Sunday, February 21, 2016

A WRITER'S IDENTITY


Sami Saxton is on a short hiatus.

She did NOT arrive on Christmas Day, 2015 as promised. Sami is not ‘gone for good,’ but merely on a leave of absence. But in the spirit of transparency and honesty, I feel obliged to explain why?

If anyone is even remotely interested…

As a self-published, indie author, I felt it was important for my ‘emerging author brand’ to regiment myself to a strict time schedule -- a deadline so to speak -- and pump out two works of fiction each and every year. I am fortunate. I have two wonderful and engaging characters to draw ideas from... Sami Saxton and Dan Hammer. Trust me, they provide me with enough alter ego material and story lines to last, well, indefinitely. I hope. Then along came an idea last year to explore a new concept, Aberrant, my Queer Diary Series, and my clock twisted. In digging up the spiritual bedrock for Ellery Flynn -- my fictional sixty-seven year old aging author -- I began uprooting core foundations of my own beliefs, and the work took on a complex and completely different meaning for me, metamorphosing into what some call 'a labor of love.' 

My deadline stalled.

Whose deadline was I on anyway?

I wasn’t signed to a major book publisher awaiting a lucrative financial advance once the pages were submitted.  I hadn’t secured a upper echelon Manhattan editor who was calling me daily, inquiring about the work, my progress, preparing my manuscript for advance galley copies to be sent out to the media in hopes of garnering praise and adulation and book awards from top magazines and notable reviewers. Barnes & Nobel and all the tiny little independent bookstores across the country weren’t salivating to plop my current work into their NEW ARRIVAL bin, displaying the glitzy cover of my hardback copy in a snazzy larger-than-life book dump at the entrance to their stores, in the hope of capturing last minute compulsive sales. I wasn't a notable brand, a household name, or one of the coveted holiday release authors. Nope. That wasn’t me.

The truth was... I was on my own deadline.

A self-induced time-frame dictated by me to cast more work into an already overburdened Amazon Universe and continue pushing-and-shoving my creative career up a steep mountain that might not need so much pushing.

I digress…

By doing the daily disciplined work on Aberrant and keeping up with my strict regimen, an act of transformation occurred. I suppose this is what all writers hope to accomplish at some point in their work, their career, to create an authentic voice that speaks to the reader with honesty, and courage and humanity.

In discovering Ellery William Flynn, I had inadvertently recovered a lost part of myself. In creating his past, I somehow tapped into my own. Once I completed Aberrant, (on time, I might add) how disappointing to publish my new fabulous work and find no public interest. My readers wanted my mysteries, my thrillers. They insisted I publish books on the ravages of cold-blooded serial killers, not an aging gay author awakening to life before his death. How depressing! 

I learnt this lesson with Perfect, my third book in the Sami Saxton series. I wanted Sami to have some respite after all the horrific things that had happened to her in her previous books. I mean, c’mon! So I weaved an element of romance into her story line. (Or rather, Sami insisted I do it.) How fortunate to have a best friend like Drew to whisk her away on a transatlantic cruise to Italy and to be charmed, and seduced and courted by an Italian hunk. And... I might add, how deviously fun for me, as the author, to be the voyeuristic fly on the wall and take naughty dictation while Sami caroused and danced and flirted around his charismatic advances. OMG! My readers were distressed. Again! Why interrupt a good thriller with romance? Nobody cared. The book languished in lousy sales. Even Kirkus who offered Perfect a solid and favorable nod failed to deliver devout Sami readership.

Therefore, in the middle of November, half way through the new Sami Saxton novel, I stopped. My computer sat dormant on my desk, the power turned off. I processed. I reflected. I sat back and thought about this new place I was currently occupying. I took a vacation to New Orleans over the Thanksgiving holiday. I ate and drank like southern royalty (and gained ten pounds) and witnessed a wonderful lesbian wedding. When I returned to Los Angeles, the same blank feeling persisted. Not entirely unwanted, I might add, just different. I wrote in my journal, numerous times, in an attempt to process, again, and try to understand my blankness of spirit. It wasn’t writer’s block I was plagued with; in fact, I had the next several chapters already plotted out in my head. I just didn’t think I wanted to write any more…

So I stopped.

And I took it all back… for me.

