Tag Archives: writing a novel

To Self Publish or Not … One Writer’s Positive Experience

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Today I met with a talented poet and artist who self published her first book in 2017 with Amazon, for less than $2,000. That’s amazing. And it’s gorgeous. Shani’s Whispers of Grace is a delicious compilation of paintings and spiritual poetry, inspired by her time in silence “with Shiva” at the holy hill of Arunachala in Tamil Nadu. Mystical, lyrical and emotional, Shani could have sought out an agent and tried to publish traditionally. Instead, she chose to self publish and to hire a friend to create her cover. As we chatted today about her next book, now in the works, we both began discussing the pros and cons of the self publishing route. As most of you reading this know, I’m pitching agents and have written three novels, now working on my fourth. Intrinsically, I worry about the costs of self publishing and managing all the self promotion, printing costs, pr costs, platform management and search elevation, contractual issues, etc. by my self. I’ve always held agents in high regard and read experts advice such as Shawne Coyne (who published this article today lauding what good agents can do: What it Takes: Art + Commerse = Better Art.).

 

But after speaking with the kind-hearted and spiritual Shani today, I see that in the end, whether a writer decides to self publish or pursue traditional publishing, it all boils down to expectation and time. Shani is happy to let her book grow organically through word of mouth referrals (including mine, buy it please!). She allows placement to happen organically within appropriate settings, such as spiritual book stores, or yoga and meditation retreat centers. As Shani said: “if I touch one soul, I am happy.” She isn’t bogged down by what frightens me: all the time consuming PR, self promotion pitching and travel and speaking engagements. And her work is doing just fine since she kept creation costs relatively low.

I love her perspective and choices. Because in no way does her choice to self publish affect the quality of her craft. In fact, I think this journey of Shani’s has allowed her to focus 100% of her time on her art, and perfecting that art, without worrying about the business side. She lets her art speak for itself—and it does.

I love this last line of her poem Song of the Self: “It is only the Supreme non-dual “I” that destroys ignorance and pure Knowledge shines forth as Self.”

I think all of us writers could learn from Shani. When one continues to write for the sake of writing and for the gift it gives us by honing the craft—while enjoying the journey—the writing will intuitively and intrinsically get better. And it is more likely that an author will make deep connections with her readers as well. From the heart-felt intention of creating an inspiring piece of art, for the sake of art, that art, in turn, will flourish and the right organic opportunities will arise.

Thank you Shani for your words of wisdom today. I can’t wait to see your paintings and your next book!

Namaste ~

Laura xo

 

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Voice, Authenticity & the Right to Write

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Is it OK for a writer to create main characters of the opposite sex, sexual orientation or with a different ethnic background from her own? Is it believable? Will the readers trust the voice of the protagonist? And IF I write a novel where the characters live in another country, is that stepping too far outside of my zone of authenticity? Since both of my novels that I’m currently selling to agents have crossed these barriers, have I now become an author that is too hard to sell in todays restrictive fiction marketplace?

These are questions that kept surfacing for me while at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference this past weekend. First, let me say Wow! What an amazing four day journey! The SFWC had more than 100 workshops, pitches to agents, meetings with editors, authors, publicists, experts and lectures by famous authors, poets at the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill. There were hundreds of authors from all over the globe with manuscripts in hand. The level of creativity was intoxicating. I highly recommend writers go next year!

What I heard from agents, and a few published authors, however, was confusing. Two agents (after hearing my short pitch) told me I would be ‘hard to sell’ to top 5 publishers because my main character of Between Thoughts of You is a Japanese-Hawaiian woman and I’m not Hawaiian. Yup. These comments were made before reading a word of the manuscript and without asking me why I chose this character, or how much research I did, or how I felt compelled to create this person who is a strong, yet gentle and spiritual female—the perfect combination to be the hospice nurse to trigger an old man who misses the love of his life, a Japanese woman he met after WW11.

A published author who spoke at the conference, expressed her trepidation over crossing ethnic and socio-economic barriers in her first novel inspired by an NPR story. Because her protagonist was a woman from Mexico and she, a college-educated, middle class woman from San Francisco, she said she feared whether she had the right to create her. “I worried. Who am I to write about someone from Guatemala or Mexico?” she said to a large audience of writers.

As a journalist who studied with the BBC in London, researched documentary journalists such as John McPhee, and who studied and published with the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Maine, where I was asked to live with islanders and sailors for months and write about them, I was dumbfounded by her statement. I sat in the audience and thought, “Who are you NOT to write about a Mexican immigrant?”

