About A. Elizabeth West

Writer, publisher, nerd of many persuasions

Why It’s So Hard to Create During a Lockdown

Creative people often work in solitude, and they need time to work. So why can’t I work?

You don’t have to be creative to relate, especially right now. Productivity waxes and wanes. At any given time, some or all of the following have been in play.

Stress from being unemployed

Long-term unemployment is not the same as a vacation or a sabbatical. Not having an income involves a lot of stressful emotions — worry about bills, despair that one will never work again, a sense of inadequacy at the lack of response to your efforts.

Before mine, which predated the pandemic, I lamented the lack of time in which to write. If only I could do it full time, I thought, I’d have so much more content out there.

Now, the time I have to write is filled with job applications, scouring pages of listings, seeking just the turns of phrase to make a potential employer realize that failing in a job no longer suitable for me did not make me a failure. That being unemployed did not make me unemployable.

advice on writing a cover letter--briefly inhabit the persona of a high elf who thinks they are hot shit and cannot imagine why any of their experience would be less than impressive
This is GREAT advice, tbh.

Too much unstructured time

At first, productivity remained untouched. I restructured one novel and wrote another. I published a short story collection. I started making a conlang. I dipped back into my blog.

But I soon discovered that limits on my creativity actually hone my concentration. If I had an hour to write, say at lunch, my brain knew it had to make the best use of that hour. Too much time can be as bad as not enough. In short, I’ve become so used to working around other things that when I have no things to work around, it’s harder to work.

Professional artists treat their art as a job, with dedication, discipline, and determination. After all, talent means nothing if you do nothing. Schedules are important. Having little to do all day can really mess with your sense of time.

Venn diagram - one circle is time, one is writing, and at their intersection, it says  eating all the things

Lack of privacy

As if that weren’t bad enough, we’re now tentatively emerging (too early, IMO) from a nationwide lockdown due to the novel coronavirus, perhaps the first of many. Countless workers have lost their jobs. Others are able to telecommute but find their productivity lacking. To buckle down when other members of the household demand your attention or ignore the presence of another person toiling in close proximity requires mental effort most people aren’t used to.

I can relate to this; in my own house, I was alone. Now I’m in someone else’s space. Their constant footfalls, muffled phone conversations, and occasional forays into the space they carved out for me are distracting as hell.

Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd as portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter, leaning over a table and looking up
And we don’t even have a barber shop in here to generate a little extra inventory—I mean, income.

Physical discomfort

Basements tend toward chilly no matter the weather outside. My hands are constantly stiff, the fingers icy. The drugstore hand/wrist supports I use when typing for long stretches of time don’t help. Thanks to the virus, any other working space, such as a library or coffee shop (noisy and distracting themselves) are off-limits.

Also, it’s dark in here. A bright space tends to feel warmer, the sunlight pouring in and warming not only the room but the mind. Windows or not, it seems perpetually dreary compared to my old city.

The cure will undoubtedly involve more exercise when parks feel safe again. It’s very unpleasant to walk in the neighborhood, plus it keeps raining. If nothing else, I can get on the floor and stretch.

orange and white cat lying upside down on a stone patio stretching its front legs, mouth wide open in a yawn
Perhaps not as cutely as this, but the facial expression will be the same.

Image by s02cf8 from Pixabay

Mental discomfort

I don’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be in my old city either, but I especially don’t want to be here.

If I’d found a job that was (heavy air quotes) “good enough,” I might have stayed a bit longer. (I definitely would have if I’d known the ‘rona was coming.) I had friends, a spiritual group of like-minded practitioners, personal service providers I respected and liked, and a sense of community even as I despised the limitations of that community:

  • Depreciating job market — low pay, little growth, few means to escape
  • Cultural isolation — lack of diversity, a dearth of entertainment options
  • Bigoted politics and an evangelical religious majority (the less said about this, the better)
gif of Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars saying "It's a trap!"
The Admiral said it best.

I want to leave the state entirely. The weather can be extreme and often violent. The economy here is depressed thanks to years of conservative rule. Salaries are below average.

It’s no wonder writing is tough right now.

What’s a writer to do? One thing that can really help is to pivot your creativity. Exercise that muscle, but in a different way.

