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Writing Struggles - Making It Personal

And this is quite personal for me, too, talking about this.

In addition to working the two jobs right now, I've found my motivation to work on Ravensrealm lacking. The two main characters, both of whom are seventeen years old in this story, are growing by 1/4 inches but remaining rather stale and stagnant. Perhaps it's something I should have expected. They're seventeen, in college because they're wanting to accelerate their lives beyond their current means - note: poverty doesn't exist in the sense as we know it, at least not in this utopian futuristic society I've crafted, but basic human emotions do remain, such as love, anger, sadness, jealousy, and so on  - and, well, teenagers can be notoriously stubborn in what is they see and want in this life. They can be willfully blind or they can be willfully aware.

However, be that as it may, that's hardly the issue with the progress of the story. I realized that my two main characters have no personal connection to the quest that they're on.

None.

Zero.

Nada.

They're just on this quest because they've been chosen for it, and it's a quest they wanted to undertake in the first place. Yet, they still have very little in the way of personal connection. It's a quest, something for them to do, without realizing what's at stake. And, when I realized that, I kept thinking to the scene from The Core where two of the scientists involved were talking about why they were on their mission. The first one, the American (played by Aaron Eckhart), knew precisely why he was on this mission. So did the other scientist, a guy from France (played by Tcheky Karyo), and this is what he said:

"I came here to save my wife and my two children and... seven billion lives... it's too much. I just hope I'm, I'm smart enough and brave enough to save three."

So every character has a reason for why they're on this quest. They've been asked to, they asked to, and they each have a stake (to be revealed throughout the story) as to why they're on this quest to get to Ravensrealm. Alethea and Jordan do not.

At least . . . they didn't before this weekend. Now that I know what their issues are, I can fix this and just simply tie it in with a few things that have already been revealed.

Ravensrealm is going to be a beast of a story.

I feel invigorated to keep going, now that the hair pulling is over.

Revisions will be another story.

Remember, my friends, if the story isn't personal for the characters, it isn't personal for you, and it isn't personal for the reader. Think on your characters and their relationships. What do they stand to lose? Is what they could lose greater than what they would gain? Sometimes people fight, not to gain something new, but to keep what they already have, and it can be quite the powerful motivation.

With that, I'm off to get some more writing done.

Until the next time!

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Ah, the silence of a writer working two jobs and trying to carve out writing time! . . . In addition to maintaining some form of cleanliness, health, and spirituality. (On that note, I really do want to make me some mugwort tea at some point. That stuff is so yum!) Oh, and let's not forget the internet presence. Yeah, I've been one tired woman as of late.

I have, during this time, been doing a lot of reflecting on a variety of things. One thing that has come up is, well, Amazon, of all things. I joined a book reading group a while back, and I had someone tell me that Barnes and Noble tends to overcharge on books. This was in a discussion about Barnes and Noble closing stores and laying off the higher-paid employees, which, if you've ever paid attention to modern history and business practices, this is not a new thing. Nearly every company in the history of the modern industry has done this. Ford, Chrysler, GM, Wal-Mart, Target . . . there are very companies that have not done this practice, and to call one company pretentious over this practice (which was done) on a day I'd found out that I wasn't getting my full federal refund, well, it became a bit of a nasty argument because, hey, having to sell books for dirt cheap isn't a really good way to make a profit for anyone. Places like Amazon and Wal-Mart can do this because they buy other things in bulk or they have contracts with others in order to compensate for those losses.

In the end, this whole buying books cheap instead of the list price as set by the publisher (which is what Barnes and Noble does, by the way, so if you're thinking $10.99 is overpriced for a paperback, then I have no clue what to tell you) doesn't hurt the publishing company. It doesn't hurt the likes of Amazon or Wal-Mart. It tends to hurt the employees of bookstores, and it hurts authors.

