Strength of Character

I spent a recent evening chatting with a group of writers about the public’s desire for strong female characters. The simpering, helpless, man-dependent archetype of the past is no longer the paragon it used to be. If any of our female protagonists swoon into the arms of their brawny rescuers, they better be seriously ill or recently wounded in battle. Encountering a spider no longer qualifies as trauma.

Then our conversation took an interesting turn. Someone shared an opinion that the presence of kindness and compassion in a female protagonist might make her appear “weak.” The unspoken implication was that a female character is “strong” when she is more like the stereotypical caricature of a man – as emotionally sensitive as a block of wood.

Yes, I’m talking stereotypes here and the wind blows both ways. Some believe that gentleness “weakens” a man as much as the lack of it “strengthens” a woman. It’s an antiquated mindset that persists on many levels and is slow to evolve.

Pixabay image

Of course, the souls who populate our books must be true to their natures. Both male and female characters (like the rest of humanity) fit into a broad spectrum when it comes to emotional intelligence. Expression can be passionate, volatile, ambivalent, or completely shut down. On top of that, consider that feelings are fluid and slide all over the place along the love-fear continuum.

Emotional texture is one element that puzzles together a character, no different than physical appearance, skills, aptitudes, and social competencies. An emotional undercurrent is one way to enhance complexity, but it’s not necessarily indicative of a character’s strength.

peopledothowstuffworkscom

Mother Theresa, Time.com

I’d argue that what makes characters “strong,” regardless of gender, is their determination to act upon the world rather than react to it. Kind and compassionate people fall as easily into this definition as ruthless overlords and heroic champions. Strength is demonstrated by conviction, how actively they pursue their goals, overcome their flaws, and engage both the internal and external obstacles that block their paths.

Happy Writing

One of Those Dopey Days

Some days my own dopiness astounds me. Today was one of those days.

 

D. Wallace Peach

D. Wallace Peach

I had a day of writing planned…no interruptions…no other duties…a Saturday of pure 100% BLISS.

However, I decided to clean up my wordpress media library which was overloaded with images.

Never having done this before, I looked up instructions on the handy internet. Easy enough. Go here, click there, wave the magic cursor over the images and select “Delete Permanently.”

“Well,” I said to my myself, “most of these images I’ll never use again. I might as well just delete them.”

Ta Da! That felt good. 50 images gone…breathing easy. I’m getting really good at this!

Then I open my website. My background is GONE. The images for all my posts are GONE. A little lightbulb blinks on in my head. Crap!

Guess what I did all day…

Donating Royalties to Charity

Five Elements CoverAt least once a year, my writers group slips into a period of enthusiastic over-exertion. In 2014, our creative mania took a fresh turn. We decided to write short stories built around five randomly selected elements: a ghost, an alien, a spaceship, a conflict with a boss, and a fireplace poker.

Despite the unifying elements, the result was seven entirely unique tales. After months of rewrites, we chose to publish the Five Elements Anthology and donate all royalties to charity.

BooksForKids2Choosing the charity took a whopping thirty seconds. We selected Books for Kids, a Willamette Writers’ literacy program here in Oregon. Far more complicated was figuring out how to make the donations. I discovered early on that there’s no definitive source for information or guidance on this topic.

I can guarantee that I’m no expert on this, so the information below should not be taken as gospel. My intent is simply to share what I learned. More accurate and/or detailed information is welcome!

That said, here goes:

1. Amazon has rules about mentioning a charity on the cover or in the blurb. The best Amazon link I found on rules is here. For our book, we elected to avoid the rigmarole and placed information regarding our donation in the Author’s Note. We included the sponsoring organization’s logo and link, and the name of the charity with its logo and mission.

2. Several sources recommended the obvious: Obtain written permission from the organization to use the name of the charity, and its logos and links. We did this all through email. Once we had conceptual approval, we submitted the final Author’s Note for a second written approval.

I will add here that Willamette Writers expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for our effort. It probably helped that the organization is writer-focused, and one of our authors is a member. We sent one sample story their way, but don’t be surprised if an organization wants to read the whole book before approving the use of their name.

3. We were not able to find any way for royalties to be paid directly to the charity without the charity itself taking on the role as “publisher.” My research suggested that charities, in general, are resistant to assuming this role for fear that it may in some way conflict with their tax-exempt status. They may also be unwilling to take on the additional accounting requirements. Though subjective, the consensus on this topic seemed clear, and we chose not to investigate this as an option.

4. The IRS wants its share, of course. Though we have six authors, one of us had to take official ownership as the “publisher/author.” He will receive royalty checks by mail and simply sign them over to the charity. He agreed to absorb any taxes a well as any benefits from the donation, unless of course our little anthology sells tens of thousands of copies. That would be a nice problem to have, and would likely require some adjustment to our arrangement.

