How it Feels to be a Published Author

A letter to future authors.

My book, Release the Beast, has been published.

For the longest time, I thought that might never happen. That I just wasn’t good enough. Something about me and my dream couldn’t get it together, and that dissonance was a source of heartbreak. The world doesn’t think I should do the thing I feel I was born to do.

As someone who suffers from NEW PROJECT! syndrome, I’ve given up many things over the years. But storytelling was always that must do thing. Even as a youngster I’d whisper stories to pets and scribble down fairytales in indecipherable characters before I knew how to write. Stories were my reference point for that sense of freedom and wonder and endless summer days that other people talk about when they talk of childhood. Stories, to me, were childhood. So it was very natural that I should want to be a writer.

The path to publication was long. I wrote, I finessed, I strived and despaired. I shelved fifty or so dreams on the Bookshelf of Abandoned Stories. Some of those manuscripts were dismal: ambitious, overworked and in the earlier days, surrealist (ARGH!). The rejections rolled in, but I’d pick myself up and think, the next one will be better. In truth, the rejections started to improve as I developed my style. The replies were more positive, personal and encouraging (and THANK YOU to those who took the time to write them). But in the end, they were still rejections.

I decided I needed a new attitude to fortify my writing journey. After a long time of wanting to be a writer, I shifted my focus to love writing for writing alone. Publishing seemed unattainable, and less important. But in my secret heart, I still dreamed of the day I would hold my very own book in my hands, the book that I wrote. Because all writers yearn to say something, write something, that wakes others up in some way. You need a reader for that.

A little while ago I sent my latest children’s book to Beatnik Press, after reading an interview with the director who seemed like a real personThey picked the book up almost immediately. The proofs started arriving in my inbox, and the illustrator was a perfect match. My first real book started to come to life. 

The boxes of my book (MY BOOK!) were delivered to my house, and they were like pirate chests of treasure. A lifetime of dreams and hopes, trussed up in cardboard and packing tape. I delayed the delicious moment a few days, waiting for the right time, savouring the promise within. And when I couldn’t wait another second I tore open the boxes with the hunger of a wolf. The moment I’d dreamed of, the holding your book in your hands moment, had come.

It was a bit of a flop moment. I didn’t think I’ve made it! or I’m a real life big-person author! Holding the book in my hands couldn’t live up to a lifetime of anticipation, which I should’ve known. But that little child in me wanted the squee! feeling.

The feeling I’d been looking for–the I made this and it means something moment–happened a few days later, at my first reading. And it DID live up to a lifetime of anticipation. When despite my foibles and stumbles and nerves, the kids LOVED it. I mean they engaged and ROARED in all the right places and fought each other to read it again after. That was gold, friends, pure gold.

Here is my book. Click to buy and share the Beastly love. Here’s a review if you like to do your research.

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PARENTS ARE SO UNFAIR.

THEY MAKE YOU SHARE TOYS WITH THE BABY.

THEY DON’T LET YOU EAT JAM SANDWICHES FOR DINNER.

THEY TELL YOU TO STOP THAT! AND HURRY UP! AND EAT YOUR VEGETABLES! ALL DAY LONG.

THAT’S WHERE THE BEAST STEPS IN.

 

To writers just starting out, even writers who have been working a decade or two, I say: don’t give up. Here’s something extra if you’re an unpublished author and need a pick me up.

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Singing over the Bones

“The wolf bones … represent the indestructible aspect of the wild Self, the instinctual nature, the criatura dedicated to freedom and the unspoiled, that which will never accept the rigors and requirements of a dead or overly civilizing culture. To sing means to use one’s soul voice. it means to say on the breath the truth of one’s power and one’s need, to breathe soul over the thing that is of one’s power and one’s need, to breathe soul over the thing that is ailing or in need of restoration. This is done by descending into the deepest mood of great love and feeling.” -Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Winter has been a place of dreaming and writing, a land rich and fragile–as if to break out of it and write something different, even a blog post, could tear the fabric of that other world. It has been a retreat into the land of the novel, where I can tap my atavism and wilderness, my place to sing over the bones.

The freedive of novelwriting is a refuge, because the secret heart of industry is quiet. Quiet of the mind and heart. World-abolishing quiet, a quiet where I can forget, for a moment, the cruelties committed in the name of mankind; where I can forget the small, cumulative cruelties of everyday interaction; this quiet is what I crave to survive the moments between. It’s this streak of violent antisocialism that makes me long for a seasonal retirement each year as a lighthouse keeper. Attune to the seasons, write. Walk barefoot in my soul, be natural. Not think. Find synergy with the Great Hermit Spirit, Nature.

