A novel maturity

Three things happened this week that made me realize I’ve managed to scale to a new perch as an author:

1) I was asked a question on Goodreads, by a Maryland reader who’s reading my novel for her book club. If you don’t know Goodreads, it’s a social network site for readers. That a reader would ask me a question there means she thought to look for me on the site, a mark of parity with traditionally-pubbed authors.
2) My e-book was requested in a format besides Kindle, again for a book club, this one in North Carolina
3) I got my first one-star reader review on Amazon. “Absolutely dreadful,” the reader opined. (In Amazon’s system, one star is the worst, five stars the best.)

No, I’m not so thrilled to claim the third one. But if it happens along with the other two — my book bobbing up on book club reading lists far from home, readers requesting it for their Nooks and Kobos as well as Kindles, I’ll take the trade-off. It signals a kind of of novel maturity. Sparrow Migrations will mark 18 months of publication next month. If it were a toddler, it would be walking, exploring, pushing boundaries, and that’s exactly what all three questions indicate.

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Book club season seem to be swinging into high gear. I have three discussions on my calendar between now and December, and two for after New Year’s. If you’re long-distance, I’m happy to attend by Skype, just use the contact page to reach me. Here are the discussion questions I share with the Maryland reader who sought me on Goodreads to ask the best questions for discussion generation. WARNING – spoilers, and mature audiences only.

  • Do you agree with Deborah’s decision not to have genetic testing before getting pregnant? Why or why not?
  • Do you think Christopher’s reaction is justified? Why or why not?
  • What do you think about the portrayal of female characters, vs. male?
  • Despite significant strains, both of the heterosexual relationships in Sparrow Migrations are resolved, while the lesbian relationship is not. Why do you think that is the case? What do you think about that as a reader?
  • Did the novel change any perceptions you held about autism? How so? Why do you think Robby is an only child?
  • Does the likelihood/risk of special needs factor into whether you would have children, as it does for Christopher?
  • What do you think about the depiction of Christianity in the novel? Which character better upheld Christian ideals, Richard or Brett? Why?
  • What meaning do you derive from the title?

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Just one month to go until NaNoWriMo! WriMos in my community have finally gotten official with our own region. Throughout October and November there’s Camp WriMo plus workshops and write-ins galore, including one Oct. 21 offered by yours truly at the Traverse Area District Library. Check it all out here, and then start your countdown to Nov. 1.

 - The letter T brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.




Dear Monday: How do I love thee? Three ways (& counting)

Hello, my name is Cari, and I love Mondays. (Soliloquy, from podium.)

i, Cari! (Imagined group response, in unison.)

Based on prevailing attitudes, my imaginary Monday lovers support group probably will stay there, well out of the realm of reality.* Monday malaise varies with employment status and/or satisfaction, age and weather or season (even I concede a rainy November Monday is easier to greet than a sunny July one) but any way you filter it, Monday remains the unwelcome uncle at the wedding reception. Ask a co-worker about their weekend, and whatever they did, a common refrain is that it was too short. Morning radio hosts and e-card creators bash poor Monday relentlessly. And of course there’s the Bangles song.

Monday’s bad rap stems from the fact that it’s synonymous with the return of humdrum routine and the

Repeat weekly.

Repeat weekly.

end of the uncommitted (which allegedly translates as exciting) weekend. I’ve written before how soothing routine is to my autistic son, and thus how valuable it is to me as his mother. But more and more I see how I benefit from a steady rudder to my week as well, and that starts with Monday.

Routines free up creative head space. Conventional wisdom holds that routines are stultifying. I couldn’t disagree more. It’s when the mundane matters of life get put on autopilot that ideas find room to roam in my head. For example, our standing Monday dinner is spaghetti, garlic bread and salad. I forget how it got started, but it’s one of two meals that all four of us like, and it is so freeing. Instead of thinking about what to make, whether we have the ingredients, and whether someone’s going to complain, I can let that mental time and energy go to mulling over a scene in my novel, a project at work, a friend who needs an ear.

Lap swimming. I try to go Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and I’m most consistent on Monday mornings, before my calendar gets crowded tending to obligations often imposed by others. Physically, swimming is the best relief I’ve found for chronic shoulder/neck pain. It’s also a rare opportunity for me to achieve solitude. Sliding into the pool, easing into the mindless routine of back and forth, shallow to deep, back and forth, shallow to deep, back and forth, shallow to deep…(oh, sorry. I’m actually writing this on a Sunday and got prematurely lulled into the rhythm.) With my body preoccupied, my mind again finds the freedom it needs to work through problems that seemed knotty on dry land.

Multi-faceted me. On the weekends I find I am mostly a mother. On Mondays and other weekdays I am a mother, a professional colleague, a novelist and a lap swimmer. Both my book club and my writing critique group meet on weeknights and I usually have one other girls’ night per month on a weeknight. Companionship with the wonderful, talented female friends I see on these evenings is crucial to my mental well-being.

What do you think? Ready to look at Monday anew? If not, don’t worry. It’ll be back next week.

* Googling for an image to accompany this post, “I love Mondays” yielded 14 million hits, while “I hate Mondays” only 1.3 million. Hmmm. Maybe the support group isn’t such a fantasy.

- The letter H brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.







Rolling with ‘role model’

Last week I was featured in a Huffington Post blog post about self-publishing literary fiction. It was exciting watching the likes and positive comments pile up through social media. A few called me a “role model” for other writers.

That makes me a little nervous. Every writer’s choices along the path to publication will and should be different, according to his or her goals, talents, and plain old luck. Everyone’s mileage will vary along that path, too. I like to share my experiences in the hope others will learn from it. (That lesson could very well be to steer clear of my path.) Just so someone learns.

But I do feel like a role model in another sense, one that didn’t make it into the HuffPo piece. Back in April I visited a new-to-me independent bookstore and inquired whether they would consider carrying my novel in their Michigan authors section.

“Who’s the publisher?” I was asked.

“Me,” I answered.

I was told, very politely, that they didn’t stock self-published titles.

I’d heard of such across-the-board policies before, but in a year of marketing Sparrow Migrations it was the first time I’d been told directly. I won’t lie, it hurt to be dismissed outright, especially based on an assumption I believe is outdated and overly general. (And a shout-out to the half-dozen indies who eschew that assumption and stock Sparrow.)

But I respected it. Rightfully or wrongfully founded, it was their decision to make. I browsed the cozy store a bit longer. At the cash register, I bought two books and chatted easily with the same person who told me no. I walked out with my head held high.

Last month I was in another new community with an indie bookstore: Snowbound Books in Marquette, Mich.. This time I did have a foot in the door. I’d been invited

Sparrow's northernmost outpost

Sparrow’s northernmost outpost, Marquette, Mich.

to do a presentation at the library across the street. Still, my ego was a bit raw. Mustering up my courage, I went in to Snowbound Books and asked.

This time, I got an assent. Less than two weeks later, I had a check and an order for more books.

So If I’m a role model, I hope it’s mostly for this: For believing in my writing enough to take the risk to ask, and for persevering when told no. It amounts to a literary interpretation of the Serenity Prayer, which hangs on my office wall.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. (Which might be that the first draft, or even the nth draft, isn’t ready to publish.)
The courage to change the things I can. (You can take the time to revise it and make it better.)
And the wisdom to distinguish one from the other. (It’s really hard to be objective enough to be wise about your own work. That’s where editors, beta readers and critique groups come in.)

Fellow authors and aspirants, I wish you serenity, courage and wisdom.

- The letter L brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.