I’m super excited about this announcement, so I’m not even going to make you wait for it.
My first audiobook just came out! *Squee*
You can even hear an audio excerpt of it right here.
This is a big deal for me for a couple reasons.
1) I just really like audio books. My family and I travel a lot, and one of the ways we like to stay awake/engaged with each other on the long car trips is by listening to audio books. We’ve heard some gripping tales as of late, and I love the thought of someone getting to meet Beth and Rory while on a journey of their own.
2) My son is super impressed about this. He’s told all his friends, and he even told my doctor yesterday. As I mentioned, our family listens to a lot of audio books, and he loves them. I think he’s excited to think I’m on par with some of his favorite authors (shhh don’t tell him Rick Riordan sells a lot more audiobooks than I do), and I’m excited to think something I do still excites him. He’s quickly reaching the stage where his friends are way cooler than his moms, so I’m going to take all the wins I can get right now.
3) And this is by far the biggest one for me, at GCLS last year I challenged our community to do more for underserved populations, and one of the groups I highlighted was readers with impaired vision. Women who were born blind or are dealing with failing vision due to heath or age have too often been denied easy access to our work. Thankfully we have moved into an era when audio technology is more readily available than ever before. Our community needs to make it a priority to use it. Lesbian books have always been a lifeline for me, and I want to share that with as many people as possible. I’m grateful to Bold Strokes Books for giving me the opportunity to reach those women who haven’t previously been welcomed fully into our lesfic community.
And the best news is, The Long Way Home is just the beginning! I recently signed a contract with BSB to have EVERY one of my releases with them made into audiobooks. Next up is Timeless, so stay tuned to this blog for more information on the next audio installment of the Darlington romances!
In the meantime, I hope you’ll support this project by going and getting your own audio copy of The Long Way Home today.
I have a treat for you today. As most of you who follow this blog know, I write romance. I am fascinated by the transformative power love has to shape our lives and how we view the world around us. I also happen to be in love. I was blessed to meet the love of my life at a young age and we’ve been a couple for 15 years. So it follows naturally that I field a lot of requests to write a long-term couple in my books. Now I’m not opposed to the idea in theory, but it’s yet to happen for me, but you know who has managed to write a beautiful book featuring a long term couple? My friend and Bywater Books colleague, Paula Martinac! Her new release, The Ada Decades, is an fantastic look at the type of couple our community has been aching for. I’m so impressed with Paula’s ability to weave such a powerful and timely love story I asked her to stop by the blog today and tell you a little bit about it.
So without further ado, here’s Paula.
Thanks to my friend and colleague Rachel Spangler for welcoming me here to Wonder Boi Writes! I’m a fan of her Lammy-nominated romance, Perfect Pairing. (In fact, I get hungry just thinking about it…) Rachel invited me to introduce you to my new novel, The Ada Decades, which follows a lesbian couple over the course of almost 50 years.
I’m a history nerd, and LGBT history is my particular passion. Call me weird (or maybe voyeuristic), but I like to imagine how women in the past found each other and created lives together. I met my wife at the L.U.S.T. Conference (as in, Lesbians Undoing Sexual Taboos), so there was no ambiguity for us! But how did lesbians of the past meet and indicate their interest in each other, without the benefit of a lesbian community?
That was one of the jumping-off points for my first novel, Out of Time, and it played a big role again in The Ada Decades, which I describe as a love story. At the start, there’s the romantic meeting of Ada and Cam, two women in their early 20s who work as a librarian and teacher in a North Carolina public school in 1957. They click, even though Ada – who has never been sexually involved with anyone, man or woman – doesn’t know what to make of their connection. They begin “dating” without being able to call it that, then cautiously express their love and eventually decide to embark on a life together.
And then comes the “long-term” part. As an epigraph for the novel, I chose a James Baldwin quote: “Love is a growing up.” Along with all the good times, Ada and Cam hit rocky patches that test their relationship, obstacles that many long-term couples, both gay and straight, encounter: problems with parents, trouble at work, jealousy over old loves, differences of belief, money matters, and the reality of “in sickness and in health.”
The writing of this novel was very immediate to me, even though Ada and Cam belong to the pre-Stonewall generation. I’m in a 25-year relationship, so my wife and I have encountered our own share of struggles over time. Writing about growing up and into a relationship came naturally.
Still, there was the difficulty of trying to understand challenges I haven’t personally faced, like working in the same place as your partner but having to hide your relationship because if people knew, you’d be fired. I thought a lot about how being in the closet didn’t have to define a relationship – how lesbians who couldn’t live openly could still create their own “families” and cultures of choice.
When Ada reaches eighty, she finds it perplexing that a younger generation of lesbians considers her a role model and hero. I write in the novel, “She had never thought about her life, or Cam’s, in that way…. They had just gotten by as best they could and been thankful for the years they had together.” For me, their love story is that they stick it out and make it work – and all before our community obtained the legal right to marry.
First of all, let’s kick things off with a book giveaway. Last week, in honor of my father-in-law, I asked you all to leave a comment mentioning a person who left a legacy of love and joy in your own life, and I got some great responses. So I randomized them and picked a winner. Melinda won a free, signed copy of Close To Home or an ebook of any of my other novels. Melinda, please shoot me a quick email (Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com) with your details.
