Monday, December 24, 2012

A Little Bit of Heart on My Sleeve

I am a very proud person.  As such, and as other proud people may attest, it is very difficult for me to just ask for help. I'm not talking about, "Hey, can you hand me that book?" sort of help, I'm talking about, "Hey, I don't know if I can do this alone".

So I am going to tell you a story.  And then I am going to ask for help.  You can quit reading now, or you can finish this post, and decide what you want to do.

I have had the very, very good fortune to be involved with a man who prizes me above all else.  My happiness is his happiness.  He gave me the opportunity to write, freely.  He supported me while working full time, and gave me all the hours of the day to tap out my craft.

About a year ago, he got a promotion.  In February, he moved part of our house from Ohio to Illinois.  In September, I moved the rest of it.  I worked up until I moved in September.  Regardless, the mortgage, the car payments, student loans, etc, etc... we lived on a tight dollar.  Over 90% of our "free" money was not actually free, but fed the three of us (myself, him and our dog).  We did not have money to save, though we wanted to.  Even though his promotion was for good pay, the concession was that they would not pay any moving expenses.  It was all on us.  It bit into the little money we had.  But at least we were together again.

And we had confidence.  The pay was good (enough).  The house would sell.  That would give us a much better buffer.  It would all work out.

But the store he was placed in was a bad location.  He no longer worked for the company he had been with for 10 years, but for a smaller company that bought the franchise.  The rental location was locked in.  The rent was exorbitant.  The store had twice as many sales... but for items less than 1/10 the worth of the other stores in the franchise, making it the smallest grossing.  He followed every action plan, every suggestion to increase his sales.  He worked upwards of 60 hours a week trying to make things happen.  But the owners didn't follow through on their own programs.  They announced a manager-in-training position, gave guidelines on the interview process.  He followed them to the letter, weeded through dozens of candidates, and finally passed one through to be interviewed.  Two weeks later the candidate called him, asking why he had not been contacted.  They still haven't contacted him, and not because he was a bad choice - but because they could not be bothered to do their end of their own programs.

He did mailings, flyers, attended events, and then at area meetings it was revealed he was the ONLY manager following through on those.  He signed people up for special promotions vaguely announced (as in a day it will happen, but no details) to help increase sales and traffic in his store, and then his managers would never release the details of the sale.  Not even on the day OF the sale, leaving him adrift with angry customers.

And on December 20th, 5 days before Christmas, they fired him for making a stupid, careless mistake with an abandoned gift card.  They called it theft and cut him loose, and by calling it theft, deprived him of unemployment.

I don't know what else I can say about that, except it is Christmas Eve and the shock still hasn't worn off.

Our house never sold, we have no income and we could barely afford this "opportunity" as it was.

Everything inside of me went very still when he sat me down with tears in his eyes.  He is a good, good person, but my heart broke for him when the despair cracked his voice.  "I have ruined our future," he said dully.  "I am so, so, so sorry."

I heard the clock ticking on his desk as the moments passed by.  My consciousness went immediately into Mom/crisis mode.  I was very calm, I felt very dead.  "It's okay," I told him quietly.  "We will figure something out."  And, "We can't afford to stay here.  We should start packing."  And, "Before you do, please sign onto your computer and look for a job."

He applied for six jobs immediately, and in the past four days at least upwards of 30 total.  But right then, we started packing.

We only moved four months ago.  We had no money for a truck back home.  Was it a blessing that the house hadn't sold?  At least we weren't homeless, unless we couldn't make the payments - and it was looking like that.

"Stop it," I hissed at myself repeatedly through the day.  "Just pack.  Don't think about it, you can cry later."

Only four months, at least we hadn't gotten rid of the boxes yet.  I walked through that day without saying much.  I planned how best to eat the perishable food that wouldn't survive the 10+ hour move back to Ohio. I encouraged his job-seeking.  I didn't allow myself quiet moments to panic, but stayed busy.  I called my mom sometime during the day, explained what had happened and told her we would be coming home to the best of our ability.  I couldn't even sleep.

The clock rolled around.  The dark outside gave way to a sunrise on which I felt nothing.  And then at 10:30 am, my mom called me back.

"Grandpa had a fever yesterday," she said.  "He passed away around midnight."