Writing is the next best thing to a semi-retirement from the world, but fully inhabiting the dreamscapes is dangerously addictive. I can live in one for a long time without much interaction with people. I’m coming out of my cocoon but oh so slowly, because it has been warm and kind inside, gestating a whole world to dream in. It has been wonderful to wallow there, just to work on one thing every day. The flipside is that it’s been hard to deal with real life between…to string a real-world sentence together, even. I’ve felt sensitive and over-analytical and I’ve been a quiet friend of late.

I know, deep down in those sung over bones, that true happiness lies in finding happiness wherever you happen to be. In accepting that music that plays like an eldritch soundtrack from another room: the worldly, big problems beating at the earth’s heart, the walking avatar of yourself, the yearning for the evasive solitude glimpsed in meditation, travel, wilderness. In reading. Writing. While cloistered bursts of creativity give me easy access to this place, I believe that with work this peace can become available in every moment. If I can learn to locate the quiet in the company of others, real life may become as seductive as fiction.

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Forest (2014) Oils on Canvas. Available.

 

 

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On Conflict

A little more on last week’s theme.

Right now I am in the throes of birthing a big, bad-ass novel. Oh man, is it lovely to get in the writing groove again. But sometimes the drama of novel writing gets to me. Because creating a novel means creating conflict. Making bad stuff happen to a character, over and over, until you want to scream at yourself, DUDE! STOP TYLER DURDEN-ING THIS GUY!!

Bad stuff happens to people: this is fundamental human experience. When the same bad thing happens to two different people it gets interesting. One will come out of that experience with new resolve. The other will crash and burn. The difference is in how they have framed their own story.

How to craft story out of our own experience is such an important thing to teach to children. It can influence whether they become victims or survivors. The best way to do this is by example. The second best way is through reading, setting sail on an alternate reality that teaches other ways of being.

Skyboats. 2013. Available through Kindergallery.

As readers, we want to see how a character transforms that bad stuff into good stuff. We want to see the alchemist turn lead into gold.

Our capacity as storytellers will dictate whether the hard life stuff will drown us or elevate us, over time.

 

 

 

 

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Robots with Feelings

This is a post about storytelling.

I always had the desperate urge to do the thing prosaically described as writing. I felt guilty about it in my youth. I was good at it, but that did not feel enough of a reason to spend thousands of hours putting pen to paper. It felt frivolous. Not useful to society. Escapism.

Now I understand something. Writing and creating are not only ways of crafting a fictional story, they are ways of teaching storytelling for real life. When you read a book or look at a painting, it reminds you that there is always another way to look at things. That book or painting can provide you with a frame of reference, an alternative worldview that you can use to rewrite the story of yourself. The way we construct our stories of the past shapes our future, because stories are the way we decide what is meaningful, what is of value.

Storytelling gives us more hope, as a human race, than almost anything else.

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Yes. I do hug robots.
Moving Castle. 2013. Sold (prints available)

Here is a shy admission. When I was a not-so-sweet sixteen, I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I shrugged my shoulders, thought it wasn’t too bad. Sixteen years later I was shelving books at my library job, and saw Frankenstein on the shelf. I burst into tears. Sixteen years later. I’m not joking even a little bit.

The story sat in my bones all those years, waiting for me to realise this:

Frankenstein’s monster is a precise mirror of a human life. He’s an absolute mess. The messy characters are the ones we love, right? The ones that remind us that even in our messiness, we are lovable. Because dammit, I love that monster. I want to invite him home and give him lots of hugs and cups of tea until he feels better. And in loving the monster, I realise I, too, am able to be loved despite my flaws. This is the best reminder we can have in dark times.

Stories matter. Both reading and telling stories are ways of making sense of life. By having some consciousness of the stories we tell ourselves, we have more control over our happiness. Is it absolute truth? It doesn’t matter. All truths are shaped, in one way or another. Why not shape it is a way that is beautiful?

Of course, I am not suggesting you lie to yourself. But framing is an essential component of storytelling. A tragedy can uplift and inspire more than a comedy, if it is woven well. We are conditioned by the stories we are told and the stories we tell ourselves. We are, all of us, robots with feelings, built of shifting, unfolding stories. Stories that change like clouds. Stories that are wonderful and tragic and sad and magical, all at once. But these stories can change, depending on how you narrate them.