Now, on with the show. When I did my survey a few weeks ago, 80% of you said the types of blogs you most want to read here are ones that feature “the stories behind the stories,” so that’s what I plan to do here, and I want to start with Kelly.
Kelly has probably had the biggest evolution of any character I’ve ever written (though Nic from Does She Love You? would win a lot of votes in that category, too). Kelly has quite an arc from the first time I ever met her in the opening chapters of The Long Way Home. This is hard to do without spoilers, but as I started writing her, I couldn’t stand her. I’m not sure why I didn’t like her. Maybe I felt like I needed a villain in this story. Or maybe I was mad at people like her, people who conformed and hid and fed into the small-town status quo when people like me (Or should it be “people like Raine”?) were out there fighting an uphill battle everyday. Then in one of those chicken-or-egg type of artist tussles, I made her look like, and to a certain extent sound like, someone I hadn’t gotten along with in high school. I’m still not sure if I wrote a villain and made her similar to my high school foe, or if I wrote someone like my high school foe and turned her into a villian.
Through much of the first draft of The Long Way Home, Kelly was irredeemable. I poured on her all of my residual frustration at everyone who ever followed the rules at the expense of another human being. I made her sharp and unreasonable, and most of all, one dimensional. Then came a scene in which she’s lost. She sees something she always knew would happen come to fruition, and she’s hurt and angry, but she still does what’s right, at least in her own mind. I never intended it, but she, in her own way, became the one person who could hold up the mirror to our protagonist. It was just one scene, one little shift, and honestly she didn’t change much in that moment so much as the moment revealed part of her I hadn’t understood before. She was no longer the person who just said mean things. She was a person who asked hard questions.
Then the unthinkable happened. My beta readers felt sorry for her, because my beta readers are good people who saw a humanity in her I wasn’t willing to admit to yet. Then my editor cut two scenes Kelly had been a big part of and asked me to incorporate the aspects of her that had been cut into other scenes. I had to go back and take a look at Kelly as I’d initially written her, but with new understanding of her as important, as sympathetic, as human. I realized that in a story where Raine/Rory has to overcome her childish understanding of her hometown and the people in it, I as a writer had failed to do the same. Kelly’s actions remained the same. Outwardly she was the same person I’d butted heads with in high school, but inwardly, and occasionally when she was alone with Beth, a tenderness had been revealed just enough to leave me wondering about who she really was, and many of my readers felt the same way. Even my boss at the time, Radclyffe, wrote and said something along the lines that she liked that I’d been fair and sympathetic in my portrayals of life in the closet. I wasn’t at all sure that’s what I’d wanted to do, but it was done, and I was left feeling a little unsettled.
Then, a few months after The Long Way Home came out, I met and became friends with
Kelly Smith of Bywater Books. Kelly Smith, or “Real Life Kelly,” as my wife started calling her, had recently published a book by my good friend Georgia Beers (Oy, this blog is getting very name-dropperish), and so we found ourselves in the same circles at literary events and we got along really well. Well enough, in fact, for Real Life Kelly to give me some honest feedback on The Long Way Home. As we walked through Provincetown one fall afternoon, she told me she’d liked the book overall, but she hated that I’d named the bitchy character “Kelly.” I laughed and said that was before I’d known her. She said she hoped that now that we were friends I would remedy the situation.
I laughed again, but Real Life Kelly turned serious and said, “I mean it. That character has the potential to have a great redemption story. She could be a complex character to unravel. There are real people out there just like her. They are human. They became how they are for a reason.” I said I’d thought a little bit about that but doubted anyone would really be able to root for someone like Fictional Kelly, especially after the things she’d said and done to Beth (who seemed to be universally loved by my readers). Real Life Kelly got a giddy glint in her eye and said, “Oh yeah, you’re going to have make her pay for that, really put her through the wringer, break her down in a big way, but it’ll be fun, and it’ll be interesting.”I admitted that putting a character that reminded me of people who had been tools in high school through the emotional wringer did sound enjoyable, but I had other books to write first. And I did.
I wrote several more books before even considering a return to Darlington. And even when I did, Fictional Kelly didn’t factor in prominently. She does make an appearance in Timeless, though it’s a blink-and-you’d-miss-it kind of moment. However, due to the fluid timeline of the book, I actually got to picture her at the age of 20 for just a hot second. I got to imagine a flash of the beginning of something I’d gleefully ended in The Long Way Home. To see her then, little more than a girl, and still so dedicated to doing things the right way. The moment itself might have been fleeting, but it was enough to open up another little piece of my heart and mind to this woman I didn’t want to like.
And yet I moved on to other books, but between each of them as I’d consider possibilities for my next project, my wife would say, “How about Kelly’s book?” The term “Kelly’s book” became common in our house for its double meaning, the book Real Life Kelly suggested, the book that lets the world finally see the whole picture of Fictional Kelly. But each time I had the chance to write it, something stopped me. Looking back now, I suspect I wasn’t ready to let go of my anger at her and what she represented for me. Or maybe I just wasn’t in the right place as a writer to tackle a project as complex as Fictional Kelly would be.
