what IS that funky ass smell?
oh, it’s my own head
Sally the Sad Shape is available! I’m very proud to launch this little book, the first in the Moodrangles series, books about big emotions for smallish people. Sally is a little shape in a very sad mood, and she tries everything to change it. It isn’t until she makes a new friend that she learns to see her mood in a different light. I wrote this book to let preschool and elementary aged children know that being sad is something that we all go through, and not something that they have to “fix.” The charming illustrations by Steve Ogden Art and use of humor make it an entertaining read for kids and adults. Available right now at Amazon or autographed through the Little Voices Publishing website.
Writery Stuff: I’ve learned an enormous amount about self-publishing by launching this little book. I haven’t found the downside yet. I’ll let you know if I do.
Unsurprisingly, sending queries to agents is a long, drawn out process. First, the agents you find in your genre have to be accepting queries and submissions. You find the magic window, and send whatever combo platter that particular agent is looking for–one wants a #3, the next just wants a letter a la carte, the next wants the whole thing translated into Esperanto. Then….you wait. If you’re doing it according to industry guidelines, you don’t have it out to 100 agents at once, just a handful. You get those responses or wait for a reasonable amount of time…and then you send some more.
The Tiny Giant hasn’t been out to many people so far, and I’ll let that run its course. You have to. Traditional publishing is still the best scenario–they have resources, you have ideas, they can help you get the best version of your ideas to the most people.
That doesn’t mean I sit around waiting for six months, though. In the event that I don’t connect with just the right agent at the right time for magic to commence, I’ll pay a professional editor and self-publish The Tiny Giant under my brand spanking new publishing imprint: Little Voices Publishing. Self-publishing is in many ways indistinguishable to the consumer now–you can set it up on Amazon, it can be an e-book, it’s print-on-demand and shipped directly with their free Prime shipping. The days of buying 100 copies from Vanity Press® and trying to hawk them at the Grange Hall are behind us. If you build your small business, and someone wants to come buy you out later…well, that’s fine too.
The cost of having this little business is not small. I have applied for all of the licenses and permits, and I’ll have a pile of additional paperwork to do at the end of the year. I’m still up in the air with City Hall about an environmental impact study they said I had to do if I wanted a business license. I think City Hall is going to rule that I don’t need a business license at all, since I don’t really produce anything. (I would be insulted, but that’s the easiest option and saves me $45.) Then there’s the time involved. There’s a website (http://www.littlevoicespublishing.com) and a Facebook page I’m building and updating. I might even get some ding-dang paper business cards done. None of this is writing stories–it is a J-O-B.
All of that infrastructure is nearly ready. Then I’ll just let it sit there and…..ha ha ha, no, I won’t. That would be fine if I had no other ideas, but lack of ideas has never been my issue. In March, Little Voices Publishing will launch the first book in the Moodrangles series, Sally the Sad Shape. This pause…it’s an opportunity, and I would be a fool not to use it. Written by me and illustrated by Steve Ogden (Magnificatz), Sally the Sad Shape is a charming story about a mood that we all experience. The Moodrangles series intends to honor the complex emotional lives of children with humor and empathy. I’ll update here with more details when it’s available. Until then…I have some more website stuff to put up, and those business cards to design, and copy to write for the Amazon page, and, and, and. It’s real, it’s fun, and it’s turning out to be really fun.
When my son plays by himself, I shamelessly eavesdrop on the running commentary. It’s often funny and charming, and it gives me a window into what the quirky little guy is thinking or feeling that day. Once, with his little plastic animals, I overheard one animal tell another this:
“Now you have to go home and see what your parents think of your bad choices.”
This was said with more than a hint of satisfaction. Naughty Critter was definitely in for it, and Sensible Critter was enjoying it.
No matter how old we get, that still resonates. If you have (or had) any kind of relationship with your parents, you care what they think about your choices. You want them to be proud of the work that you’re doing. You want to take your mom to the Oscars and watch her enjoy How You Turned Out. It’s normal and loving to want your parents marveling at your good choices. (For ease, I’m going to shorten “parents” to “mom” here, but it could be either or both.)
But…. what if your art pulls you in a direction that you think your mom isn’t going to like? Writing books for children is in this way an easier choice—nothing controversial, few opportunities to use f#%*, nothing to ruin Thanksgiving.1 I have several books for children in the works, and it’s nice to know that my mom will be able to read these without feeling like she needs to have a “talk” with me. Writing for adults, about adults, gets a lot trickier.
When I’m not writing for children, I’m writing psychological horror stories. If I’m being honest, they are better work. The dark humor and complexity of these stories is something I’ve worked hard at, and it shows off the best of what I can presently do as a writer. And…that’s the problem. Aside from issues of readership, where people have trouble separating different types of work, how do I tell my mom I’m going to publish a story collection called “Bitches and Dead People”?2 Will she get the vapors or will it be Tuesday? It’s probably somewhere in the middle, but here’s some things to think about.