IF a writer is inspired by a true story and wants to fictionalize the experience to create more awareness, the writer is hearing a calling. IF a story beckons to the writer, it will become inflamed with passion and purpose. And IF, even in the face of fear and doubts, the writer can’t kick the idea of the story, much like a buzzing of a bee at his ear, then the writer must follow the calling and write the damn story. The mission, then, becomes to open the eyes and hearts of the reader so that they can become compassionate towards a human whose experience they might not otherwise care about. I would then say that it becomes imperative that we cross those borders, of ethnicity, walk that tightrope of place and voice as an author, to enter into the international language of emotion. And, of course, much research needs to be done to make the voice of the writer and the sense of place and location believable. But this is achievable.

It’s not surprising that my first novel Lucifer’s Laughter, a murder mystery and my MFA thesis when in New York, has a main character that is a lobsterman in Maine. I lived there and documented that region and had been a crime reporter for years prior. My second novel, Uriel’s Mask, is inspired by a newspaper article I read back in 1991 when I was a reporter in North Carolina. I kept the newspaper clipping with me through multiple moves, knowing I would write about this character, an illiterate daughter of a freed slave, who created masks in honor of the spirits who visited her while she sat by the French Broad River in Asheville. See, I knew that I’d write about her one day, but I didn’t know exactly how. It was a story that called to me. In Uriel’s Mask, her masks (like in real life) are sold in New York, allowing all her grandchildren to become educated. One of the main characters is a southern black man, a talented musician and her grandchild, who becomes one of the first black students at University of North Carolina. As a southerner, Uriel’s Mask, may be easier to ‘sell’ to agents, but I am not black, nor am I a man or the grandchild of a freed slave. And, to make things more complicated (I write with a laugh) I also created a side character who I adore. He is a gay man having an affair with a married man in the closet. Once inside Chris’s head, we see his heart, so full and kind. At the children’s library where he works, he is more patient and compassionate with the children then most of the strict, uptight southern mothers.

When we step outside our comfort zone and allow ourselves to see another viewpoint—to enter into the heart and mind of another human being—we accept the fact that there really are no chasms too great to justify our differences, our racism, our sexism, our superior judgements.

So my reaction to the agents who want authors to look like their main characters is this: Give us a chance. If a writer does a lot of research, like a documentary journalist, there is no location too far, or background too different, to write about. We would not have Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (as Michael Larsen, Co-Founder of the SFWC so kindly pointed out to me) or The Pearl by John Steinbeck, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland,or even the JK Rowling Harry Potter series.

To write Between Thoughts of You, my latest novel and the one I pitched at the SFWC, I returned to Italy, I travelled four times to Hawaii, and I researched WW11 documents regarding northern California internment camps for the elite of the German, Italian and Japanese forces to await trial. So much research went into this book that called to me simply from a conversation with a dying old man I once loved. Our conversation in Tuscany was one where he pondered how his life would have evolved, had he followed his heart, and not his fear, after the War. If he had married his true love, what would have happened? Another inspiration for the novel came from conversations with an 89-year-old German woman whose father was high up in the SS. She, her mother and father were sent to a Northern California camp after the War…Both stories merged in my consciousness and birthed the idea behind Between Thoughts of You. It is the story that called to me. It is the story that only I could tell. And it is one fueled by the power of love, the destructive forces of fear, and the dying desire to follow one’s heart.

These are universal truths no matter sex, sexual orientation, or ethnic background—for the characters & the writer. 🙂

If you enjoyed this conversation, you may also be interested in the following articles:

When Authors Create Title Characters of the Opposite Sex, HuffPost.

The Four Rs of Writing Characters of the Opposite Gender Writers Digest.

Whose Life is it Anyway? Novelists Have Their Say on Cultural Appropriation The Guardian.

Should Authors Write Characters Outside Their Race? The Good Man Project.

 

 

 

 

Photo Essay: A Path Unfolds

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Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens

Where is her heart leading her? Is she listening? A path emerges from the depths of her despair. Will she follow it? When she hits rock bottom and has nothing left, she has nothing left to lose. No one to please. No one to worry about. Will she follow this path? Or will she stay safely stuck, tucked away in her narrowing mind of grief that closes all doors, folding her further into darkness.

This is her pivotal  moment. This choice can change everything. Will she choose it? She has an inkling that it just might make everything that happened—every God damn shitty thing done by those who loved her most—almost make sense.

But only if she gets on that plane. Only if she follows the nudging of her  heart. It feels like running away. It is. It feels like giving up. It is. It feels terrifying. It is.

Finally, when she can no longer get up in the morning in the same house decorated with sinister smiles peering behind photos in every hallway, she’ll know what to do. When she’s finally had enough of being left with the mess; being left to walk alone past the empty nursery; being left with the trinkets of 15 years of betrayal and longing mixed within memories pushing her six feet under, she might muster up the courage to go.