It wasn’t until I had been working for Bywater for a while that Real Life Kelly asked again about Fictional Kelly. I’m not sure what it was about the timing or the setting, or maybe I’d just grown weary of fighting the urge, but I agreed to at least sit down with her (Fictional Kelly, that is) and really listen. I’d like to say she just poured out her soul to me. She didn’t. She wrestled me, and she wrestled Elliot for months just like she always had. Tiny flashes of something human only occasionally peeked out from under piles and piles of frustrating anger, professional excuses, and emotional brick walls. I’m not sure Fictional Kelly had changed a whole lot, but maybe I had. As a writer, as a person, I was more willing to ask the harder questions and more willing to listen to the answers.
That isn’t to say the process of writing Close To Home was a pretty one. I almost abandoned the story halfway through because I was still wrestling with Fictional Kelly, and despite putting her in a heart-wrenching situation, I still hadn’t fallen in love with her the way I’d fallen in love with Elliot. I told my new Bywater colleague Marianne K. Martin over lunch, once again in Provincetown (Important things happen in Ptown.), and MKM shared some of her wisdom about writing complex characters by suggesting I find one good thing in Fictional Kelly, one positive that rings true for her in all situations, even when she is behaving badly by all outward standards. As much as I hated to admit it, I knew right away what the things was.
Kelly does the right thing, always. Not always the nice thing, or the thoughtful thing, or the reasonable thing, but the thing she believes is right in the long run, or the big picture. She might have bad reasons or faulty logic, but she always does what she thinks is expected of her, what she would expect out of others, according to her high and often skewed personal standards.
I went home and reread what I’d written, and Marianne was right. When I focused on that driving thread, I didn’t always love Kelly, but I understood her. From there I learned to recognize the strength and conviction it had taken to make the decision she’d made, even at the same time I disagreed with them. And once I could do that, it was much easier to respect her motives while still hating the outcomes. It also made it easier to throw her in to Elliot’s path because much like I’d learned to recognize something fundamentally good in her, I also understood that someone who is focused on doing what’s right would have no choice but to see the same fundamental goodness in Elliot.
From there on out, much of my wrestling with Kelly mirrored Kelly’s own wrestling with Elliot, so much so that by the time I finished, I actually ended up liking her quite a bit, both as a character and as a metaphor for my own journey as a person and as a writer.
She’s still complex, she still grates on my nerves, she still challenges me, but somewhere over the last three books, she stopped being a product of my high school angst and became a real person, at least in the fictional sense.
At some point over the last eight years, she grew up.
Or maybe I did.
I had every intention of following up my Valentine’s Day post with another book giveaway, but things in Spangler land took a sad turn that evening. My family and I had to make an unexpected trip to Illinois to say goodbye to my father-in-law who passed away last Thursday. The next few days were spent grieving and going through the funeral process. We are home now, but we are still sad and exhausted. My father in law, Harry was a good man, a loving father, and a doting grandfather. In 16 years I never heard him say a cross word to anyone. He brought so much warmth to everyone he met.
We will all miss him terribly, and we would welcome both your prayers and your patience along that road to recovery.
One of the ways our family is starting to move forward is by staying busy. We’re also making an effort to spend time with people and on activities that bring us joy. Thankfully my work provides me with plenty of opportunities for both. One thing that made me smile this morning is that Bold Strokes Books has put my first two Darlington Romances on sale to help folks who just found Close To Home catch up on the earlier books in the collection. For 24 hours (from 10am Feb 21 until 10am Feb 22) you can get The Long Way Home and Timeless in ebook for $4.99. This is really awesome of them. I know my move to Bywater set the gossip mill spinning, but I continue to be proud of how strong my relationship has stayed with my BSB friends and colleagues. Their continued support both personally and professionally is yet another powerful reminder of how many good people there are in this business.
I also want to share the results of the online survey where I asked you all to tell me what kinds of blogs you’d like to see surrounding the release of Close To Home. By far the most popular option was “Stories behind the stories” type blogs with 80% of respondents clicking that box, so I promise to start working on that right away. More than 45% of you also said you’d be interested in a video recorded reading from the books, and just over 40% said you’d like a question and answer blog series so stay tuned for those in the coming weeks as well.
Finally, 50% of the survey respondents said the blog they’d most like to see here are book give aways, so let’s go ahead and do one of those right now!
In honor of my father-in-law, who despite his man health issues always had a smile and hug and a kind word for everyone please comment below, and tell me about someone who left a legacy of joy and love in your own life. It doesn’t have to be long, just a name or a short description, and you’ll be entered to win an autographed copy of Close To Home, or an ebook copy of any one of my books.
I’ll pick a winner in a few days!
Anyone ever wonder why this is the only holiday with the name initials as an STD? Ponder that for a while.
First of all let’s kick off this holiday with presents! After compiling a list of everyone who commented on this blog here and on my various social media outlets we pulled a winner out of a randomized list and that winner is Ona Marae! And while we’re at it I never heard from last week’s winner Declan Smith. So Ona and Declan shoot me an email or hit me up on social media so I can get you your books.