Your mom is not actually a satellite of you. We spend our whole lives thinking of our mothers in terms of how they relate to us. The child’s narcissism in relation to his parents never really goes away. Because of that, we forget that our moms had (and still have) lives that do not revolve around us. She was probably reading The Clan of the Cave Bear series and enjoying those sexy, sexy Ayla/Jondalar scenes while you were at elementary school. She might have even snuck a peek into that “50 Shades” book. She probably enjoys other things we are completely unaware of, like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. Let your mom be a fully formed, three-dimensional person in your mind for a few minutes and see that you don’t necessarily know much about her. There are big chunks that aren’t filled in. Don’t presume that there aren’t.
Moms have a past and they have made their own bad choices that they don’t share with us. Let’s be really clear, we do not want them to share this unless it is an extremely important teachable moment. That is all I’m going to say about that. Just no.
You can’t parent your characters into behaving as your parents would expect them to. My mom has opined that curse words are the refuge of the lazy. When I am writing humor, or an opinion piece like this, I think that’s probably mostly correct. If I work a little harder, I can come up with something just as funny or precise or better. When I’m writing fictional dialogue or inner monologue, though…well. My characters did not have the benefit of this wisdom. They are Flawed, and it shows. If I sat with my Flawed people and fretted, “Oh, my, what will people think of the naughty language, oh dear,” my Flawed people would also be Unbelievable. I can’t parent my characters and chronicle their true selves at the same time. They are gloriously broken and that’s what makes them interesting.
Censoring yourself because of what you think someone might think is proactively timid. I don’t know what my mom and dad are going to say to me when and if they read my work for adults. They don’t have to read it—my mom doesn’t like horror stories anyway, so maybe she won’t read any of it, or I’ll just print out the ones that aren’t especially scary for her. That’s her choice, though. Maybe she’ll tell me that she thinks they’re terrible and belong in the trash can. That wouldn’t be nice, but it would also be disrespectful for me to presume that I know what’s good for her. This is where we have to be adults, two of them, and say, “You might not like this, but I hope you can appreciate it.”
As a last thought, I called this little thing “Shaming Our Mothers” for a reason. Most of us would rather not, and we spend energy trying not to be an embarrassment to the people who love us. Maybe, though, we don’t know what that means in the one place where it’s meaningful. Let your mom be a real person for a minute, and then give her the chance to decide whether she’s shocked and disappointed in your bad choices for herself. It might be surprising for you both.
1 Hey, I’m not saying it’s impossible. Maybe your character has three heads and Aunt Linda is part of that “One Head” movement, and she decides to create a fuss over the turkey and the stabbings commence. It’s just a lot less likely.
2 Hi, Mom! Guess what?
I started elementary school in 1979. That’s roughly two years after Star Wars: A New Hope was released, and about a year before The Empire Strikes Back hit the theaters. Empire was the first movie that my parents took all of us to see, and I vividly remember the experience. I don’t know if I’d seen the first movie on TV already, but I knew all about it.
I was a strongly opinionated little girl with no tolerance for bullshit and no interest in dolls. I never lasted long in groups of girls. They either played some mind-numbingly boring games involving feeding babies over and over, or they spent their time cruelly dividing each other up in order to hurt as many feelings as possible. They didn’t DO anything. I wanted to run and jump and use my imagination. I wanted to have the chance to lead, to pick the adventure. The girls included me only so long as I played by their rules and stayed in my place. (Still very bad at staying in my place.)
Something amazing was happening in those years, though. The boys at school spent every recess playing Star Wars games they’d made up, and I knew Star Wars. I wanted to play, too, and because of Princess Leia–they needed me. They didn’t just tolerate a girl playing with them, they had to welcome me and give me equal footing. I was a part of decisions, I could save the day, and my ideas were just as valid as any the boys had. During those years, I had a place where my strengths were celebrated as assets. It was powerful stuff.
Of course, it changed as the boys moved on to Dungeons and Dragons and the girls got meaner. David Brickey pushed me off the Big Toy and I hit him on the head with my Holly Hobby lunchbox. Star Wars faded, and the games the boys were playing involved sports (let me tell you how many different kinds of athletic equipment have hit me in the eye) or sound effects that the girls used to mock me without mercy. The Dungeon Master didn’t have the foresight to realize he would want to date me in high school, and didn’t let me join his campaigns. I was gently nudged out of the boys’ world and had no place with the girls. They didn’t want a Leia, they wanted followers. I couldn’t do that.
It wasn’t all gloom and lonely pre-EMO moping, though. There was a lot of that, don’t misunderstand, but I also carried that feeling–the truth that inside, I was just as worthy as Carrie Fisher’s unapologetically powerful Princess–for the rest of my life. When my career was threatened by a traditional firm because I was “abrasive” and “challenging,” I found a better job and left. I learned a little diplomacy and softened my rough edges, but I never surrendered my fire. Neither did Princess Leia, and neither did Carrie Fisher.
Thank you for giving a square peg of a little girl the courage to argue that there ought to be a square hole, and a woman the strength not to strive for equality, but to assume it. I owe you one, my Princess. More than one.
backyard apple tree
Fuji with aspirations
of being Fiji
Our apple tree molted in this particular pattern this year. The recent snow made it all the more apparent that it’s been looking at the neighbor’s palms and dreaming big dreams.