Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Social Media – The Great Pretender

 by Christina Carson

I have gone many directions, time-consuming, frustrating directions to promote my books, and it finally came clear to me. Why was I listening to all these souls who have never accomplished what I want to— to successfully promote from scratch works of fiction written by an unknown self-published author. I too got caught up in the flurry of social media. I hammered away at twitter, put some effort in Goodreads, dabbled with facebook, linkIn, Stumble Upon, Pinterest and remained loyal to and active with Triberr. Hours of time, days and weeks’ worth, while what lurked in the back of my mind was always the feeling of “this ain’t it.”

The social media approach appears both logical and rational. It’s the old lure of network marketing – this branching arrangement that starts small but grows like compound interest and then supports you in selling something. So where does Social Media break down as a marketing tool for indie novels?

Network marketing is arranged into leaders and followers. You have to inspire and train your group well enough that that influence keeps travelling out through the network. The successful people have put an immense amount of work into inspiring and coaxing their group to keep active and work on, encouraged by a monetary reward to boot.

Social Media, on the other hand, is a group of independent beings, who hope to achieve a similar outcome with strangers whose only perk is the occasional meeting with an interesting person. When human beings find themselves in large, ill-defined groups, our inclination is to select down toward a parcel of folks we feel like we know. So all the while we work at extending the number of contacts, friends, circles, etc.in various social media, we are simultaneously narrowing our focus and attention to a much smaller group. Consequently, even with those 10,000 or 20,000 twitter buddies or 1,000,000 reach on Triberr or oodles on facebook, the one thing that truly matters isn't there—knowing each other well enough that there is a sense of connection that inspires loyalty and the occasional charitable act. Thus most of what we write or say falls on the ears of those who have no reason to stop and listen, let alone share it.

Without meaningful connection - something that has happened between two people sufficient to have them remember one another even if only in a peripheral way - there is no reason for them to stop in the midst of another busy day to read or respond to a message/blog/story coming their way. What is lacking is a true sense of community. This is why I believe that social media is not the promotional tool it is cracked up to be for promoting or selling works of fiction by unknown authors.

Selling fiction has some unique challenges. People stop to read non-fiction or  self-help offerings regardless of who sends it because that interaction is driven by need, but no one I've ever met NEEDED to read fiction in that same manner as they need to learn accounting or how to build a blog. The marketing arena we participate in requires something that other businesses do not. We’re not selling a product; we’re not even selling a service. We are offering entertainment as it were, but the one form of entertainment that requires a self-motivated person to engage. So perhaps, as Raymond Carver says, we need a new path to the waterfall.

When we’re up against odds that are not in our favor or involved with a situation where no one seems to have an answer, that’s when we must part from the logical and rational and make an intuitive leap. I’m not talking religion nor am I talking magic. I’m referring to the way things work or Tao. R.L. Wing says in her famous translation of the Tao Te Ching, “Lao Tzu attributed most of the world’s ills to the fact that people do not feel powerful and independent,” a reasonable description of many new indie fiction writers. So how do we change that? Here’s a new perspective:

 “Unwavering power is the product of unwavering 
clarity and Stillness.”

In other words, you provide the clarity – know what it truly is you are after. And then you must do what it takes to get quiet within yourself so you can notice the ideas  that come to you out of seeming nowhere, that begin to direct your steps toward fruition of what you seek. When you experience living in this way, you want to call it magic because it is so seemingly effortless and effective. Rather, it is your natural state of being.

 The way I look at it, you wouldn't be reading this if you were already successful, so what have you got to lose? As I begin the promotion of a new novel, Where It Began, book one of the Accidents of Birth Trilogy, it’s the road I’m taking. And while you’re at it, the protagonist in this trilogy, Miss Imogene, a quirky, black housekeeper, can tell you a thing or two in very plain English about living intuitively and model what it looks like through some of the most difficult modern times we've known in this country. A pretender she’s not. Nor do we have to be.

Novels of Story & Substance

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Book that Got Me Thinking

by Christina Carson

American Gods – now that’s a riveting read for you. It was the title that caught my attention. You wouldn’t normally find me in the stacks of Sci Fi or fantasy. Though, when I realized the title wasn’t intended metaphorically, it was already too late. I was hooked.  The book won awards for science fiction, fantasy and horror, but from my perspective it could also be championed as a sociological exposé, for it gave me insight into something I have always wondered about. Why didn’t America have mythic gods and their fables like every other culture on this planet – gods that brought rain, ones that gifted power, ones that were funny and tricky? I know, I know the Ten Commandments start off with: Thou shall have no other gods before me, but obviously we haven’t listen to that. Instead we went plastic and paper. Credit cards and money became our gods. I mean seriously, is there anything in our culture that we can’t link money to as a solution or salvation? Anything?