And now for a present for the rest of you…Valentines Day Sales abound! Bywater is running 25% off all romances with the code BeMine. You can see their full list of romance titles here http://www.bywaterbooks.com/product-category/genre/romance/
I am all about romantic love. I have written 10+ books on the subject. But that being said, I like a holiday that celebrates love in the broadest sense. And there are so many kinds of love worth celebrating.
I celebrated my love for my son with pink, heart pancakes and Legos and extra Pokémon hunting.
I celebrated my love for my wife with steak and cherry pie.
I celebrated my love for my fellow humans in need by reaching out to several of them, offering help with meals and transportation and hugs.
Now I want to celebrate my love for some awesome people who helped restore some of my faith this week by their showing love to some kids they will never meet. I think that’s my favorite kind of love.
Over a month ago, a movie called Hidden Figures came out, featuring some amazing African-American women who changed the course of history via the space program. I was so excited to see it, but after a couple weeks of waiting, I began to fear that our local theater wouldn’t show the film. My initial instinct was to go to Buffalo, because that’s where we often have to go to see high-quality films, but instead I just shot the theater a quick note on Facebook asking if they intended to show Hidden Figures. They immediately wrote back, saying they had no intention of doing so. Instead of letting it go (I’ve been more politically persistent lately) I told them I always try to support local businesses, but if they didn’t show qualify films, they would force us to go elsewhere.
Then several of my friends (many of them in pink hats) began to pepper the theater with similar comments, talking about how important the film was and how much money it was making. The theater reps said it wasn’t up to them. Their corporate office made the call on which movies to show. We asked them to please put a little pressure on them, and much to my surprise, they came back three days later and said after a lengthy discussion with their headquarters, they had been granted the right to show Hidden Figures for one week.
That was my victory. I was happy. I made a Facebook event for all my friends to go see it, and then in sort of a last-ditch bit of goodwill, I mentioned that if anyone knew of a kid or two who would benefit from learning about these amazing women they should bring them along, and I’d cover their tickets.
The response was overwhelming, and not in the ways I could have predicted. Within minutes I was getting messages from amazing readers and friends wanting to donate money to the cause. I was kind of taken aback. I didn’t think I had a cause, but within 48 hours, people had pledged several hundreds of dollars for students I hadn’t even located. By the next week the fund was over $1,000, and I was frantically contacting teachers I knew at local schools, trying to find someone to use the money for their kids.
Three days before the movie opened, I didn’t have a single kid in line and I was kind of freaking out, because I hadn’t really intended to try to organize a mass lesson plan. Then a friend from a local middle school called and said his school had agreed to pay for a bus if the theater could do a matinee showing. I checked with the theater, and they not only agreed, they offered to let all the students in for the kid’s price, the lowest one their system could handle. Then they one-upped that and said they would even extend the offer to any high school and middle school students for the entire run of the film, no matter if they came with a class or not.
By that afternoon the school I’d talked to said so many kids wanted to go that they were sending TWO busses. Another local middle school called to say they had approved a bus for some of their most vulnerable kids. Then I ran into a teacher at the store who said she was bringing her special ed class as well. The next day a middle school teacher from Jackson’s school emailed to say she was going to send out fliers to all her students, offering to meet them at the theater on Saturday to chaperone them through the screening. Then a high school teacher did the same thing for an evening showing.
Whew, all I wanted to do was see an important movie, but by the time it was all said and done, 180 kids had seen the show. What’s more impressive to me, though, is that I never asked for a penny! These readers and friends of mine were so generous, they had a fundraiser of their own good will for kids they have never met, at schools they didn’t go to, and in a town they will likely never visit. Without a single call for funds or any sort of public panhandling or coordinated effort, people quietly gave $1370. In fact, I had so many offers to cover tickets I turned away a few because we had so much more than we needed, but people kept coming out of the woodwork, wanting to help.
So here’s a quick accounting of the money, because aside from being blown away by everyone’s generosity, I’m also very humbled that you all would entrust me with this much cash!
$1370 raised. I was able to buy tickets for $180 students at $6.50 apiece, leaving $199 left over.
After talking to the teachers I worked with, we have decided to spend the leftover money buying copies of Hidden Figures, both in movie and book form for all of the local schools and libraries so students can keeping engaging the story for years to come.
First of all I want to thank you, all of you who donated money or offered to donate money or helped to spread the world or nudged me toward a much greater action than I’d initially wanted to take on. Your acts of love inspired me to believe in the goodness of people again. At a time when I was really down and angry, you all showed me the amazing love flowing through this community, and I am so humbled to be counted among you.
But I’m just one person and you all touched so much more than me and my friends. You helped 180 kids in so much more than just seeing a film. You let them see themselves in a positive light, you let them see that they can be anything, you helped them see beyond their own small-town perspective, you let them see what can be accomplished when good people come together. Most of all, though, you made sure they know that people care about them and want them to succeed. And you don’t have to to take my word for it, because the students themselves have reached out to tell you.
You guys were the change for these kids this month. I love you all, and that’s a big thing for me to celebrate this VD!