I won’t belabor this point, but f you are engaging in this adventure with other authors, such as we did with the anthology, use caution and be certain to work out the financial arrangements in advance.

5. Finally, what did we gain from this? We received free publicity in the Willamette Writer’s newsletter when the book when live. We’ll get a little promotion when we hand over the big, fat check (yep). In addition, we hope that if readers enjoy our stories, they’ll link to our other books. And finally, we feel great about supporting our community of future readers!

Hope this was helpful.

If you are so inclined, you may order your $.99 copy here: Five Elements Anthology

 

 

 

 

 

 

Write and Change the World

JeffersonMost of us have days filled with small acts of kindness. We smile, kiss hurt elbows, throw tennis balls for our dogs. We pay for a coworker’s coffee and leave a big tip. We call a friend in need, chauffeur teenagers, cook a favorite meal, or pick up ice cream on the way home. These small invisible acts often go unacknowledged, but they travel around in overlapping circles, keep our lives balanced and relationships healthy. We see the results in strengthened bonds, deeper commitment, and abiding love.

87230b4a08df4def07bae73905d9319bBut what about those times when we don’t see the ripples? When we toss acts of kindness and compassion into a seemingly bottomless well of suffering and despair? When we perceive no reward for our efforts? When we don’t know if we’re making any lasting difference in our world at all? Some strangers we’ll meet face to face, but most we’ll never know. The poignant tales of their lives will play out in other neighborhoods, other cities, and other lands, unseen and unheard.

download (1)In our political landscape, acts of kindness and compassion are often labeled as weak, a waste of time and money, conciliatory, poor investments, and unpatriotic. In a culture that values money over lives, the manipulations are intense.

Yet, I would argue that when we ordinary folk commit small everyday deeds of kindness and compassion, the ripples are there even though invisible to our eyes and silent to our ears. Those random acts are cups of water that we pour down that deep, collective well. They blend and build, until over time, the bottomless well holds a limitless reservoir from which a garden grows. I have faith that no act of kindness or compassion is wasted, ever.

gandalf quoteI’m not really surprised that Gandalf sits up there with some of the greats when it comes to quotes regarding kindness. Does it matter that he’s a fictional character? Not really. Through Gandalf, Tolkien’s wisdom reached millions. Such is the power of the written word. Books can and do have the power to change the world…

 

Hybrid Publishing: An Experiment

2075040_screen-shot-2013-12-19-at-17-15-55-pngIn my school days, I was unimpressed by science. Now that I’m older and know a mere fraction of what I did as a teenager, I’ve changed my opinion. I’ve dusted off my white lab coat and decided to conduct a pseudo-scientific experiment in publishing. My analysis of results will be totally subjective, a fact I’m willing to guarantee.

After six books with a traditional publisher, I’ve decided to self-publish the next one. Am I the first to do this? Of course not. But I’ve always been one of those kids that learns by doing. Don’t tell me the ice is too thin, the cliff too high, the dive too deep, the shark too toothsome; let me discover those things for myself! It’s an impactful approach—I have the stitches and mended bones to prove it.

So, why the switch, Diana? There are two reasons:

One is timing. In my totally unqualified opinion, it takes a loooong time for books to cycle through the traditional process. I’m in no way attempting to minimize or disparage the role traditional publishers play. I understand that producing a quality book is careful, painstaking work. Editors and publishers know their business and bring immeasurable value to the process and product. As a new writer, I depended heavily on their expertise and learned tons about the business. The editorial feedback made me a better writer. That’s a fact…in fact.

That said, traditional publishers have multiple clients—it’s not all about me! Can you believe it? Since my name isn’t George R.R. Martin, I’m still a publisher’s long shot. Yep, I’ll admit it. I have to respect priorities and get in the queue with everyone else. My publisher is currently working on my Dragon Soul Trilogy—a sequel to Myths of the Mirror—and honestly, I’m too impatient to slide a new book to the bottom of the pile for a 2016 release.

The second reason boils down to a desire to experiment with marketing. Even with traditional publishers, particularly small presses, marketing falls heavily on the author’s shoulders. This seems to be the norm these days, and whining about it hasn’t improved my sales one red penny. I’d like to experiment with discounts, pointed giveaways, and other pricing strategies that I currently have zero control over. My hope is that more aggressive sales of The Bone Wall (due out this month) will result in readers picking up my other books, which is good for me AND my publisher.

I suspect that I’ll ultimately end up doing a hybrid of traditional publishing and self-publishing. And my experiment is just starting. It may be wildly successful, a total bust, or make no difference at all. I’ll be sure to give everyone an update on results. I might even cobble together a chart!

The Bone Wall will be available this month, initially via Kindle…

Blue light ripples and crackles as the shield walls fracture. The remnants of a doomed civilization stand vigil outside, intent on plunder and slaves, desirous of untainted blood to strengthen their broken lives. With the poisons, came deformities and powers, enhanced senses and the ability to manipulate waves of energy—lightbenders and fire-wielders.

