wouldn’t sell
much if those who do what we do were our only audience. Charts and rankings and
sales and box office stats are a much better indicator of how well the makers
of entertainment did their true job. Of course, those don’t measure quality.
I produced a country music radio program for years. It was a countdown, tracking the radio charts. I can tell you that the songs that reached #1 were not the “best” songs. Their airplay was related to the artist, to the label, and to the relation those two had with radio stations. It was affected by the producer, by current trends, by radio stations desire for tempo, by what other songs were out at the time, by the season. By the favors bestowed on radio program directors. I can’t list, nor do I even know, the many factors that go into how a song gets to #1. But trust me, it’s not because that song is the “best”. It is simply the most played song on a certain number of radio stations that week.
Now, right here, I’m going to tell you that I don’t have a problem with charts. (I had a good job for a number of years because of them!) Nor do I have a problem with awards. I won a local award as radio producer a few years back. It was nice. It’s doubtful, but maybe someday I’ll be up for an award for another creative effort. It would be nice.
My point is just that trophies and accolades and #1 rankings are a measure of a lot of things, including effective marketing, popularity, and good timing. And yes, even quality. But none of them are a measure of what’s best.
Because you can’t rank art.
There’s a small part of me that thinks we shouldn’t. Of course, if that were the case, we wouldn’t have chart-topping songs and award-winning movies and wonderful, shiny trophies. What fun would that be? Those designations help sales. They help us document art through the years. They remind us to celebrate greatness. They inspire others. They decorate mantels. I like my local Best Producer award. So, no, I don’t think we should do away with them.
So what am I saying? Yeah, you’re right. I need to get to a point.
First, I’m saying that we should recognize awards for what they are. Fun and glamorous and cool and totally biased and manipulated by countless factors other than “greatness”.
Second, we should remember that our opinion of a movie or a song or a book is just as important as anyone else’s. Experiencing art is very personal, just as creating it is. Even though we don’t get to hand out awards, we get to make our own determination of what great is. The lack of a number one ranking doesn’t affect our memory of a song that was playing at an important time in our life. The lack of an Oscar shouldn’t negate the way a movie makes us feel.
I have written my first novel, so I have become a part of the entertainment industry, where a creative endeavor is put out into the world and is judged. I have a ranking on Amazon. I have reviews that have “stars” attached to them telling me how well I did.
Why did I go through the agony of writing a book and publishing it? I thought a lot about this today, and I think bottom line, I wanted to write a book, that I was proud of, that people would read and be entertained by. Sure, I’d like to make money at it, but there are lots of easier ways to make money! I’d like to earn a Best Seller badge one of these days. I wouldn’t turn down an award. Still, I understand how flawed those things are in determining how well I did.
So, here’s my final point. When you stop me in church or send me a text or call me on the phone while you’re reading or leave a comment or write a glowing review or share a post or offer me any sort of feedback – it reminds me why I did it. Sometimes Hollywood and Music Row and solitary authors forget that. We become blinded by the glitter. In the end, art is created for you. Not the collective you, but the individual you. You get to choose what you like, what you think is great.
In my case, when you are entertained by my book, I fulfilled my purpose. And when you let me know, that’s my applause. My award. My ranking on the chart. It’s my trophy on the mantel. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
It took me a very long time to decide to fulfill my childhood dream of being an author. Part of that was because of life. Life needs tending to, always. But when I started attending a Creative Workshop headed up by my pastor at the time, Kyle Gott, I slowly came to realize that my real problem wasn’t about time, or lack of ability, or not knowing how to do what I wanted to do — all of my excuses. My real problem was fear.
I was fearful that I wasn’t really capable of accomplishing it. Fearful I wasn’t a good enough writer to write what I wanted to write. Fearful of putting something out into the world that was so very personal. Fearful of the response I would get and how I would react. Fearful that my childhood dream — that this dream I had held onto for so long — was not going to end well.
As I told a group of people during a talk at my church last night, once I faced my fears, I was able to study them. Understand them. And I decided that the only thing that made me more fearful than attempting to write a novel, was not writing one. I became more scared of not taking a stab at my dream than I did of doing it. Not writing a book would have been a regret. A deep one. And aside from a few cringe-worthy moments that still float around in my memories, I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life. Not doing this would have been a monumental one.
So I wrote a book. And I’m writing another one. I haven’t sold a lot of copies. I can’t claim to be successful yet. But, this was never about becoming rich and world famous. This was about becoming a writer. A novelist. Just like I dreamed of when I was a kid. I did it. The world hasn’t changed. But my life has.
I encourage you – make room for your dreams and your passions. Make time for them. Become more fearful of not doing something you should do than you are of doing it. Give yourself nothing to regret.
I was fired from my first “career” job a year out of college. I was also fired from my third. I won’t tell you I didn’t spend some time feeling sorry for myself, because I did. But now, looking back years later, I’m thankful for it. What I learned taught me how to succeed. More importantly, I think, it taught me how to survive.
It’s why I’m an indie author. I have no intention of failing. But when I have setbacks, I know I’ll recover. I learned how a long time ago.
I was thinking about the story of Jesus… and Peter… walking on water. I looked at the reasons why Peter was able to walk on water, however short-lived the experience was. The obvious reasons are because he had faith… and Jesus was on hand to command him to do it. But beyond that… before that… he first imagined that he could do it… he dared to think that he should do it… and then he asked Jesus to allow him do it. I thought it was a good thing to think about as we look ahead at the things we want to accomplish in the new year. We always focus on the things we want to change about ourselves… to work on our faults. What would the year look like if we imagined something big… dared to think we should do it… turned to God for the approval and the assistance… and had the faith to do the seemingly impossible. That’s my resolution. Happy New Year, everyone.