The continued outpouring of support for Close to Home is blowing my mind. This is the most feedback I have ever gotten from any of my books, and I know I owe that to all you who gave it a chance after the whole early release issues. Every time I hear from a reader I am overwhelmed with gratitude that you allow me to tell our stories for a living.
To show my appreciation I’ve got two things going for you. First is the reader appreciation survey at https://www.quicksurveys.com/TolunaAnalytics/Report/1358389 It only takes two minutes to fill out so if you haven’t done so yet, please let me know how to give back to you in ways that make you feel the love!
Second, I want to give you a chance to win free books! This week, since we’re talking about a Darlington Romance, why don’t you comment here or on social media about your favorite Darlington character or moment? And if you haven’t read any of the Darlington Romances (The Long Way Home, Timeless, or Close To Home) then you can just mention a character from any of my books.
I’ll prick a winner at random next week, and that person will receive an autographed copy of Close To Home or an ebook copy of any of my other novels.
Thanks again, and happy weekend reading!
Just a quick note to remind you I still have my reader survey up and running. If you haven’t had a chance yet to make your voice heard, please do so. I am listing!
And now, I had several requests to see my sermon from last Sunday so I am going to post it here. If you’re not a sermon type of person go ahead and focus on the survey. I will not be offended at all. This one is addressed specifically to those people who claim to walk in faith, because that’s who the scripture is addressed to. I was preaching to the choir if you will.
The lectionary reading this week was from Isiah 58. If you haven’t read it recently it’s worth a refresher because it’s so good. It comes from the prophet Isiah talking to God’s chosen people and telling them they are not living lives of true worship. I found the message especially fitting right now. So here’s what I had to say about it.
P.S. These are my unpolished notes. I’m sure the commas are in all the wrong places and there are plenty of typos, but this was only ever written to be preached aloud.
It’s no too late to turn this car around
Have I ever mentioned I went to a Southern Baptist School while growing up in Florida? I did. The pastor there looked vaguely like Jimmy Johnson the football coach, with these big rosy cheeks and slicked back sliver hair and he has the most powerful voice. It could be low and smooth and then ratcheted up to boom out his points from the pulpit, and of course every prayer was delivered in the evangelical fashion with a thick southern drawl.
“Jesus, we just wanna thank you Jesus….”
As a kid I loved to listen to him talk. As an adolescent I learned that the message wasn’t always one of love. As I reached adulthood I learned I wasn’t welcome in those circles at all. They had all the trappings of a powerful ministry without any of the love worth worshiping. I haven’t been back in a Southern Baptist church since then. I’ve been blessed to be part of so many other more welcoming denominations with much kinder theology, but I will admit to occasionally missing the style of charismatic preaching I witnessed early on. I’ve often wished for the chance to combine those two worlds and see some of that fire and brimstone passion paired with a radially loving message.
Then two weeks ago, the day after the inauguration, I checked on my lectionary reading for this week. In my Bible at home the first line of the passage from Isaiah reads “Shout out, do not hold back. Lift your voice like a trumpet, proclaim to my people their rebellion, and to the house of Jacob their sins.”
Whewee. I could feel that old fire and brimstone a stirring in my veins. Do not hold back…proclaim to my people their rebellion. They seek me daily and delight to know my ways as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God.”
In this passage God is really ripping in to people who claim to follow him. He’s talking through the prophet Isaiah directly to his chosen people saying, They delight in my ways as if they were a nation that actually did what I told them to do.
And then God goes on to imitate the people of Israel and their whining. “Why have we fasted and you don’t see it? Why have we humbled ourselves and you take no knowledge of it?”
Then God plays both sides of the conversation booming back, “Behold! In the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure and oppress all your workers…You fast only to quarrel and to fight. Fasting like this will not make your voice heard on high.”
In other words, you pretend like you’re doing these things for, me but you’re just using your religion as a chance to fight with each other and oppress the people below you. God is blasting the people who claim to follow him and saying in no uncertain terms that while they might say the right things and it might even look like they are doing the right things on the surface, God sees through it. God is not interested in their empty words or gestures. God could care less that these people are fasting and praying. He tells them point blank that none of those things will make their voices heard in heaven.
And let’s be clear these fasts the people are taking part in do not sound like fun. God admits the people go without food, that they wear sackcloth, that they lay on ashes. That’s not messing around. That’s not a quick Our Father or bowing your head before a meal. I think most of us who saw someone starving themselves and rolling around in ashes while wearing only sack cloth we would say that person is pretty serious about their faith.
But God is not amused.
He asks them, is that the fast I chose? Is that the day is that is acceptable to the Lord?
Clearly this is a rhetorical question for the people of Israel at this point. Right?
It sort of reminds me of when I was little and my grandpa would take us to Disney World. He’d pile all the grandkids into the back of the station wagon at five am, and drive us across the state for hours. It never failed, by the time we neared the parking lot, we’d all start to get twitchy. Someone looked at someone wrong, someone leaned too far into someone else’s space. Then the kicking would start and before long everyone was pushing everyone else. Right around the time we saw signs for Disney Grandpa would pull the station wagon over and say, “It is not too late to turn this car around! Do you want to go home?”