Make something. I did make a wicked new book trailer for Tunerville, however. Huge thanks to my friend John Hutch for the excellent voiceover. He did a fantastic job (and yes, I did pay him). That took a whole different set of skills.

I’ve also been making masks for the family from an Instructable. I’m getting good at them; I can whack one out in an hour. Sewing sucks, but now that it’s mostly an automatic process, I can let my mind wander while I stitch.

Try a different kind of writing. I’m taking a screenplay class. I’m writing a screenplay! I have software! The same kind Rian Johnson uses!

Read something. Not only does reading rest your mind, but it can inspire you, especially if you’re stuck. Or watch a movie. Pay attention to the storytelling, or just relax.

By the way, writing a screenplay is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from writing a novel. It deserves its own post. I really wish I had my own space; I like to exercise my dialogue out loud (even for prose), and I can’t comfortably do that here.

Regardless, it’s not time to give up yet. I will find a job, have a place of my own again, and Book 2 will come out. I’m not giving up.

Aileen Quinn as the title character in the musical Annie, singing "The Sun'll Come Out Tomorrow"

Shut the f**k up, kid. I’m workin’ here!

Check out the new book trailer here.


‘Rona Is a Huge Bitch

QUARANTINE SPECIAL!

Through April 30, “The Shiny Folk and other stories” is absolutely FREE! You can download it here.


Hello, all you lovely fellow quarantiners. My golly gosh, we’re in a little bit of a jam, aren’t we? Well, let’s just make the best of thin—

Nah, this sucks.

At least there are tons of memes coming out of this. The internet does not disappoint.

As you know, I’ve been job hunting, but thanks to that bitch ‘Rona, everything’s on hold. There are jobs listed, but larger companies have posts that have been up for at least a month. I figure they’re in a hiring freeze right now. One employer for whom I did a pre-employment assessment contacted me three weeks ago and said they decided to delay hiring. They’re not the only ones, I’m sure.

The rest are roles like scientist, electrical engineer, supply chain manager with ten years’ experience, that sort of thing. I keep looking and applying. The governor just extended this state’s stay-at-home order to May 3. I was really hoping to be employed and in my own place before my birthday at the end of May. Then I can stock up properly for the next emergency.

All I want is my fair share.

Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

I’ve been trying to stay productive even though I’m not working. So I’ve done the following:

  • Made a new book trailer for Tunerville, as the first one was super dumb
  • Hired a voiceover actor for the trailer
  • Started a screenwriting class on Coursera (meh)
  • Wrote a treatment for said screenplay
  • About to dive into the restructure of Book 2
  • Planning a serial fiction project; not sure how or when that will come out

We shall see. I’m very lucky I have a place to stay, although I really want to get out of here.

Personally, I’ve been staying home and bingewatching Dark Shadows on Hulu. I hope they don’t ditch it; I’m almost caught up to where I left off when it vanished from Netflix. I’m also having a lot of fun with screenshots.

Barnabas, you done screwed up.

And Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’d forgotten how funny this show is, and how heartbreaking.

I’m off for TV time now. Stay safe, follow social distancing rules, and don’t forget to take time for self-care. And don’t forget to wash your hands!

Diversity in Tunerville and I Promise to Finish the Series, Y’all

Yep, I wrote a sequel. Yep, that’s the one I finished in December 2018. Yep, there will be one more.

Last year, I got into a discussion with some people who were reluctant to buy into book series because they’d previously been burned when a writer bailed and didn’t finish. I understand how frustrating it is to get invested in something that disappears (Firefly, anyone?), but traditional publishers will ditch a series if the first book doesn’t sell.

Since this is my enterprise, I’m free to plunge ahead regardless. I don’t know if anyone beyond my blog or my friends will read my current work. Even if that list is small, everyone on it deserves the best and most complete story I can give them.

With that in mind, I formally declare my intention to FINISH THE DAMN SERIES.

yelling cat sitting on a tiny polka dot sofa

Whether you want it or not!