A path is unfolding. And because she no longer cares whether she’ll live or die, she may just get on her first international flight and leave everyone and everything she’s ever known behind.

 

Photo Essay: Diving Deep

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For the next seven weeks, as I dive deep into my creative writing and finish my next novel, Between Thoughts of You, I won’t be posting articles on this blog. Instead, I’ll publish photos from my multiple trips to Italy and Hawaii, as my novel occurs mainly in Tuscany and in Honolulu. One agent describes the premise of my book as: “Think of it as The Descendants meets The English Patient.” Well, sort of, not really. Flash backs for the characters also occur in Northern California and Japan and New York. I used to live in New York, so will drum up some photos, but have never been to Japan. My son travelled there with his father, so if I’m able, will post a few of his pictures. 🙂 Every day that I am writing and editing my novel, that I intend to finish at the conclusion of my Yoga For Writers Workshop I’m hosting, I’ll post a photograph. I hope you enjoy them. 🙂

As always, I am so grateful for all who follow or read this blog. ❤

100+ Follows!

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WOOHOO!! I received word a few weeks ago that I reached a milestone of 100 followers…I believe it’s 104 today. Isn’t that amazing? I’m so grateful to all of you who read my musings and who are on this journey with me as I evolve into a more conscious human being and navigate this world of mine as a single mom, yoga teacher, writer and budding novelist. Phew! That’s a lot isn’t it? Geez. And that doesn’t even touch my day to day life juggling needs as a FT mom and being single: striving to stay positive, focussed, motivated and find time to eek in a little fun, love, travel, adventure. You know, what we all seek—the spice in our rice, the music that makes us want to dance, or the moment our heart races when we recognize a person as a dear friend or potential ‘one’ that makes life so much more than just life. You know?

 

So, thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you—new and old followers—of NavigatingVita. Since I started this blog August 26, 2011 a lot has changed in my life. My divorce became official. I broke up with a man that I thought I might marry. (The first man I had kissed in 15 years since my husband, so maybe I needed more experience dating too…) I joined a support group. I began and finished 4 yoga trainings. I now teach yoga. I wrote a novel. Yup, after taking a 15 year hiatus from creative writing after I completed my first novel in grad school, well, I jumped back in. I wrote a novel that was inspired by a true story uncovered when I was a newspaper reporter in the North Carolina mountains, moons ago. And, I started writing another novel. (See excerpt here.) I’ve travelled a lot: England, Italy (3 x), Spain, Czech, Hawaii (3x) Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico…And stumbled upon some cool experiences, such as being on the Queen Latifah show as a Contestant # 3 for her Dating Game Show. A well-intentioned neighbor, who happened to be a producer for her, decided I needed help finding a date since I rarely get out except to take or do yoga. It was a hilarious experience! And even with the help of Queen Latifah, her bachelor chose the grandmother out of the three contestants because she was the one who talked dirty and promised sex on the first date. (Men, is that all that it takes? Maybe for another blog post, but seriously?! My kids were watching too, could NOT go there. Hmmm.) Here I am last Feb. embarrassed after Queen Latifah tried to insinuate that I was a southern good girl, but not that good. Go figure. Still didn’t get the date! Probably a good thing. 🙂
The Queen Latifah Show Season 2

So, what can I say? Life is good. Life is challenging. Life can be upsetting and then suddenly delicious. It can become overwhelming and tedious and boring and then suddenly beautiful without words sufficient to express that beauty or the enormous amount of gratitude felt. Throughout it all: throughout the disappointments of agents not accepting my work, and then the high of one who does— or the boy who breaks my heart so completely that I can barely function … And of course my boys who are my anchor and mean everything to me. Throughout it all, I write as a means to seek, to find my center, to garner a balance, catch my breath and to embrace compassion, patience and forgiveness. And…still find time to dance and travel—at least once a  year! This is what motivates all my blog posts in one way or another. Even if indirectly as I am somewhat private. If I write about how to discover your worth and uncover hidden, sabotaging beliefs, trust me, it’s because I need to write about that topic due to poor or impulsive choices. If I write about how yoga enhances creativity and helps bash self-doubt, it’s likely because I’m teaching too much, not practicing daily yoga and therefore, finding it hard to carve out time every day to feel entitled to write that novel. Who do I think I am, right? So, I often write about what I need to learn. It’s the same when I teach yoga as each week there is a theme to my classes: forgiveness, acceptance, surrender, strength, combating anger, staying open, trust, faith, etc. You get the idea. I teach and write about what I need to learn. And if any of this has resonated with you, I’m truly honored.

Thank you for being on this journey with me.

I’m sending so much love & light & laughter to you all. Life is a trip—and one only worth navigating with dear friends. Thank you for the support.

With gratitude,

Laura x