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On Death and Friendship

One of my dearest companions died this morning.

Mingus has been the constant through two houses, through a season in hospital, through babies and sleepless nights. Every night for the past five years, Mingus has crept under the blankets and curled up in the space next to my womb, pushed to the edge of the bed as my belly grew over two pregnancies, purring over the scaffolding of the little people inside. From conception my babes heard that purr from inside their little womb-hut.

Last week, out of nowhere, he became deathly ill. As the vet bills escalated for some reason I thought that meant we were getting closer to recovery, like I could buy Ming’s way out of this. But as the moon rose each night, he sunk a little, into those unknowable cat shadowlands. Perking up during the day, and sinking at the night with the sun. My Mingus. He was always solar powered.

And then this morning he took his last inhale, his last exhale from this world.

As he lies curled at my feet for his last sun-bath, and my fingers rake his warming coat, I can can almost forget the spirit has left the body. Only a week ago he was curled up, purring at my belly as of old. The shock of life. The predictability of change. A reminder to always hold your dear ones close.

I’m not sure where it comes from, but a voice inside tells me I’m overreacting. That this is just a cat. That I should move through the day, through my interactions without fuss and without hurt. Whoever that dispassionate voice is, I tell them this: that I choose hurt. I choose hurt, and love, and friendship felt with just a cat. I choose strong bonds between nature and humans that make the whole world come alive, that enrich our being. Where partnerships with animals enlarge the scope of our mind, our stories, our humanity. I tell that voice that Mingus has taught me as much about what home is, what contentment is, and what refuge is, as any human I know.

This is a friendship worth mourning. Knowing the pain of what I have lost gives me answers to what I need to find next. Thank you Mingus, my teacher and friend.

mingming

 

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A Friend in the Darkness

To my friend in the darkness.

Darkness is of immeasurable value, dear one. It is the thing that can tell us most about what we need to work on to be happy, about what has made us the way we are. The whispering dark things will tell us everything we need to know, if we can bear listening. They will never tell us the truth. They will always bear the mark of pain. But they will draw us a precise map of where the trouble lies.

The human, fragile, vulnerable qualities that arise in the face of darkness are such a large part of what makes us loveable. Even if what troubles you is unknowable, impossible to understand. Even if it is as vast as the sea.

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There is a condition to this beauty. The darkness is not beautiful when hidden, neglected or suppressed. The darkness is beautiful when has been awakened. Your darkness is like this. It is tangible, when someone has touched their darkness: wild and alluring and brave. It dances like a flame in you.

I know the hardship. The deep grooves of habit, our neural pathways so well trodden we can fall in and get lost in them for days. We’ve unknowingly groomed ourselves for unhappiness, filled the sacred river that runs through us with corpses that fill and foul until we believe that it was always like this, that it can never be any different. When that happens the infernal noise and rot simmers into inescapable disquietude. We need to unhook each thought from the riverbank, one by one. If the river flows the darkness is no trouble. It is natural and useful. The darkness is what allows the light. Working with the darkness instead of against it, you experience the body’s autumn and winter, follow the natural cycle of things.

Your darkness will always be there, my beautiful one. But we will get the waters flowing again, I promise. In the meantime, I will sit in the darkness with you. I know it well. I am not afraid. x

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2 Years, 88 Works.

It was a lot of work but I am happy. I want everybody to come and be part of it. You can visit until the 26th of April. ViewPoint Gallery, 13 View St, Bendigo. x

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Release the Beasts: an Exhibition

I spend a lot of time alone with my pictures, unearthing buried treasures and monsters, exploring the dark wilderness of myself. But in a fortnight I’m brushing off the earth and darkness, offering my musings and dreamtimes and heartsongs to the world, letting them breathe and be seen.

My debut exhibition opens on Saturday 12th April. Feeling vulnerable and also pretty good.

flyer punchy

The show is about diving deep within, facing fears, and being curious about what lies beneath. The work accesses a more primitive, wild mind to ‘release the beasts’; promoting happiness, self-acceptance and a more soulful connection to the world.

Here’s a preview of the types of works in the show.

Paintings for children

lady of the snows

Psychological landscapes

four seasons detail

And of course, beasties :)

Tree spirits. From "Little Otik", Beastly Thoughts series 2013 SOLD

I would love to see you at the opening. There will be collaborative drawing and lots of fun. BYO beasts, and I’m not talking about your kids. But kids are (always) welcome!

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