Image by Deutsch / pixabay.com

Now that Tunerville is out and you may have read it already, I want to talk a little bit about the characters in the context of diversity. If you have not read the book yet and would rather not know anything, you might want to bail on this post now.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can get Tunerville (and my story collection, The Shiny Folk) here. I’m not sure that Amazon is shipping physical books currently; due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re focusing on supplies. Paperbacks might have to wait. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can get a free app here. It works on everything.

Consensus seems to be, rightfully, that lived experiences are best and most authentically portrayed by those who have lived them. The controversy around Jeanine Cummins’ recent novel American Dirt is a case in point. The linked article contains a quote from actress Eva Longoria, who points out:

“There’s a bidding war over this book, which means all the publishers wanted this book. And they wanted some sort of way in to a different community. The problem with that is that the publishing industry is 80% white, from agents to editors and publicists.”

I don’t think it’s impossible for a white, cisgender, straight author to write about a culture or identity to which they don’t belong. However, because the majority of white, cisgender, straight authors are divorced from anything other than our own experience (and this is by design in a white supremacist society), if we choose to, it falls on us to approach it carefully.

The LGBTQ characters and those of color in Tunerville function in the book’s close orbits admittedly without much friction. The Crew is inclusive; they coalesce around their shared interest in ghost hunting. Gabriel, who is black, is the one who started the Ghost Crew. His wife Ann-Marie is a law student. Josh’s new boyfriend Trevor is welcomed, his extreme disengagement the only eyebrow-raiser.

While Chris’s impulse to help ghosts is laudable, it takes him a while to grasp the real meaning of the saying “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” The media attention around Chris drives Josh to remove himself from the Ghost Crew for his and Trevor’s safety. In a stinging diatribe, he serves Chris a blunt reminder of the latter’s selfishness — and his privilege:

“[…] just because you don’t hassle people for being who they are doesn’t mean everybody is so enlightened. You don’t have a clue. You can walk down the street holding somebody’s hand and nobody throws a beer bottle at you.”

An invisible hand clamped over Chris’s mouth. Neither Josh nor his last boyfriend, the other victim of that attack, had wanted to report it, lest they invite more harassment or scrutiny.

“Nobody objects to where you live,” Josh continued. “Nobody leaves nasty notes on your car. Nobody tells you, ‘You better keep away from my kids if you move in here.’” He choked on the last word. “You got what you wanted. I’m trying to have what I want. And I will not lose this relationship because of you.”

Chris faces a public shaming directly after this conversation. It’s a hard lesson for him. The tuner is a great leveler — a reminder that everybody dies. But the questions it raises bring out the tendency of people to judge and categorize. The ghosts of all demographics find themselves reduced to a novelty, their humanity the subject of endless debate.

The viewpoint in Tunerville remains grounded in that of the white, straight characters — Chris, Hannah, and Hector, with a brief sojourn into Dean’s head. Of these, only Dean could be considered marginalized; as an incorporated ghost, he’s well aware of the prejudice the newly resurrected face. He’s not only out of place but out of time.

I think she can understand that.

I wanted to make a point there about Chris’s self-indulgence beyond the longing that drove him to invent the tuner in the first place. He’s a creature of privilege whose ability to indulge his own desires without question has never been challenged. When it is, he bristles, but since he’s good at heart, I let him embrace the opportunity to widen his view, which is what we all should be doing.

ESPECIALLY RIGHT NOW. Viruses have no nationality, y’all.

As a cishet white woman (who isn’t a ghost — yet), discrimination is not likely to affect me. Nobody is profiling me or trying to deport me. My only experience of marginalization is being female in a male-centric world and dyscalculic in a math-centered one. I don’t face death and abuse every time I walk out the door.

I couldn’t leave out people who aren’t like me entirely, because they exist, in my world and in Chris’s. When I wrote this book, I knew less than I do now, and I know less today than I will tomorrow. Every day is a chance to learn.

For now, staying in my lane felt like the safe choice and the most respectful one. I’d rather hear those stories from the people who lived them.

Book 2 will feature more Hannah. And lest you think I fridged Josh, he will return. I have plans for him.

At some point, I’ll have a job again and when I do, perhaps I’ll have enough money to do a Goodreads giveaway. They charge for that and it’s not cheap.

In the meantime, listen to the Toilet Paper Knight — stay home and stay safe!!