We did not want to go home. We did not have to tell him that. He was clearly offering us the keys to the Magic Kingdom, and we didn’t want to miss out. We would all sit a little straighter in our seats while he then gave us the talk about the rules for getting through the gate. “No running off, no grabbing things without asking, help the littler kids, hold hands, don’t pester your brother. You’re at Mickey’s house for Godsakes, behave yourselves.”
I kind of hear my Grandpa’s voice in this passage from Isaiah as God says, “Is this the fast I chose?”
Clearly for the people of Israel the answer is no.
So then God lays out the ground rules for them to get it right.
Is not the fast I that I choose to loose the bonds or wickedness, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke.
Is it not to share your own bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless and poor into your house, to give clothes to the naked, and not to hide yourself from them.
Those are the terms for being God’s people.
God has already taken them out of slavery in Egypt and still they doubt Him.
God has led them through the dessert and still the broke Her commandments.
God has given them a land they can call home, a land they can be proud of, and yet they refuse to love their neighbors the way God has loved them.
God has given them prophets to show them God’s way, and they reject them in favor of mindless religious rituals.
God has led these people right up to the doors of the Kingdom, but God will not push them inside.
God is done accepting their devotion a religious order, to ancient traditions, to personal sacrifice. God has had it up to here with them, and now he’s letting them know that their prayers will no longer be heard unless they first answer the call of the least among them.
Jesus, I just wanna thank you Jesus…
Folks, this is God’s equivalent of “It’s not too late to turn this car around.”
To truly follow God they have to feed the poor, they have to shelter the homeless, they have to welcome the stranger, and free every person from the yoke of oppression.
God says, then and only then will the light break forth like the dawn. Only then will their prayers for healing be answered. Only then can they call on God and have God say “Here I am.”
The passage says “Only if you pour yourself our for the hungry and satisfy the desires of the afflicted will the Lord satisfy your desires. Only then can you restore the breach.”
Think about that.
Only when you satisfy the desires of the afflicted…Only then will you be worthy to bridge the divide between who you are and who God has called you to be.
This is God’s fire and brimstone passion being used to deliver a radical message of love.
Sometimes I wonder if that Southern Baptist minister I grew up listening to ever read this passage. I wonder if our politicians have? I wonder if the average, every-day American has. Mostly though I wonder if most Christians have really heard this passage. Because that’s ultimately who the passage is addressed to. God is talking to the people who claim to follow Him. God is talking to the kids in the back of his station wagon, because we are the ones standing at the gates to the kingdom and asking to be let in.
We are the ones asking God for help, asking for guidance, asking where God is in this world we’re living in. So in return we are the ones who must first answer God’s question, “Is this the fast I chose?”
And in our case the question is not rhetorical. It is not limited to any one day or any religious act. It is the question being whispered to us every minute, in every encounter, on every issue. The questions is not who did you vote for, the question is not what party you are a member of, the question is not what church do you go to, or what prayer did you last pray.
The question is whether or not at every opportunity, with every chance to act, did you side with the poor? Did you feed the hungry? Did you welcome the stranger? Did you invite the homeless into your house? Did you do everything in your power to break the bonds of oppression wherever they may be found?
Brothers and Sister do we choose the fast of our own glory, or do we choose the one God asked of us? Are we living a faith worthy of being heard on high?
I don’t have the answers for everyone. At the end of the day I’m not really a fire and brimstone preacher. I do not presume to know enough to tell other people what’s in their hearts. I can only try to use my own voice to echo the questions God asks in this passage. I can ask them of my representatives, of my neighbors, and of church and I can ask them in the mirror every morning.
But only you can answer them for yourselves, and I encourage us all to do so every single day, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that it’s never too late to turn this car around.
I am starting the week off right by giving away a FREE book.
Thank you to all of you who commented on my last blog, either here or on social media. I read and appreciated every single one. Once again, you all bolstered my faith in this awesome community and made me want to give back.
So first thing this morning we picked Declan Smith’s name out of the metaphorical hat, and Declan is going to receive a free, autographed copy of Close To Home, or an ebook copy of any one of my previous books.
But it hardly seems right to do just one give-away when so many awesome people reached out to offer their support after the whole early release debacle, so I’ve decided to do one give-away every week for the month of February! Stay tuned to this blog for more info and extra chances to win.
But wait, there’s more! Since I really love interacting with y’all, I’m always looking for new ways to do so, and I figure, what better way to find out how you want to be interacted with than to ask you? So, I’ve created this poll for you all to weigh in on some ideas I had, and you can add your own. Let me know which ones you’re most interested in, and I’ll do them in the coming weeks!
I’ll leave the survey open for one week, so lay it on me, and then please share widely!
The title says so much of what I am feeling today. The outpouring of support after my last blog has been amazing. You have commented and emailed and shared the post on Facebook and bought copies of Close to Home and left some wonderful reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. Mostly, though, you have tugged at all my heartstrings with your messages of love.
I can’t tell you how good it feels after 10 days of worrying and waiting to finally wake up to such an emotional turn-around. I’m so proud to be part of such a beautiful and caring community. I hope you all know I don’t take my responsibility to you lightly. I will never forget the love you have shown my family over the last few days.Thanks to all of you, Close to Home jumped into the top 25 of Lesbian Fiction on Amazon. Thanks to you, I feel like my hard work is going to be seen by the people I wrote it for. Thanks to you, I’m breathing easier about my family’s financial forecast. Thanks to you, I feel connected to something bigger once again.