I chose to not be on a schedule any longer. I stopped the desperate hunger for sales and reviews, for precious nods and flirty winks from publishing companies or eager agents cooing over my work. I ceased the quandary over whether to advertise or not advertise, or to post an event on Goodreads or Facebook, or to be a part of, or enlist in a ‘specific other author event,’ giving away merchandise, and Kindles, and gift cards, in a bleak attempt to entice new readership to my webpage and sell one more copy of one more of my books. I stopped marketing and shelling out cash to an endless money trail of hope. The hope of believing in a dream -- my dream -- the dream, and obviously a Universal dream, shared by most people with a working computer, half an idea, a fourth grade framework on how to structure a sentence, and the romantic notion of becoming a BESTSELLING AUTHOR. That dream scattered in the zeitgeist across a vast Amazon Galaxy like fairy dust wanting nothing more than to sell books -- millions of books -- and become the next Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame.

I get it!

I remember my agent, the established and curmudgeonly one I acquired in NYC, the one who sold my first book to a publisher, had once said in an interview, “the most important advice I can give to any new writer is… get a full time job in a restaurant.” He wasn’t kidding. I remember reading that particular interview and being miffed. I had worked my entire life in executive positions in the hospitality industry, and, I was currently employed in an amazing job, a position I loved in fact, in a posh restaurant, but what I wanted was the option to option out! Turn my hobby into a career and my career into my hobby! 

Right?

I stopped reading the endless success stories of how independent authors (you know who you are) who had come before me and sold MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of e-copies with their specific (pay me the money) secrets on how “You Too Can Do the Same!” How you too can become the next Amanda Hocking or Colleen Hoover, or the Tracy Graves of the world, not to mention E. L. James, that crafty and cunning woman who turned her little nighttime sex blog into a lucrative association with major advances from a mega-six publishing house and a Hollywood production company. Lets face it, the gods of readership are slippery, if not fickle. Who knows what the next big ‘thing’ will be? It could be trolls, or vampires one year, YA fantasy the next, witches, or hell, even queers on roller skates!

I had to look into my soul, reevaluate my intentions, my motivation, and be completely honest with myself, not always an easy task. Before publishing my first book, I wrote for validation; the like me, love me, am I good enough?, pay me some attention, hear my voice, hear me roar… routine. After the release of A PERFECT HUSBAND, a dot of confidence took up residence where once only insecurity had resided. Where I once wrote only for the acceptance and approval of somebody, anybody, will you read my work, please?, now I was writing for myself. And I loved it! It fueled me! It invoked a passion inside me that was new and exciting and each day I woke with a hunger to get to my desk and create and to build and to ultimately conquer the publishing world. I enjoyed the trust, the inner assurance, the determination I experienced while listening to my characters dictate their unique voices and their solitary, sometime inhumane actions. It brought about a new and positive identity for me, an identity I had rarely felt before in my life, especially one so particular as this, and I reveled in the shimmering glow of my newest and obviously, soon-to-turn-lucrative passion.

Bingo!

I am a writer.

It is one of my many identities. To quit writing allowed me the opportunity to catch up with myself, to take a breath and understand the value of myself without the writing, without the identity of wanting to be that particular brand of writer that I desired so doggedly, tattooed with blood on my heart and my monthly bank statements.  It allowed me the necessary time off to feel the restless and urgent need to get back to writing. Again. To bring back the passion of what writing invoked in me in the first place, in my heart, the power of the words, the journey I committed to each time I set sail on a new blank screen and started typing away on that sea of white. But more importantly, it taught me about success, my own quiet success. It allowed me to do the work for the sheer love of writing, for the continuous and ongoing love of the characters -- my characters -- the ones created by me, the ones I choose to write about. It stopped being for the vapid flight of fame, or the glory, or the reviews, or the constant emotional disappointment of not being relevant out there in a Universe overloaded in golden desires. 

Perhaps my writing ultimately brought out the many identities and facets of me. It brought me back to me, the good me, the autonomous me, with insight and maturity and enough hands-on-experience to allow this identity to remain a constant.    

Sami Saxton is smiling. So is Dan Hammer. Even Ellery Flynn. They all have some surprises up their sleeves in 2016…

For the time being, I am listening… and taking dictation