He’s not the hero we deserve, but he’s the one we need right now.

What I’ve Learned (So Far) from Self-Publishing My Book

If you follow this blog, you probably know by now that I said “F*ck it,” and put Tunerville up on Amazon (see Buy Me! page). Someone posted a review already, and it was a good one. Thanks, mysterious internet reader!

I’ve learned a few things and probably have a lot more to learn. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

How to do various things in GIMP

GIMP is the freeware version of Adobe Photoshop. It probably has a different interface — I don’t know, since I can’t afford to even kiss the hem of Adobe’s garments. But the concepts of image manipulation are the same.

Someday I hope to approach the magnificence that is this guy.

I found a wonderful image free for commercial use that really seemed to capture the book. I googled a zillion ways to make the lettering look good, and armed with a picture and some knowledge, I designed both an ebook and paperback cover.

The latter was a complete nightmare.

First, I had to figure out how to wrap the picture around the spine. When I thought I had it down, I made my cover, but I used the wrong template for the number of pages. The Amazon publishing platform rejected it twice before I figured that out. Yes, I had to start all over again. More than once.

But it turned out pretty good!

This is a proof copy. The inside still needed a bit of work.
The back.

And the spine. Ignore my hipster headphones in the background.

I was pretty impressed with the quality of the paper, too. It’s print-on-demand, so if you order a copy, they crank one out and send it to you. This means I do not have to ship them out of my mum’s garage.

When you do this, you have to do EVERYTHING by yourself

Although I ran the cover design by someone, I made it all alone. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing walks you through almost everything, but it can’t answer all questions. They have customer service. I called them once and they called me back. But my phone died temporarily, and I missed the call. Fortunately, I figured out the issue by myself.

Making the inside look good also took work. You can find folks on Fiverr and other e-lance platforms who will help you, but I didn’t have any money for that. I used their guidelines and a template and lots of advice from Derek Murphy at Creativeindie. Thanks, Derek!

Despite it being mostly free, to do it right still cost me money

Sure, I could have just published an ebook for nothing on Amazon and raked in my tiny royalties. But I wanted to do a paperback, since the more formats you have, the more readers you can reach. To do that, I had to get an ISBN, or International Standard Book Number.

If you don’t know what that is, it’s the identifier distributors, booksellers, libraries, etc. use to identify and find your book. Kindle Direct Publishing doesn’t require one for ebooks, but you need one for a physical book, even print-on-demand. While Amazon will give you one for free, it’s limited. You can only use that ISBN on their platform.

Bowker has a monopoly on ISBNs and is the only place you can get them in the U.S. No, it’s not super cheap. If you buy one, it’s $125. If you buy ten, it’s $295. The more you buy, the cheaper the unit price for each number. As you can imagine, publishers get them in bulk.

I bought ten so I could use one for the ebook and one for the paperback. This means the numbers belong to me, not Amazon, forever. And I have eight more for future editions or anything else I want to crank out. They never expire, but I cannot reuse any of them.

Of course, this cost money that I couldn’t really spare. Here’s hoping I can make it back in sales.

Speaking of sales…

I don’t know jack about marketing

I made a dumb AF book trailer (seriously, it’s hilariously stupid) and a friend who has a Roku channel that plays old horror B-movies and other assorted weird stuff offered to play it. He said they have 20,000 viewers. Hey, one of them might buy it. You never know.

Here’s the trailer. Someday I’m going to look back on this and cringe. Probably tomorrow.

Besides trailers, you have to talk up your book on social media. You have to make an author page at Goodreads (I did). You have to solicit reviews, because if you don’t have any, Amazon will think you suck and yank you. That’s the part that freaks me out a little, approaching people I don’t know and asking them to read my crap.

Someone posted a 4-star review at Amazon and I was elated (thank you!). Before that, the poor thing was alone, naked, and afraid.

Kind of ironic for a book about ghosts.

If you don’t have a website or a blog or any kind of following, it’s going to be a lot harder to sell books. I advise writers, even traditionally published ones, to get on the damn internet and create a social media presence. It’s important not only to post but to engage with followers. Follow people back (check them out first, obviously), like and retweet/share, connect with industry folks.