And thanks to you, I popped the cork on the bottle of bubbly I didn’t get to enjoy the first time around. My wife and I were so bolstered by your wonderful responses, we decided to have a “do-over” on the release of Close To Home, on the actual release date, and because you all were such a part of that moment for me, I wanted to share some totally nerdy feel-good photos of that celebration with all of you.
First up, the guests of honors arrived, finally. Getting the book box never gets old.
There’s the new baby, with the proud mama. Isn’t that Ann McMan cover beautiful?
And now for the celebration to begin. Why yes, yes, that is pink moscato, and don’t even mention taking my butch card. You can have it. I’m gender fluid, and I like pink champagne!
And because I love you, and I feel like you rewarded my honesty and openness in the last blog, I am going to continue that streak by showing you this picture, too!
Go ahead and laugh, but you all know this is the face you make when opening champagne. It is hard and frightening. That’s what makes it fun!
Also the drinking-it-part is fun, because I’m someone who drinks only 3 or 4 times a year max, so one pretty glass was more than enough to make me profess my undying love to all of you for making this do-over celebration so fantastically happy for me.
So here’s to all of you wonderful readers. I couldn’t have done it without you. Cheers!
Seriously, though, you give me so much more than I can ever give you. I promise to take your votes of confidence with me into my next book and the next one and the next one. I have already pledged to give you all 8 books in the next four years, but I promise not to let up on that promise.
And in the meantime, one thing I can offer you (since the book box finally arrived) is a chance to win a free, autographed copy of Close to Home! Just comment below or on my Facebook for your chance to win a free copy of Close to Home, or if you already have that one, a free ebook copy of any one of my 10 books!
I’ll let Jackson pick the winner on Monday.
It’s 1 a.m. on January 20th.
In a few hours Donald Trump will become President of the United States. There are lots of people with far more reason than I to be afraid, but I am afraid for all the same reasons as everyone else. I’m also afraid for completely separate reasons right now. The two threads are unrelated but they are feeding off each other as helplessness and uncertainly abound in multiple areas of my life. The combination finally drove me from my bed at 1 a.m., so I’m going to put my troubles on the page in the hopes that they will then release me.
My tenth book was released earlier this week. It went up for sale way ahead of schedule. I don’t even have my author copies yet. I have never held this book in my hands, but it’s now available worldwide. That should be cause for celebration. Ten books in nine years is something worth being proud of. Normally I’d greet the occasion by popping the top on a $10 bottle of bubbly I’d had chilling for the occasion, the same way I had for the other nine releases.
But this time around, that happy moment was taken from me. This time I found out my book had gone live not from my publisher, and not because I’d been counting down the hours on my own. This time I received word that the story I’d worked for a year on was in the hands of my readers, because one of them wrote to tell me someone had trashed it on Amazon. Or rather, someone trashed me, because the “reviewer” hadn’t actually read the book. They’d merely seen the price, the price I had no control over, and decided it was too high, and therefore the book itself deserved a one-star review, followed by a series of nasty comments.
Reading the comments there in that moment made my heart feel like someone had jammed it into a shoe two sizes too small. Not only were people saying the book was overpriced, they dragged my character into the mix for “condoning” this perceived greed. I was shocked, and, I’ll admit, hurt. At no point in my career have I had one ounce of input on the price of my books. If you’d asked me a week ago what my ebooks sold for, I would’ve had to look it up. Contracts vary widely in this business, but I have yet to see one that designates pricing to the author, and because of this, I honestly didn’t know how prices are set, other than the publisher has to somehow come to terms with distributers, warehouses, and retail outlets in a delicate and balanced web.
What I did know was that this was a conversation I shouldn’t have had to even think about for two more weeks, because the book wasn’t supposed to be available for two more weeks! Close to Home was supposed to be on presale exclusively on the Bywater website January 1st and then go to wide release on January 31.
I immediately contacted my publisher, saying, “Is my book supposed to be out yet?”
The honest-to-God, directly quoted response I got was, “#$@&%*! Amazon is now saying 1/31, but they are selling them.” Then there was lots of talk about warehouse dates, release dates (when books are supposed to ship to retailers only), and publication dates, (the date books are supposed to be shipped to readers). This was the first I’d head any of this, and even knowing it all now, we’re still not sure why Amazon would ignore the dates posted on their own sites.
What followed was three days of meetings and phone calls and emails and frantic pleading. But pleading was all I could do. I have no control over any part of the listing once the book goes to our distributors. And this entire listing for Close To Home was a mess. The shipping date was wrong, the blurb was wrong, the price was wrong. By yesterday, the amazing team at Bywater had spent countless hours working and worrying and reworking the listing to make up for a mistake we had nothing to do with. I didn’t understand this until now, but apparently a publisher sets wholesale prices and pre-sale prices, then from there retail prices get calculated and then large retailers use those figures to calculate their discount prices. If anything goes wrong in the process the whole chain must reset and restarted. My publishing team stepped up like champs and put in tons of hours, doing massive amounts of work most of my readers will never know about.