The woman who pointed out that selling books cheap on Amazon guaranteed actual sales. Yes, it's true that lower prices does guarantee that someone somewhere out there will buy that book. That's a given, that's a no-brainer.

That, however, doesn't mean the author is making a huge profit, be it a beginning, self-published author or a traditionally published author. Let's break this down a little bit.

The average paperback costs anywhere from $8.99 to $11.99 in a bookstore, depending on the book's thickness. And let's say that it's a tradtionally published author's paperback. Let's say that, for every book sold, the author earns 10% of those sales. Again, this is the asking price as set forth by the publisher. This price covers the costs of the bills for the facilities, the typesetter, the cover artist, the editor, and so on and so forth, including the advance the author received for the publishing contract. Let's say that, once the advance is covered and paid back, the tradtionally published author receives 10% of all sales. For those of you who suck at math, that's $.90 per book sold, more if the book costs more. If Amazon is selling the book at a 5% discount, the author has to sell twice as many books just to get that $.90 royalty. To put it this way, instead of earning $179.80 for selling 200 books sold at the normal, list price in one month, the author is earning half of that. In order to that $179.80 before taxes, the author has to sell 400 books at the discounted price on Amazon.

To note here, this is if the author is only selling 200 books a month, has had the advance paid off, and is only selling primarily on Amazon. This is also an example of how a discounted price on a new book undercuts the author only. The publishing company and Amazon are already taking their cuts from the sales of these books. They're not hurting at all for these discounted prices, and this is only on paperbacks, which is the more popular format for paperbound books.

This doesn't take into consideration the stress an Amazon employee goes through, running from one end of the warehouses to the other for those customers who opt for next day delivery. Their wages might be better than a Wal-Mart employee's, but they work their asses off for that money. (And Amazon has come under scrutiny for their near slave-like working conditions as well as praised for their competitiveness in the field. Read this https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/19/technology/amazon-workplace-reactions-comments.html for more on the pros and cons of working for Amazon.)

The indie author, when it comes to paperbacks, does have it better in that regard. As an indie author, through Amazon, I get a higher royalty rate for using CreateSpace. They still take their cut. I might have a list price of $8.99 for a paperback, but I don't see that full $8.99.

And then there's the whole ebook situation. Traditonal publishing houses, if you ever look at ebooks, tend to have very high prices on their ebooks. Amazon wil try to make them out to be the devil for it, but, again, let me remind everyone that Amazon gets their cut from every book sale. Depending on how the options are set up by the publishing house, Amazon takes a 30% cut from every ebook sale. That's what they use to cover their costs for said ebook. If a traditionally published ebook is listed at $7.99, Amazon is making $2.40 from that ebook. Why do they complain it's overpriced then? Well, the claim they make is it's for the readers. Ebooks should be cheap and accessible for the customers, and it totally disregards the amount of time and effort that has gone into crafting a book. They get 30% off of every single ebook sold on their site. This includes the indie author. The publishing house is still trying to cover the costs of their bills, i.e., the cover artists, the editors and so on. Again, they're trying to make their profits to keep themselves in business, and they're using that 70% to do so. (Of course, I presume at this point that the publishing companies have the same exact options for ebook publishing as the indie authors do, given that that's what I see when I go into my publishing account on Amazon.) The tradtionally published author only starts to see royalty checks once their advances have been paid off. Now how the traditional publishing houses split that 70% between them and the authors, I don't know. I do know there was a huge lawsuit over ebook profits seven years ago where the authors sued their publishing houses for back profits because they find out the publishing houses were lying about ebook sales. (And they won this lawsuit so I presume it's a 50/50 split of that 70% so, in this case, the author is actually receiving a higher royalty rate from the book sale than the paperback.)