It was like that moment in the movies, when all the main character hears is a ringing noise.  I couldn't tell you what she said next, only that I murmured the appropriate noises of agreement.  Once the phone went dead, I filed away my emotions in the "cry later" folder.  I zombie-shuffled around.  I packed.  I collected a fresh round of our financial data and found to the cent how much we need to survive, month to month, once we return home.  And around 2pm, I fell into an exhausted sleep.

I slept for about 7 hours, woke up feeling like I hadn't even shut my eyes.  I cooked the dinner on my perishable foods plan.  We ate it.  We packed.  He told me about the jobs he applied to during the day, and I gave words of encouragement.

Then at 11:30pm, his mother sent me a text message.  His dad was going into the ER.

My protective, emotionless shell cracked a little.  "Was the 'Mayan Apocalypse' just meant for the two of us?" I raged at my phone.  After all, my world was crashing to bits.  But I reigned it in.  I tied my anger down.  I kept moving forward, executing my plan to methodically repack the house.  We both paled at the cost of the moving truck (we need a bigger one since we're doing it all in one go).  We made half-hearted jokes.

And the night again became day, my sleeping schedule now totally messed up.  And that morning, the 22nd, I called my mom again.  She told me about the plan for calling hours for my grandfather, and how one of his sons couldn't making it until a day after the intended burial, so it was pushed back.

And then I realized, at that moment, that I would not be there to say good-bye to my beloved grandfather.

I lucked into him, really.  I come from a broken home, and when my mom remarried it was like magic for us.  Suddenly we had a family that came together on holidays.  A family with traditions.  I will never forget the first day I walked into my grandparent's house and just knew it was okay.  I was terrified to meet them - what if they hated me?  I wasn't really their grandchild.  I was the daughter of the woman their son married.

I needn't have worried.  They welcomed me with open arms.  They did everything in their power to tell me I was loved just because.  As it was, I was the first grandchild, regardless of not being natural born.

My grandfather was an amazing man.  Until the day his hand shook too badly, he wrote letters to his local newspapers.  Even then, he gamely tried to adapt to the technology of the computer.  He stayed politically active, encouraging people to vote.  He worked as hard as he possibly could for positive change.

My grandfather saw good in everyone.  He believed the best, even of the worst.  He worked every week with Meals on Wheels, even long past the time he deserved a rest.  I worked the soup kitchens with him a few times, even, and it was so inspiring.  He was a veteran, he was a provider, and he was family.  I know of times when he approached people too poor to own a phone.  He slipped them calling cards so they could talk to their families.  Money was something that let him do good in the world, and his life was the time in which to make it work.  He provided for his family and beyond.

I had a very special bond with him.  I was a wreck after college.  I was finally free of a terrible 4.5 year relationship, and I couldn't let anything jeopardize that.  I wanted to get away from that ex with every fiber of my being, and just move on with my life.  I wanted freedom.  I wanted something different, and I decided to go to Japan.

Everyone around me said things like, "Why would you want to do that?" or "It's so far!" or "You don't even speak the language!" or "I think it's a mistake."

My own family said this to me at a BBQ before I left.  But when they went into dinner, he held my arm and drew me back and away from them.

"Don't listen to them," he said fiercely.  "This is your life, and your decision.  You may never have a chance like this again.  And if you want to do it, forget all them and DAMN IT JUST DO IT!"

I loved him more in that moment than I thought possible.  His were the only words of encouragement I got before I left the country.  They meant the world to me.  He meant the world to me.  If nothing else, he was the only person that wanted to let me live my life the way I chose.

I think he made me a better person.  I remember how having one person there to believe in me meant everything.  I try to pass that along, I strive to be there and encourage people when they need it.

And now he is gone, and I am not able to be there to say good-bye.  I will miss his burial by two days.  I can't even afford flowers for him.

On the 22nd, I sat down with my significant other, and I told him everything I could about my grandfather.  I want him to be remembered, and loved like I loved him.  If anyone deserved it, my grandfather did.

Everything - the SO losing his job, his father going to the ER (he is on antibiotics and doing okay now), and my grandfather passing just overwhelmed me.  On the 22nd, I sat in my SO's arms and I just cried, because there was no power in the world that could have held back my tears.  In two days, the things that can happen.