For those who thrived for generations within the walls, the broken world looms, strange and deadly, slowly dying. While the righteous pray for salvation, Rimma prepares for battle, fueled by rage and blinded by vengeance. Her twin, Angel, bound to her by unbreakable magic, seeks light in the darkness, hope in the future, and love in a broken world.

Confessions of a Clueless Blogger

Map of the Internet

Map of the Internet

I’ve been posting for 3 years now, and most of you savvy bloggers might assume I learned a thing or two about this art and craft during that time. The wretched truth is, until recently, I floundered in a quagmire of cluelessness. I blogged for the sake of blogging, because someone (my publisher, probably) advised me it was mandatory. Every month, I dragged myself away from my latest writing endeavor to spend a full day laboring over a few hundred words that maybe someone would read.

Now, you have to understand that back in the olden days we had typewriters…yep. Computers existed, of course. They hummed in the secretive cellars of IBM and flashed on Captain Kirk’s console. Don’t get me wrong, there was life before cell phones, microchips, and social media, but it wasn’t wired. Social, in my day, was trespassing at the reservoir with a bonfire and keg on Saturday night and hoping the police didn’t break up the party and send us home.

Once I graduated from keg parties, I toiled in business where keeping up with technology was routine. I spent my waking hours on spreadsheets and typing with all ten fingers. After that, a switch to mental health counseling, followed by a decision to write, began a rather rapid descent into technological fossilization. The social media thing, when it reared its monstrous head, felt overwhelming. It didn’t come with instructions. I was supposed to learn it by osmosis without a teenager’s eye-rolling guidance.

robert-leighton-caveman-looking-at-a-chart-of-the-evolution-of-man-that-is-labeled-you-a-new-yorker-cartoonThen this great thing happened.

Nicholas Rossis, awesome blogger and author from the far side of the planet, read one of my books and reached out through social media.

Huh. Tiny synapses flickered in my primordial brain as I pondered this curious event. You mean…social media is supposed to be social? Yeesh. Took me long enough to figure that out.

Rossis offered advice on blogging and writing, as well as other features that intrigued me. Determined to climb the evolutionary ladder, I started following his blog (http://nicholasrossis.me/). This was a giant leap forward. Up until this point, I didn’t know how to follow blogs without provoking cryptic computer-generated warnings riddled with exclamation points.

Well, I clicked the button and nothing crashed. I dodged the chilling meltdown anticipated by the technologically primitive, and propelled by this remarkable feat, I started poking around. I discovered blogs that shared invaluable information and was swept up in the sublime words of immensely gifted writers. Who knew?

It’s been several months since my mini blogging enlightenment, and I still find the left-brain advice on how to market through social media somewhat overwhelming. I read it and tuck it away for later, content to just be me and offer you a peek inside my writing and my head.

But, I follow lots of blogs now.

I read your stories, pour over your advice, share your trepidation, laugh aloud, and hoot for your victories. I “like” often and comment when something strikes a chord. Who wouldn’t marvel at the talent out there in the blogosphere and want to be part of the vast, supportive community of writers, artists, and readers? Little by little, I’m making those connections. I found an island of solid ground in that quagmire of cluelessness, and I’m leaving a few muddy footprints behind me…finally.

Happy New Year!

October (again)

Backyard1.dianapeach.jpgThis sapling grows out of an old concrete pipe in my backyard and every year it offers a glorious reminder of the revolving seasons. Living in a place where seasons mark the wilderness leaves me sensitive to the passage of time. I wonder if in climes where changes are more subtle, the inhabitants feel suspended, timeless, the days stretching onward without end.

I love blankets of blue, moonlit snow, the contrast of newly unfurled leaves against the black, rain-soaked bark of Oregon. And I’m always ravenous for the summer’s return of the sun. But autumn, in the northern states where I’ve always lived, is a time of great beauty, a time for road trips for the sole purpose of watching the leaves die.

I don’t mean to sound morbid – after all spring’s rebirth is the promise dormant in autumn’s retreat. But there’s something poignant about these revolutions, a reminder to me that my time is indeed limited and not to be wasted.

A couple years ago, I dreamed this poem. I offer it up again, word for word, as it came to me in my sleep.

 

October

If I drive off the road
Know that I was distracted by the wilderness
Gazing for a moment at gilded leaves
Arched against jagged evergreen
Vine maple blazing in random rays of sun
The woods wet, black branches of the forest bending
Silhouetted by canopies of countless green
Perhaps I beheld a quilted river of fallen crimson and vermilion
Winding along the roadside
Or gazed into the weave and texture of leaves
Layers interlaced, sharp and dense against the sky
I glimpsed fields of weed, browning blade and drying seed
Blending into a tapestry of quiet color before me
If I soar off the road of my life
And fail to rise
Know that my eyes brimmed with beauty.