The ebook situation is where indie authors actually tend to lose out more. Let's say that, for an ebook priced at $7.99, the traditionally published author is receiving $2.79 per ebook sold. The indie author, in order to sell, has to price an ebook cheaper. The highest Amazon will allow an indie author to go without some type of pricing warning is $3.99, and they would prefer it if the book was priced less than that. Now here, at the $3.99 price, the indie author is making the same as the traditionally published author whose ebook is priced at $7.99. Still, Amazon would rather those indie authors price their books cheaper. So let's run with an ebook price of $1.99. Out of that, the indie author receives $1.40. The indie author has to sell twice as many books to try and catch up with the traditionally published author in this respect. All because Amazon says books must be cheap. It matters little if the author in question has spent hours upon hours upon hours of writing, drafting, revising, and editing the story. It matters little if the indie author paid an editor $500 for a job and an artist another $500 for the cover art. The indie author is expected to eat those costs and be paid very minimal for time worked.

To put it this way, expecting any author to work for less pay is like expecting a union worker in an auto factory to have their pay cut from $20 an hour (or whatever a union auto worker makes an hour) to the wages of a server, which is $2.13 an hour. If you wouldn't expect to be paid less for the work you're doing, why do you expect an author to do the same?

We're at this point in the digital age where just because it's cheap doesn't mean it's a great deal. Somebody somewhere is losing out and still struggling to make ends meet, and we do need to be responsible, not just financially for ourselves but economically overall. My time in Washington taught me that. Washington has one of the highest minimum wages in the U.S. They've seen job creation, but they still have an influx of people heading there to find those jobs that are paying better than places like Oklahoma or Michigan. They have more people than they do jobs. And, as long as indie authors are being told they have to sell their books, their projects, their hard-earned efforts for less than minimum wage, we're going to see a die-off of newly published works or perhaps authors who can only publish every so often because of the other demands made on their time. Ultimately, it's going to come down to the readers as to whether or not authors can continue with their chosen careers.

Now, if you're a reader and you want to tell me how your own pocketbook is more important because you need to save money for all of this, hey, believe it or not, I do get it. I'm one of those people who, if you gave me $500 to go spend in a bookstore, I'd take it and get every book I possibly could, but I don't have that kind of money so I buy books when I've planned and plotted that money out. Like I said at the beginning of this entry, I work two jobs already. I'm still struggling to get my next publication finished. But also understand this: telling me that my time and effort has to be reduced to less than minimum wage is severely detrimental. It forces me to spend my time doing other things when I'd rather be sitting down and writing my books. This is true for any and every author out there.

You cannot have cheap and still have dedicated authors out there. Not in this digital age. In the end, everyone will be hobbyist writers, and you won't have much material to buy when you do have the money. In the end, we'll simply be too busy trying to survive working two jobs or more just to pay our bills.

I know that sounds harsh, but it's a realty many authors, tradtionally published and indie, are facing right now. You, the reader, have the power to make or break any author's career. Use that power wisely.

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Writing is such a pesky business. It's time-consuming, it's demanding. It isn't always convenient for the writer in question. It takes a lot of courage and perseverance to be a writer. It really does. There are the hours upon hours upon hours of crafting that first draft, going over it and crafting that second draft, and sending it through for critique and revisions. It's such a pain in the ass because we don't always want to hear that there's something with this baby we've managed to push out after, well, longer "labor" hours than actual childbirth. We don't want to be rejected, yet that rejection is necessary. After all, if we're not receiving a rejection letter, how would we know if the agent or publishing house we've queried is actually the right fit for us and our goals as authors? Yes, self-publishing is a great way to circumvent that, but then we still experience rejection in that people may not be buying our stories.