When it was over, I was exhausted.  I slept for nine hours, woke up and made the next item on the perishable dinners list.  But I was more alert than before, and I knew I needed help.

When I wrote "Youth", I got the idea from my grandfather.  His steps had slowed considerably, and all I could think was, "What if there were something I could do for him?"  So I did the only thing I could, and I wrote a story about a drug that miraculously makes you feel 20 again.  I knew I would dedicate it to him long before I wrote the first word.  But I also knew that miracles come at a price, and that price would be death.  So "Youth" had boundaries, and the user would die within a month.

I started writing it while caring for my dying stepmother.  Her cancer finally got the better of her, and of all the family, my father and I were the only ones who stayed by her side.  We took 12-hr shifts.  During the night shift, in the 59 minutes between giving her oral doses of morphine to keep her painless, I started "Youth".  On the hour, every hour, I broke off writing to tend to her.  I stayed with her as long as I could, and then I had to go home and attend to my own job and home, and while I was driving home, she passed.

I remember thinking, as I drove home, "I don't want him (my grandfather, who inspired "Youth") to linger, if something happens."  I am a firm believer of dignity in death.  I can only be grateful that he went quickly, painlessly in his sleep.  I am so relieved he didn't suffer that way.  For me, love is not keeping someone in agony just so they don't die.  Love is letting them be at peace.

I took a long break, and then I finished "Youth".  I dedicated it to my grandfather, I posted it the usual sites.  And for Christmas, I had intended to present a copy to him, and thank him.  For everything.

And oh, how the world can be cruel.

I published "Youth" in November, and to date, not a single copy has sold.  Not a single person has read how my grandfather gave courage, and was loved.  The only gesture I can make, has gone unnoticed.

And this is where I ask for help.

I have lowered the price of "Youth" to $3.99 (from $5.99).  I want to ask you, to just try and tell two people about it.  You can even direct them back here, if you like.  If you can tell two people, and they can tell two people, and they can tell two people... and if even a fraction of those people pick up the book, things will improve.  My message will get out there.  People will know my grandfather was loved.

And why not offer it for free?  Why not offer it for $.99 cents?  I am a practical person.  "See to thy own house, first."  If we are a mess, we can't help other people, and I want to - I want to help other people for helping me.  That is why I am pledging myself to do just that.  If we can get ourselves squared away, and on stable legs, I pledge to donate money in my grandfather's name, to the charities he was so passionate about.  I want his legacy to live on, though he was not able to.

So to recap: I lowered the price by $2 to make it easier to help.  Even getting the message out is a huge step, if you can help with dollars (I know they're tight everywhere!!).  And if you can help, I pledge to live frugally and wisely until such time as I can pay it forward, in his name.  I already do that anyway, and I'll probably continue do it regardless, but I want to give a measure of assurance.

My grandfather really impressed on me the value of giving time to those in need.  Now that he has no more time to give, I want to give the next best thing, in his name.

For you, do it to care, or do it as a social experiment, or do it because you can... whatever the reason!

"Youth" is available on Kindle, Nook and Kobo.  There was an editing error, but I am working on getting the clean copy uploaded and repriced.  (So if the $3.99 isn't yet active, please be patient, I just hit send!)  Kobo will be late because they are down (not accepting updates) until after the new year!

So even if it's just the time to spread the word (and feel free to direct them back to this page!), thank you in advance for caring.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest

Doo doo doo do DOO, doo doo do DOO DOO
*flashback sequence, sometime 2011-2012*

I'm just a surfing around the internet trying to think of good writing goals.  Hmmm, you know, I hear authors are finding a lot of success with Amazon.  They're getting good, decent contracts and really making a name for themselves with a publisher that seems to care about them as people, not machines.

Huh, Amazon has a Breakthrough Novel Award Contest?  How did I not know about this sooner?  Boy oh boy, my heart is full of happiness and joy and puppies licking candy canes!  But despite my excitement, I am an author who cares about her career. I know that NOT understanding what's expected of me in my contract, and NOT understanding at least enough legalese to protect myself is a DUMB MOVE.  Let's look over the terms of this contest hmmmm...



If you win Amazaon's BNAC, you get a contract for your book.

From Penguin.