This isn’t what I wanted, but it’s what I needed

I wrote the sequel to this book a year ago. But since then, I’ve been stuck. Part of that had to do with the endless, agonizing job hunt and the major decision to sell out and move. I didn’t want to do it with Amazon, either, but using my own ISBNs gives me a little more flexibility.

I’ve spent so much time getting this to the book I wanted it to be, but I found myself re-editing after writing the sequel. Now the story is fixed and I can move on and quit mucking with it. Plus, since things are awful right now, it gave me a much-needed boost of self-esteem. I DID something, y’all.

If you’re thinking about publishing a book this way, I would definitely do the following:

1. Read as much as you can about it. I’ll share some links that helped me.

2. Let go of your expectations. You’re very unlikely to get famous this way. If you’re entrepreneurial, you might make a little money.

3. Make sure you have a great product. Don’t just slap your trunk novel up. Choose your best work.

4. Do not let a book out into the wild without getting another person, preferably a professional editor, to look it over. You’re competing with professionally produced books.

5. If you can afford it, hire a cover designer. It was a no-go for me, unfortunately. I just did the best I could.

Would I have preferred traditional publishing? Yes. Am I still going after it? Of course, with something else. But I did it, and you can read it now, and that’s the most important thing.

Links:

How to Get an ISBN: An Author’s Guide For All Things ISBN

Writing Your Book’s Back-Cover Copy

Sarra Cannon’s Self-Pub Guides

What’s Your Book Marketing Plan? 6 Crucial Steps to Include

And if you’re committed to looking for a small press rather than going it alone, Writer Beware has your back.

Victoria Strauss — Precautions for Small Press Authors

TUNERVILLE IS OUT!

Happy New Year!

So I did a thing. I put Tunerville on Amazon.

I’ve blathered on about how I didn’t want to self-publish. I had good, sound reasons. But you know, I couldn’t stop thinking about this book. It was like being in love.

Much like my real relationships, it just sat there, giving nothing back.

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

I’m a fan of the podcast WRITERS/BLOCKBUSTERS (Thunder Grunt). The three screenwriter hosts analyze movies from a screenwriting angle. On the Doctor Sleep episode, they were talking about the filmmaker, who started with very little and had made short films, as most do. This led to a discussion of how the only real way a screenwriter knows a script is truly filmable is to film it. Make it and put it out there, they said.

This got me to thinking about my book, which got close but didn’t quite make the hurdle to traditional publishing. The best small presses that take unagented submissions in my genre are closed to them currently. Perpetually, it seems; I keep checking in vain for open calls.

While listening to the podcast, I thought, Why not? Why not just say ‘f*ck it,’ and put it out there?

I should listen to the Doctor.

I wrote Book 2, and I’d like to close out the trilogy with Book 3, even if my readership at this point is very small. I want to finish The Catalyst. I’m tired of waiting and I would like to move on from this relationship.

The odds of getting noticed this way — for novelists, anyway — are practically zero. But that’s not necessarily the goal — maybe just doing it so it can be read is enough. I worked damn hard on restructuring it, and it’s finally as close to the book I hoped it would be as I can currently get. It might not be the breakout but that’s okay as long as someone besides me likes it. And let’s face it; right now, even Baby Yoda-sized revenue is better than nothing.

You didn’t actually think you could escape him here, did you?

Image: Disney/Forbes please don’t sue me lol

Off-topic, but you should go get Disney+ and watch The Mandalorian. Seriously, it rocks. The channel is worth it just for the access to Disney’s entire back catalog, plus Star Wars, MCU, and Pixar. No, I am not a shill; I just think it’s awesome.

You can get Tunerville on Amazon as an ebook (MOBI). The paperback is pending — there is no way I’m publishing it before I look at the proof. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can get the free app from Amazon and read it on your device.

Click on the cover below or visit the Buy Me! page or sidebar for a link.

Yeah, I made this. :)

NaNoWriMo 2019: Going Dark

This isn’t working, folks. Not the book, but blogging the process. I keep thinking about what I’m going to say here rather than there. I’ve barely begun and already it’s tanking my concentration.