I've mentioned in the past about a woman who stopped because the rejection letters were too much, wouldn't consider joining a different critique group or even self-publishing her works, despite my efforts to encourage her on that path and to try and test the market with her themes. Even as a niche writer, she could have found valuable information and used that to market herself to the next agent or even the same one or to one of the very few publishing houses who don't require authors to have an agent for submitting manuscripts. I know a guy through Scribophile who has two series started, the first two books are published to Amazon, but he hasn't published anything since 2015. I know. I've checked because I was in the process of critiquing Book 2 of his distant future, science-fiction/fantasy series. This guy also has more reviews on his first book than I do between all four of my books. Mind you, real life could have gotten in this particular author's way for continuing his series; I know my real life has been a bit of a drag and caused me delays on Ravensrealm. The only thing even keeping me on this path of a writer is my own determination to succeed and to keep improving, to have my own stories out there. I love writing. My life would be infinitely easier if I stuck with just fanfiction. I wouldn't have to worry about revisions, about promoting my works in order to garner sales, or deadlines. I wouldn't have to worry about much of anything writing and publishing fanfiction to designated fanfiction websites. I could simply enjoy writing (which I do anyway).

But becoming an author is something I've known I've always wanted to be. I've innately known it since I was a child. I do this because I love the stories I'm crafting, even as they frustrate me and leave me filled with self-doubt on how well they'll be received.

I keep at it. Now maybe the difference between me and other people is the fact I grew up poor. And I mean poor. My biological father preferred to live off of state assistance. We got food from the Salvation Army pantry. I learned the value of a job and hard work through my mother after she separated from and divorced my biological father. I had more than enough people willing to try and knock me down for what I wanted in my life, and I could have listened. The odds might be against me in so many ways, but I would rather pursue this, tough it out, and keep at it than give up and ever wonder "what if I had just kept going".

The last thing I want in my life is ask myself "What could have been if I had at least tried". I was once fearless. I am working on being fearless once more.

So, even though I've not had much in the way of sales for my books, I refuse to give up. I will remain strong in my endeavors.

After all, writing isn't easy. Those who think it clearly don't do it.

Stay strong on your writing path, my friends. Write, write, and write some more. Get the feedback you need to improve, and remember you can always be improving. Coasting through life just isn't fun or meaningful.

Until the next time!

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The Norse Gods Love Geeks And Other Things

Now, while there is an American football team called the Vikings, you will not find a truer statement than the one I have made. The Norse gods love geeks.

And why is this, you might ask? According to remaining sources (those that weren't destroyed by ancient Christians), the Norse gods were, and are, warriors. The gods are the epitome of masculinity, the goddesses the epitome of grace, beauty, and mystery. Since when would the likes of Thor (as depicted in the Marvel movies) ever dare to pick up a book and read or at least educate himself on the nuances on how to receive an email?

The answers are quite simple.

Geeks have kept the Norse gods and religions alive for decades now, starting with Tolkien and his world-building. Geeks have kept the Norse alive in various forms of fictional writing, from epic hero adventure novels to bursting with life and color stories in comic books and video games. RPGs like Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Star Ocean take very heavy cues from the Norse mythos. (Seriously. In Final Fantasy VII, you're on Midgard, which in the Norse mythos, is Earth. In Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning's summon/magical partner is a creature called Odin that can turn into a steed. In Star Ocean, the entire magical system is based on runes, and, in Star Ocean 4, on the planet Aeos, there's a cave called the Urd Falls Cave. For those wondering about Dragon Quest, the cue is game four. It's divided into chapters, and the first chapter centers on a soldier named Ragnar.) The Japanese even created series called Odin Sphere and Valkyrie Profile. How heavily influenced by the Norse mythos, I'm not 100% certain as I've never played them,

The Norse gods love storytellers. On long, cold wintry nights, everyone gathered around the hearth for a good story, for singing, and for dancing. Norse culture is steeped heavily in story-telling. Storytellers keep the heroics and the traditions of those old ways alive, and geeks, by tradition, are storytellers in their own ways, be it gaming adventures, writing, or art. The spirit of the warrior lives within each geek.

This was something that's been on my mind for a while now, and so I thought I'd share.

I'm currently also in a state of flux. My excitement over the new pen name has faded (as stated in a previous entry about names). I'm still sticking with Raven Ember for a while longer. Names are such fickle things, and the next name I want to be as true to me as possible.