Thanks, but NO THANKS.  You can collect your consolation prize at the door there, Penguin, but you won't be wringing me dry, a new and vibrant author, with your machine of lies and death.  If Amazon isn't offering the contract for their own contest, well, I didn't avoid the query-go-round for nothing!

*close window, forget about ABNAC 95%, fast forward to today*

Oh, Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.  I remember this.  The one with Penguin that was actually not a very good deal at all.  Well, maybe they've changed something, let's have a looksee...

Well, I see the $5,000 paid against royalties for the winner has been increased to $50,000.  That's pretty substantial.  And now there are also 4 "First Prize" winners that get paid $15,000 against royalties along with the printing of their book.  That's kind of nifty.  What else?

Oh, previously self-published books can be submitted, as long as they meet the 50-150k word requirement. So I'd be okay on "Shackled" but not so much on "Youth" which falls a little shy of the 50k minimum.  Anything else?

... Huh.

Amazon has taken control of their contest.  Now, if you win Amazon's contest, you get published... by Amazon.  Well that certainly sounds more appealing!  Hmm, but if you "win", you have to accept the contract "as-is" with no negotiations.  Now, I've heard contracts from Amazon are a-to-the-wesome, but I've never actually SEEN one.  Though, I suppose I could take the contract to a lawyer once it was offered. Let's do a little more digging...

Well, I'd have to give up worldwide rights.  And there would be no "end" on the contract, as far as this shows, so if they don't get me in the right places and it never sells, I don't have recourse to get that book back.  I have to be honest, I don't understand if "Interactive Editions" includes if the book is optioned for a movie, or is made into a movie.  Am I expected to give up revenue for that?  Is a movie an "interactive product"?  I'm not really finding anything to back it up with a yes or no.

Gross vs Net, people often don't understand this.  My book might make $400,000 gross.  But if Amazon says they spent $400,001 dollars in marketing/layout/overhead, that is subtracted from the gross to leave the net: -$1.  That would mean that after the initial advance royalties, I wouldn't see a single red cent.  I don't like Net Revenue.  I think without defining exactly what CAN come out of Gross, you're leaving yourself open to a dangerous, expensive and vague loophole.  I always push for points (percentage of Gross, Ex: 5 points = 5% gross), because then no matter how much they spend, as long as money comes in, you get a part of it.  I am incredibly wary of this "net" business.  Especially when I don't understand what "interactive editions" could really identify.

But on the other hand, who am I?  I'm not a big name, I'm not well known and talked about with reverence.  I'm still a fledgling author, in the grand scheme of things.  $50,000... or even $15,000 in advance royalties and all the power of Amazon behind me?  Am I willing to essentially give up one book for that kick in the behind towards the door marked, "Success"?  How many books do I think I have in me?

More than one more?



Pffftt, one more book in me.  Who'm I kidding?  I have dozens, maybe hundreds, if I don't stop getting in my own way of writing them!  I can write a book for this contest!

Okay, you've nabbed me now, Amazon.  So I can just submit my novel anytime next year, right?

What do you mean, NO?

What do you mean you're only accepting the first 10,000 entries?

Starting January 14th?!?!  And you'll only accept them until you reach 10,000 or January 27th?!?

Hungry, hungry hippos, Batman!  I'd better get writing!  (And you should too!  Good luck everyone!)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Quick Update

Sorry I haven't been around all, it's been crazy hectic.  That's the holidays I guess, right?

So, what's on my plate.

As of today, I only reached 12.38% of my word count goal for 2012, of 500,000 words written.  Ehehehe, whoops.  Looking over my progress chart, it's easy to see the large swathes of days where I did no writing.  However, I did reach my mini-goal of completing a new novel for 2012, and that was "Youth".  And I didn't totally poop out, because I had another mini-goal of reaching double digit completion on my word goal - at least 10% - and I did manage to get to 12.38.

I'd like to try and reach the 15% milestone by the end of the year.  I will try.  And the year's not over, maybe I'll write 440,000 words before January 1st (Ha.  Ha.  Ha.).

Anyway, that's where I am, and hope you're all finding more success with your goals than I have!

P.S: It's December, so my Writer's of the Future entry should be judged soon.  NERVOUS!  Will let you know how that does!