The story is a bit more complicated, and it’s a new genre for me. So for now, I think I need to go dark on blogging about it. That does NOT mean I won’t pop in here to let you know how it’s going, or if I wrestle a writing-related bear and want to discuss it. Or if anything else happens.

It’s been a few days now since the big move. I feel much better than before. The brain fog was real, and the extra pressure of word counts did not help at all. I didn’t just move; I upheaved my entire life.

I don’t know if doing this will be very very good, or very very bad, but it had to be done. Trying something new is scary.

Kinda feels like this, with no net.

Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay

So NaNoWriMo 2019 is done, and I’m just gonna write. See ya later.

NaNoWriMo 2019 Day 5: Crash and Burn

Y’all, I just feel terrible.

I know it’s from a commercial moving site, but this post describes exactly how I feel right now. Everything hurts. Everything. And I didn’t do the actual moving work.

Worst of all, I will have to do this all over again when I find a job and a place. I just can’t even think that far ahead right now. Selling the house put so much extra stress on me that I suspect it made things worse. Or maybe it’s because I’m not a kid anymore.

My mom and I went out to run errands today, and she was trying to show me where stuff was. Nothing she said made any sense. It’s doubtful I’ll be able to remember it without googling a map.

Hmm, I thought she said turn left but I don’t think this is quite right . . .

Anyway, I’ve been slowly getting back into the story mindset I had before the move, when I wrote the outline. There is no way I will make the NaNoWriMo 50K goal, but I might be able to finish the book by January.

I AM NOT GOING TO QUIT.

NaNoWriMo 2019 Day 4: Move Complete

First, let me say that the move went pretty smoothly. Dad engaged a couple of Mennonite dudes and they showed up at 7:00 am this morning with a trailer, loaded all my stuff, drove for three hours, and then dropped it off in two different places. Thanks, guys. Thanks, Dad.

I would post a pic of him but he would kill me, so please enjoy this picture of my former neighbor’s cat. His name is Charlie.

Photo by Elizabeth West

Second, I am totally dead. In order to be ready, I had to get up at stupid o’clock after not sleeping very well. It’s going to be a really long day for the Mennonite dudes; they probably aren’t even home yet and they started earlier than I did.

Third, there will be no NaNoWriMo’ing today; I am so tired I can barely type.

Fourth, I was not selected for Pitch Wars, so I guess that’s it for Tunerville currently. I have feelings about that; I spent so long with it, but I’m too tired to unpack them right now. At least now I can concentrate on the new book.

For the time being, I’m literally the nerd in her mother’s basement until I find a job in the nearby bigger city or somewhere else. Thankfully, I’m in my own comfy bed.

Sorta like this, only with no sunlight.

Image by LUM3N from Pixabay

I’m not going to miss Old City, but I will miss people, and I guess I’ll miss my house. It was kind of annoying, but it was home for quite a while. I cried a little about leaving it. But someone new will live there now, and he’ll probably fix it up. It needs someone to love it and improve it. I needed a new start, and a bigger job market.

So I’ll be back tomorrow, hopefully with a word count.

NaNoWriMo 2019: Day 3 of the OMG I am Dead

Today’s word count: 0.

Spent all day packing and cleaning. Am too tired to breathe. Every part of my body hurts. My hair hurts.

This will never stop being cute.

Tomorrow, very early, I move. I’m not doing most of the work, so hopefully by the time I drive 200 miles, unpack some stuff, and rest a little, I’ll be able to crank out some pages. I’ve got a long drive to think about it.

This is my last night in this house. Though I won’t miss this city, I think I’ll miss the house a little. It was super annoying a lot of the time, but it was home for quite a while. 

If I could have made a life here, I might have stayed, but there was just no way. Obviously, I don’t belong here. Well, if I get everything I ever wanted, I’m not going to complain!

Come on, universe! I’m ready!

NaNoWriMo 2019 Day 2: Slow Going

I think I wrote about 149 words today; I don’t think the next two days are going to be very productive.

I tried thinking about my story while packing, but then I ended up thinking about packing, sorting, and why I can’t seem to get rid of 87,000 t-shirts. Balls!

This song has been stuck in my head all day. You’re welcome. :)