How we can all make it a little better

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I didn’t know the artist who was bullied to the point of giving up.  I still know her pain.  Many of us do.

I don’t blame her for what she did, and I will never judge her for trying to escape.  I just wish I could be there for her – and I am if she ever needs it.  The problem is that she doesn’t know me, and I don’t know her, but I’ve been in her shoes.  That’s why I’d drop everything to just listen – because there are some things we can’t do on our own… like survive.

I will never forget the moment when I sent my best friend a message that simply said, “That’s it.  I’m done.  I’m out.”

She knew I didn’t mean the chat.  I didn’t mean the drama.  I meant something so much worse, so much more permanent.  At that moment, I was ready to rage quit on life.  For a long time, I didn’t talk about it.  I didn’t want people to know how completely I’d broke, that I was shattered.  Now, I’ve healed.  Sure, I have superglue and duct tape all across my heart, but it still works, and I think the scars give me character.  The good kind.  The kind that can’t be bought.

I also know that the only reason it never got past that one pissed off message was due to a compliment.

Sounds stupid, huh?  A compliment?  Like, there I was, with my life collapsing around me, honestly convinced that removing myself from the equation would make things easier on everyone else, and something as simple as “They’re just pissed because they can’t keep up,” made me stop and breathe.  It was a tourniquet on my suffering.

One breath, that’s all it took for ME to stop the cycle.  I’m lucky.  I have a support network that is so tight, so close-knit, and so blindly supportive of each other that I just had to find a way to take that one breath and I could start moving forward again, but even now, that moment still terrifies me.  Others need a little more help because they’re all on their own.

I wasn’t sad.  I wasn’t “depressed” as most people like to define it.  I was tired.  I was so far beyond upset that even being anguished would have felt like an oasis in the sea of negativity that I was long amongst.  I had become convinced that everything I touched turned to shit, that my absolutely perfect husband would be better off without me, that my pets didn’t need to suffer because I couldn’t get anything right.  I was wrong, but I had nothing left, no single spark to keep me moving forward.  Thankfully, my best friend knew what to do.  You see, she’d been there, too.  Many of us have.

She knew that saying she needed me wouldn’t help.  I’d just tell her she was wrong.  She knew that trying to ignore it wouldn’t make it hurt any less.  Instead, she threw me a lifeline.  She SHOWED me what I wasn’t failing at.  She pushed and poked, and kept telling me I was GOOD at something, and rubbing it in my face until I couldn’t deny it.  And she hasn’t stopped in the five years since.

I’m fine now.  I’ve made it out of the hole and I can look back at that time with my eyes wide open.  I know how stupid the decision seemed to everyone around me, and I also know how logical it was from the inside looking out.  I know why I thought that way, and it wasn’t something that could just be argued away.

It’s so much easier to complain than to compliment.  It makes us feel a little awkward to fangirl over something so minor – even when we honestly feel that way.  It’s easy to be carried along by the crowd and to pick things apart.  But stepping into someone else’s shoes for a moment?  Especially when it’s someone you don’t really like or even know?  That’s a challenge worth trying, and it makes you appreciate someone else so much more.

But most of all, to fight against bullying, harassment, and the nonstop criticism that comes with our modern always-connected lives, there’s one great thing we can all do.  Give a compliment.  If you see something you like, say you like it!  Every compliment nullifies one of those soul-rending remarks just a bit.  Just enough to stop the bleeding.  Even if you’re only complimenting a portion of it (I love the cover but hated the book, or I loved the way this author writes but had problems with the MC) it still makes it easier to make that a lesson and not a mortal blow.  Bruises can heal, and verbal padding helps.

For those who think they shouldn’t mollycoddle others like that?  Fuck you.  We all know you’ll be whining the loudest when it’s your turn to get kicked on, and trust me, your turn will come.  It always does… and I’ll be the person giving you the compliments because you deserve them, too.

You know, I’ve always found it strange that we deal with the horrors so easily.  Another story of rape, murder, or mayhem in the news?  No biggie.  Telling someone they look lovely or that we like something our friends do not?  It’s terrifying – but it matters.  Why is it cooler to dwell in the darkness but shameful to brag about the love we have for our friends, the adoration we have for artists, or even the wisdom seen in someone how shares our interests?  Why is caring something we think of as a vulnerability?  It’s really not!  It’s the greatest strength any person can have.  It makes us real.

I was there once before, staring into that abyss, and I noticed something I will never forget:

I wasn’t alone.

On either side of me were people dealing with just as much pain, weighing the same heavy options.  I wasn’t alone, and those others could honestly understand me – and by helping me, they helped themselves.  And by helping them, I realized that I was good at one thing.  I was good at giving a damn.  It was the first step I needed to start climbing out of my own personal hell.

To quote one of the greatest poets ever,

“There will be bad days. Be calm. Loosen your grip, opening each palm slowly now. Let go. Be confident. Know that now is only a moment, and that if today is as bad as it gets, understand that by tomorrow, today will have ended. Be gracious. Accept each extended hand offered to pull you back from the somewhere you cannot escape. Be diligent. Scrape the gray sky clean. Realize every dark cloud is a smoke screen meant to blind us from the truth, and the truth is, whether we see them or not – the sun and moon are still there and always there is light…”

For the full poem, check it out below.  And for those of you blinded by the darkness, I’m always there for you, no matter what.  You matter to me.  You are a big part of that lifeline that helped me get better, and I will never be able to thank you enough – even if I don’t know your name yet.