And then we waited. Because despite the fact that when big companies want something, they demand it immediately, people like me have to wait up to ten days for our work to be fully recognized by their system, and during that time we are bound by legal contract not to offer or even advertise a lower price than the one listed publically on their website. In short, we were trapped for up to ten days.
Ten days of worry.
Ten days of not being able to answer questions about a price I had zero control over.
Ten days of watching the nasty comments pile up under the name of a book I was so proud to have written, from people who hadn’t even taken the time to read it.
Ten days of silent helplessness and fear as I watched my sales ranks hover in the nether-regions of the lesfic charts.
Ten, long, sleepless nights.
As I slipped out of bed a few moments ago, I pulled on the sweatshirt my wife had left out and sneaked into my son’s room. I leaned close enough to breathe in the scent of his ninja turtle shampoo and place a kiss on his soft cheek. I watched his dark lashes flutter, and I tucked the covers a little closer to his chin. Then I stood back and wondered what I would tell him six months from now.
Summer. That’s when I’ll start to see my first royalties from Close to Home. Do people know that? Authors with mainstream distributers generally wait at least six months before they see a penny of their royalties. After Amazon takes their hefty cut (look it up) and distributors are paid and the typesetters are paid and the ebook formatters are paid and the copy editors are paid and the substantive editors are paid and the cover designers and marketers and taxes are paid, I will get my percentage.
When that time comes, what will I tell my little boy about why the check is so much smaller than usual? Thankfully his other mother makes a steady enough income, so we won’t be faced with the choices too many Americans will have to make under a new President. We are blessed. My son will have a roof over his head. He will have food on the table and medicine if he needs it. My wife will make sure of that, but my book sales, small as they may be, pay for things like Little League and trips to the ice cream parlor. My piddly royalties pay for trips to the movies when the summer days get long and hot. That small portion of what’s left after everyone gets paid is what allows my son to buy the new pair of summer shoes he’ll need, because instead of using the brakes on his bike, he drags his heels and wears out the rubber.
What will I tell him then? How can I possibly explain that someone I don’t know made a mistake, and a company I don’t work for decided to sell my books ahead of the presale for a price $1.20 above what some people deem my books are worth? Can he even comprehend that because my books got sent out before we had the chance to shave $1.20 off the price a multinational distributer considers fitting for a genre romance, people who didn’t even read the book decided to write bad things about me online, and for ten days no one bought any of my work?
Look, I don’t mean to be overly dramatic. My kid’s not going to starve. This isn’t a sob story. There are people in the world way worse off than we are, people who would feel blessed to know their biggest problem would be extra spending money six months from now. I’m not asking anyone to host a fundraiser for my family’s Little League expenses. I’m not asking for anything. I’m just rambling because if I don’t get the absurdity of that chain of events out of my head, I’ll never get back to sleep.
This is not my most thoughtful, professional moment. This is my most human moment.
What’s done is done. I’ll never be in charge of the pricing on my books, and even if I were, I couldn’t have those ten days back. I can’t have a do-over on the release of my tenth book. I can’t regain the hours of sleep I lost or the tears that fell as I looked at my sleeping kid, knowing the months I spent writing something we could all be proud of weren’t enough to overcome a $1.20 price discrepancy. That’s not an easy thing to swallow and keep down for ten days … or eight now … or whenever I can legally tell anyone this story.
When that time comes, I will post this blog. I’ll fall on the mercy of this community I’ve been so proud to be a part of. I’ll pray for calm heads and open hearts. I’ll swallow my pride and ask readers to go onto websites like Amazon and Goodreads and Facebook and give Close To Home an honest review. I’ll hope the good ones outweigh the bad, but mostly I hope people will review the book on its merits. I’ll try to believe the work I did on this book and the work I’ve done as part of this community over the last nine years is enough to overcome things I have no control over.
And yes, if I’m being honest and human right now, part of me hopes the Internet trolls will be drowned out completely, but I also hope this doesn’t become about them (After note: I’m serious. Please don’t feed the trolls. Ignore them). I want more than anything for Close to Home to start different conversations, ones about love and regret and missed chances and second chances. I want this book to start conversations about redemption and courage and the resilience it takes to be queer in places were conformity rules. I want to talk about the transformative power of love even under dire circumstances. I want to give that to our beautiful community right now, and I do have faith in their ability to give that back to me as well, eventually.
But for the next ten days, I wait and I worry, my sense of helplessness about global events compounded by the helpless I feel about my own ability to provide for my family. As I pace the floor in the wee hours of the morning, I think about new ways to save a few dollars every week. I kiss my kid and I watch the clock. I pray and I check Amazon three times a day. I wrack my brain trying to think of ways to make things better, to drum up sales, to personally refund people the $1.20 they are so upset about. And I try to tell myself everything will be okay.
Or maybe it won’t be okay this time around, in which case I’ll go back to the drawing board and start over again with book number eleven. That’s my job. It’s a job I’m blessed to be able to do. I love giving voice to our community. I love telling our stories. I love empowering queer women to believe in their right to a happy ending. I just hope Close to Home gets one, too.