Other things happening. I'm pondering either a new critique site (I have a recommendation for one, thanks to a fellow Scribbler) or simply seeking out beta readers. I've noticed a few things about Scribophile that are making the site rather unsatisfactory, and it's very strongly related to the stance people take on critiques. I'm not going into details right this moment. I'm not even 100% certain I'm leaving the site just yet. I am simply biding my time. I have learned a lot from my time at Scribo. There does come a time when we outgrow what a critique group can provide us.

In the meantime, for my fellow Tulsa-area writers, I'm going to try and get a writing group going again on Wednesdays. The basic idea is to get together and focus on writing. Current location would be at the Bixby IHOP (I work there still) around 2-3 pm in the afternoon, and it would last for about 2-3 hours (no later than 5:3-6 pm - I have a class I'm attending every second and fourth Wednesday of each month). For people to bring: laptop, pens, notebooks, and a little bit of cash for either food, beverages, or both. I'm open to location changes as well. I'm simply choosing IHOP for the moment because I'm often there every Wednesday. Drop me a line to let me know if you're interested.

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Our Own Limitations

There is this phenomenon in the United States - might be in other countries, too; my friends overseas will need to chime in as to whether or not they've heard this from like-minded individuals as the ones I'm about to present - that comes up only when people like myself talk about traveling to other parts of the world with friends and family. The summer I'd returned to Michigan, it happened twice. In fact, my mother has said this, too, and she's been to a good portion of the U.S.

"I'd rather travel the U.S. first."

I got to thinking about this yesterday morning on my way to work, mainly because I was trying to settle (still am) on where I want to write about in my next Dream Travel blog entry. It also occurred to me that part of my desire to not travel the U.S. first is because, well, I've already traveled most of the U.S. first, with a couple of excursions into Canada for good measure. I'd left the state of Michigan for the first time in 1992, went to Texas for the first time in 1997, and, between 2000-2004, traveled to parts of the East Coast and finally to California. In 2011, I finally visited Utah for that writing workshop with David Farland. I moved to the Seattle area in 2014 and currently reside in Tulsa. There are very few states right now that I haven't visited.

Mind you, most of the traveling I'd done was sustained by me having a good paying job, but I was still able to make this a reality for myself. So it's one of those things now: If you want to travel the U.S. first (if you happen to be a U.S. citizen), then I have to ask what's stopping such people from doing so? Time? Money? Good reasons, but I also wonder, based on my own personal experiences, if it isn't more a fear of diversity and being exposed to things that will shake one's core foundation and belief system. The people I know who say such things are close and narrow-minded individuals. They'll listen to someone like me (because I'm family) but will still have the thoughts, oh you poor deluded thing, that's not how this world works, if they're not saying it to my face. And, yes, that's happened to me, too. These are people who will say that they're not racist, so long as people of color fit into their narrow world view and way of thinking.

Now I have traveled the United States or at least a good portion of it. It's been a fun journey, and I'm of the mind to get myself into a financial position where I can do so again, just would need money for food and fuel and maybe hotel accommodations - I have an S.U.V. so packing blankets and pillows to sleep somewhere is actually not a big deal for me. There are a few places I've not yet been to but the notion of traveling the U.S. first over other countries? I've already done that and have done so without realizing that, yes, I've done so. (Internet friends and conventions are the best!)

The prevailing attitude of the "U.S. first" for travel just makes me think of how we limit ourselves and in so many ways. We can make possible whatever we set our minds to get things done. Yes, traveling the U.S. isn't as easy as simply getting in your car and leaving for a weekend. Maybe for the next town over or even a trip out of the state but from one end of the country to another? Yeah. I get it. Finances are a pain to deal with, but, as I said before, it's totally possible to do.

The same goes for writing, my friends. If this is your "U.S. first" of travels, start your planning for your road trip.

After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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