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You know I’ve been waiting for that book, right?

amazon-1580654One of the most asked questions I get about my books is, “When will the next one be out?”  Fair question.  I totally get it, and I do my best to answer as honestly as I can.  Here’s the thing, though.

Sometimes, I’m wrong.

When We Were Crowned is a perfect example of this.  I’m SO far behind schedule on it (and I’m sorry!) but I’ve realized that this is my Cursed Book.  While working on it, just about everything that can go wrong has.  From my father having surgery, my dog destroying a box of dinnerware, a sick horse, and more.  The first time I had to set it aside was because I spent 5 days in the hospital for a kidney stone.  That was a year ago.

I promise that none of it is intentional, and some of it isn’t really a big deal (while other parts have really sucked).  I’m still going to finish this book.  Right now, I’m down to an “if it’s the last thing I do” mentality.  Not another word will be written or published on anything else until WWWC is live for my adoring fans who have waited so long.

BUT!

I can’t help but see posts by readers on social media complaining about slow releases.  Now, for the most part, my fans are wonderfully understanding.  So long as I keep them in the loop, they’re willing to forgive me.  That doesn’t mean everyone is.  Seeing a booklover whine and complain about slow releases by their “formerly favorite authors” (who are rarely named, and probably not me) is just a little irritating.

It wasn’t that long ago that traditional publishing houses ruled the book market.  Back in 2012 (just six years ago, my friends) ebooks were barely making a dent.  A decade ago, self-publishing of any kind was a death sentence to an author’s career.  The Trade Markets ruled our literature gateways, and we liked it.

Authors produced ONE book every year at most.  Yeah, I know, there are a few rare exceptions to this, but 99% of authors weren’t popular enough to warrant the funds necessary to get a book out.

Stop and read that again.  Big money corporations couldn’t justify spending that much money to produce a book!  And now we expect housewives and retirees to do it better and faster?

I’m not saying it isn’t possible.  Oh, I think the determination of independent authors has made it clear that we can do just about anything.  I am shocked that people were just fine with 12 months of waiting before the indie revolution, but now that the person WRITING the book also has to contract out an editor, cover designer, formatter, marketing, personal publicity, social media management, track all necessary updates (including back matter in previously released works), plan release schedules, do promotions tours, and still cook, clean, and spend time with their families…  we now expect it to happen FASTER?  Trade Publishers have entire teams dedicated to each of those tasks.

Hell, George RR Martin still hasn’t finished the last book in A Song of Ice and Fire!  No one seems that upset by it, either.  It’s been YEARS.

But the little guy busting his/her ass to make a few bucks is expected to do it better and do it faster?  That kinda makes me angry.  Not for myself, mind you.  I’ve been so lucky with my fan base.  My readers are some of the best, and those who dislike me seem to do little more than send hate mail and vanish.  Those who enjoy my writing cheer me on even when I screw it up royally.  (See When We Were Crowned’s lack of release for one such example!)

*ahem*  But back to my point.  I’m a crotchety old bitch.  If you don’t like my books, I really don’t care.  I’m not exactly mainstream, I pump out novels that are two to three times the size of what is typical in my genre – much to my readers’ delight – and I have enough dedicated fans to keep me going regardless of what the masses think.

Nope, I’m annoyed for that debut author who just bared her soul to the world after spending ten years working to get a few scraps of free time to write a book.  I’m annoyed for that USA Today bestselling author who took a chance to branch out, but her underperforming series needs to be put on the back burner so she can keep up with her main genre.  I’m annoyed for the author who took a chance, did well enough to get noticed, but still has to work full time, manage her family, and finish her degree.  I’m mostly annoyed that all of this reader entitlement that I see isn’t coming from Millennials, but from people old enough to have been bibliophiles before the days of kindle.

Trust me, as authors, we don’t really want you all up in our daily lives.  We certainly don’t want to come across as anything but competent.  When a book is delayed, there’s probably a very good reason for it – even if that’s nothing more nefarious than not knowing how to end the story, or having anxiety over being good enough.  Writing is hard.  It takes time, concentration, and dedication.  If you’re honestly a fan of the author, ask them if they have any idea when the next book in your most adored series will be out, and if they say it’s delayed or set aside, realize that even we indies have to prioritize what sells most so we can pay the bills.

Writing is not a career that will every make us rich.  If we’re lucky, we might get to be comfortably middle class.  All authors have to make hard calls, and we honestly feel bad about it.  We simply can’t be all things to all people, and if you’re one of those in the minority, suck it up and move on.  There are over eight million books available on Kindle alone.  I’m sure there’s more out there on other platforms.  It’s not like any of us are hurting to find something to read, even if we really REALLY wanted that one series to get finished.

Basically, what I’m saying is that it’s fine to critique our work.  It’s great to give constructive criticism.  It’s even better to spread the word about novels you’ve loved.  Acting like a self-entitled douche who believes that because you want something, an author should produce it for you?  Just stop already.  We’re trying.  Bitching about it isn’t going to make us go any faster.  Sometimes, life just happens – even to an author.