On Life as a Modern Wizard

I’m just going to go ahead and get the point across right at the start here: Books are magic. They just are. You can argue all you want, but you won’t convince me otherwise.

Books are magic, and in the hands of a skilled wizard, they change the face of the world–for better or worse, but mostly for the better, I think.

Books show us things we rarely see, or want to see. They open our minds to possibilities we never considered. Science has shown that reading fiction books enhances brain function and increases empathy in readers. Fiction allows us to escape to another place, another life, to live grand adventures and weather terrible tragedies, and experience fated love, all contained within the safety of a book. And whenever it gets overwhelming, we can set it aside for a while, catch our breath, and restore our equilibrium before moving on.

I am an immersive reader. When I read, I forget the outside world exists. I forget to get off the bus at my stop. I don’t feel hunger or thirst. I tune out the cloying noise of the real world, ignore what’s going on around me, and just sink into the story I’m reading. I become an unwritten character in the book, following the heroes’ journey from the shadows, but everything they see, I see. Everything they hear, I hear. The tone of the book sets the tone of my moods, and the characters’ personalities and attitudes affect my own. When I read about a brave hero, I find myself walking a little taller, speaking up a little louder. When I follow a character with a particular speech pattern or accent, it sometimes leaks into what I say and how I say it.

When I read Charles Bukowski’s Post OfficeI kid you not, I had to stop a third of the way through because I sank into an existential crisis that made me resent just having to wake up at a set time in the morning to go to work. I was annoyed by everything and everyone that week. I hated my job and imagined quitting on a daily basis. I just didn’t see the point of it, and I hated the fact that I had to report to the office for those set times because they paid me to do it, and the usual bills just won’t go away on their own.

I applaud Mr. Bukowski for the brilliance of what he’s accomplished, but I will never read another of his books again. Not because he isn’t good, but because he’s too good. I read to escape the doldrums of everyday life, and he gleefully drags me back into them and sinks me even deeper, where I can’t see a way out.

But that’s the thing about fiction: When it’s good, it’s transformative. That’s why I prefer stories with happy endings, ones that are uplifting and awe-inspiring, because reading them changes my entire outlook on life and my place in it. It makes me feel like I can accomplish anything, and everything will work out in the end. Don’t scoff. I may put a brave face on it, but when my writing stalls, or when life throws obstacles and disappointments in my way I need a little encouragement.

The worst thing about books is that they end, and when they do, I’m forced to deal with reality again, where animals don’t talk, and Othercreatures don’t hide in the shadows, and  people can’t change shape. It annoys me at the best of times, but when I’m interrupted in the middle of an intense scene, it actually jars me quite a bit and it takes me a second to reorient myself to the present.

I’m telling you. Magic. Guided astral projection that turns ordinary people into Seers.

The same phenomenon applies to my writing, too. I don’t make up the story, so much as watch it happen and describe what I see. When I type it out, it’s as if I’m revealing words that already exist on the page, and I become the book’s first reader.

Some writers do their best work when they outline a book and follow its path to the end. That doesn’t work for me. Whenever I write out an outline or summary, it feels as if I’ve already written the story. But it’s an abbreviated version, so I feel cheated out of the richness of the entire novel, but at the same time the impetus to write it out diminishes to almost nothing, because it’s “already done.”

It’s kind of like forcing myself into lucid dreaming. I never understood the appeal of that. The best thing about dreams is that they open doors I never would have thought to open. Why would I ever want to limit that to my conscious mind’s comfort zone? When my drift descends toward the water’s surface, why would I steer the dream into flight? The most amazing wonders could await me at the bottom of an ocean, for all I know.

Why would I ever want to give up the amazement of experiencing magic by reminding myself it’s not real?

My stories are daydreams I translate into words so others can enjoy them, too. I give them structure to make them coherent, but I never pull back or steer them in a particular direction. Even when–especially when–they lead somewhere new and potentially uncomfortable. That would be cheating myself and my readers out of its true potential.

I may or may not have been called a cynic and a pessimist in the past (although I prefer the word realist). When it comes to everyday life, I’ve had decades to learn that disappointment is a part of the human existence, and I temper my expectations accordingly. I’m also a control freak who, due to the aforementioned disappointments, has adopted the philosophy that “if you want it done right, do it yourself.”

Books and stories are where I let go of all that. Within the worlds of my imagination, I know that my characters know best. When a new one shows up with an outstretched hand and a twinkle in his eyes, I’m more than happy to follow wherever he decides to lead. No arguments, no complaints.

Some people drink or smoke to “loosen up”, others dance or exercise. I dream.

Hi, my name is Alianne, and I am a shameless dreamaholic. 🙂

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One Woman Strong

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. In my home country, this day is celebrated with appropriate pomp: women get flowers, chocolates, they get acknowledged at work, in school, at home, etc.  In America, this day is not even marked on the calendar. It simply does not exist. And when someone brings it up, they get odd looks, condescending smirks, and a brush-off.

Yesterday, I somehow stumbled upon a bunch of TED Talk videos on YouTube on various topics pertaining to women. I was fascinated by these, and spent a good few hours watching them. Many of those messages rang so true for me personally and for what I observe around me every single day. It seemed like such a revelation that these speakers (all of them women) finally managed to put it into the right words, but at the same time it was almost insulting that it had to be put into words for people to acknowledge that it’s real, and it’s happening, and it’s having a massive impact on women all around the world.

Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends wrote a post about how difficult it is to share one’s pride in a personal accomplishment, because it inevitably gets met with a negative response. I had another small revelation while reading that post. It’s true. We’ve become a society where we shower sympathy and attention on people who struggle, who meet with tragedy, who are having a hard time, and somehow take it as a personal insult when people share their achievements, as if those achievements somehow reflect badly on us. Women especially have a hard time with this. Because women are taught to be the peace keepers, not the competitors. They are taught to be quiet, and humble, and inclusive, rather than brave, entrepreneurial, and confident. A confident woman is seen as vain, proud, intimidating, and unattractive.

Part of why I struggle so much with book promotion is that it necessitates a level of confidence and extraversion that I simply don’t possess. I don’t know how to brag about myself, and even when I try, I always end up doing it in a joking, self-deprecating way. Case in point:

This is my  attempt at celebrating my achievements. The note says:

This is an Alianne Donnelly book published by Alianne Donnelly.
It’s not bragging if it’s true.

It is printed on the copyright page of every one of my new IngramSpark books. I wanted to do something to acknowledge how much freaking work I did on those books. Those are my books from start to finish. I wrote them. I formatted them. I designed the covers. I set them up on IngramSpark and published them. The only things I didn’t do were the editing and the actual printing/binding/shipping of the physical copies*. The rest is all me.

Eight books I created this way. Eight of them. In a span of three months. That is a massive undertaking, and a huge achievement more confident people would be trumpeting to the stars.

Me? I shared a few posts outlining the workflow, and printed a short little note on the copyright page, which no one except a hardcore bibliophile ever reads.

No, I don’t like to brag. In fact, I hate being the center of attention for any reason. I’m a behind-the-scenes kind of person. I keep the wheels spinning, and let someone else stand out on stage. I’m often overlooked, underestimated, undervalued, or flat-out ignored, and 99% of the time, it doesn’t bother me.

I know that I’m accomplished, and very much capable and, when it comes to this writing and publishing business, I know I can put out a hell of a book. I know, because I’ve already done it. And I know I can do it again.

But saying it out loud still feels wrong. It feels like I’m bragging, and even I argue with myself that all the things I consider awesome are completely subjective, and people will still find fault with them. That stupid doubt laughs at me and say that if I was really that awesome, I would be much farther along by now. I hate that internal voice, because it’s right. It’s the reason I sometimes get writer’s block so bad I don’t write a word for months.

It’s also the reason why I keep going, keep learning, keep improving on everything I do. Yes, the finish line keeps getting pushed farther and farther, but I’m stubborn as hell, and I cling like crazy to the one thing that makes the struggle worth it: the stories.

So, today, belatedly, I celebrate International Women’s Day by proclaiming to the world at large that I am one woman strong. My achievements are real, and tangible, and freaking awesome. They are my contribution to the world and I am proud of them.

 

*Though, ironically, I have done that, too, for unrelated reasons and projects at my day job.

 

2018 Book Industry Predictions

Every year, Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords puts out a long post of predictions for the near future of the Indie book industry. He is usually pretty spot on, so every year, I spend a few minutes reading what he has to say. Today, there are two posts I want to share:

2017 Year in Review and 2018 Preview

2018 Book Industry Predictions

My main take-away from these post is perfectly summed up in this one sentence: “Fair competition at Amazon does not exist.” 

This is one of the reasons why I never even contemplated enrolling any of my books in KDP Select or Kindle Unlimited. It’s one of the reasons why I am making the move to IngramSpark. It would be totally hypocritical of me to ask readers to shop somewhere other than Amazon, since I myself have a Kindle and buy most of my books from their platform, but I do want to say one thing: You, my dear, beautiful readers, have more power than you realize. You’re the reason why we do what we do. You allow us to dream and share our dreams with the world, and for that, you will always have my undying gratitude. I may never get to meet you, but just know that you are among my most favorite people in the whole world.

For every book (my own, or someone else’s) you buy instead of pirating, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

For every book (my own, or someone else’s) you buy instead of reading through KU, I thank you in the name of all Indie author.

And for every book (my own, or someone else’s) you buy from any store other than Amazon (especially independent neighborhood bookstores), I thank you with every fiber of my writer being.

Thank you for every kind message you send about how much you loved one of my books. Thank you for every anxious note and question about when the next book will come out. Thank you for every time you share one of my posts on social media, and every time you tell someone about my books.

Just…thank you for reading.

On Dreams and Dreaming

When I close my eyes at night, my sleeping brain fills with rich, vivid scenes that might as well have been cut out of a movie. It’s always been that way for me, since before I can remember. When I was in college, I took a required course on creativity in business where one of our semester projects was to keep a dream journal. At the end of the semester, most of my classmates submitted a 10-page-or-so, double-spaced document stapled together with their name on top. Mine was over 60 pages, single-spaced, with pictures, headings, and formatting, and the stack was too thick to staple, so I had to put it all into one of those 3-hole-punched portfolio folders. My professor was floored; didn’t want to believe I actually dreamed that often with that much detail.

Continue reading “On Dreams and Dreaming”

…as if no one will ever read it

I haven’t done a real blog post here in a long time. Forgive me. Life, work, and other concerns have distracted me from what I enjoy doing most. Truth be told, I haven’t been writing much lately, either, and that hurts me the most. But certain things have happened in recent weeks and months to put me in one of my philosophical moods again, and very much on the defensive. Not of myself (much) but of the creative writer in general. So let me tell you a story or four…

Continue reading “…as if no one will ever read it”