Maybe America was programmed from the get-go toward technology rather than the personal touch, wampum instead our word, and fantasy icons rather than Odin’s or Thor’s. Who knows? Written by Neil Gaiman, a Brit, American Gods offers some subtle, discerning reflections about the nature of a culture without its own mythology. And for me it clarified the adolescent quality this culture has retained. It is like we are children without authority figures; self-centered and irreverent, full of can do, affronted by the thought of life like ours elsewhere in the universe.

I have always enjoyed hearing the observations of those from other cultures, for like fish who can’t know water; it is not possible to
know much about ourselves through the culture that shaped us. Gaiman brings no judgment to his observations, just the sense that though these various worldly gods weren’t exactly there as role models of piety, they could offer magic and momentary reprieve. Maybe that’s why we had such a need for a Hollywood and Disneyworld. They provided respites from anxiety and fear, but not powers of deliverance.

In the East, Buddhism made room for the gods that had already ministered to that part of the world for centuries, for Buddha realized how little mankind had available to alleviate the endless pain and suffering of human existence. He was not about to take a seeming source of solace away from people, but rather offered a Dharma that would make little gods ultimately no longer necessary.

I wonder where that leaves us. No one to bring rain; no one to make peace, and less green in our pocket with each passing year, but plenty of toys to keep us distracted along with Mickey Mouse, and George Clooney or Madonna to fill our dreams.

Christina Carson, Writer

Monday, April 7, 2014

If It Weren't for Dogs and Babies - Part 2

By Christina Carson

“That old pile of bones over there on the doormat; he came sniffing down the sidewalk.” Charlie Frances’s eyes lit up again as she remembered that moment, and she smiled warmly at Marley. He moved back over to the glider, but sat just on its edge so he could stay within arm’s-reach of her. He smiled back, no less thrilled now by her glow than fifty years ago. The child she’d never lost touch with, reached her hand out toward his face and played her fingers lovingly down over its rough stubble and sun-etched wrinkles.

Then she continued. “That old pup started sniffing at my feet and ran his big, wet nose right up my body until he was licking my face. At first it was gentle, but then he got insistent and licked on me like a mama trying to bring her new offspring to life. When I didn't respond, he started digging at me, but with his little feet, not his claws, like he was saying, ‘get up; get up.’ But I couldn't. When that didn't work, he began to speak Beagle, not barking but baying - LOUD. He didn't quit. He sounded like the hounds of the Baskervilles. A young man sitting in traffic with his car window
rolled down looked my way. When the little guy felt the man’s attention on him, he turned toward him baying right at him. The man jumped out of his car and, as he came around in front of it, he saw me. He ran up and knelt down, asking if I needed help. When he saw I couldn't speak, he swept me up in his arms and put me in his car. Then he ran back and grabbed the beagle and threw him in too. Off we went to the hospital, and that’s where I've been for the last three days. He never left his name, and, since my vision was so fuzzy, I couldn't even tell you what he looked like. But he left some money and that old dog.” She shuddered at the thought of all that happened, and then smiled half questioningly, half shyly at Marley.

Marley smiled back and said jokingly, “You always knew how to pick ‘em, Sunshine, dogs, that is.”

“When they stabilized me and adjusted my medication, I felt like nothing had happened. They gave me some free samples of what I use and a stern lecture about being less careless. A peach-fuzz faced doctor lecturing me on behavior. I guess they don’t want to deal with reality the way it is these days - that some people can’t afford the medicine that keeps them alive.”

There was no self-pity in her voice, just matter-of-fact reporting. She paused, thoughtfully. “When I was driving home I had this thought.” She looked Marley square in the face. “I do believe that if it weren't for dogs and babies, the cosmos might just flip the switch on gravity for a few minutes, wiggle the earth’s axis a tad, and shake off as many of us as it could, cleaning house, so to speak. We’re not making much headway, Marley. We can’t seem to quit judging each other and admit we’re just plain scared, then nuzzle up to each other, wagging our tails, knowing there’s something good in everyone regardless.”

They continued to stare at each other. Marley broke first. He chuckled. Then he shook his head slowly from side-to-side. He reached across the gap between them and tapped the tip of her nose playfully with his index finger. Her smile widened with each pat until she too broke into a soft chuckle. Shyly she said, “Sometimes it’s just downright embarrassing being me.”

“I think of it as entertaining,” Marley rejoined. “And I think one more thing too. Without sounding judgmental, I’d like to suggest a bath for that dog as I can smell him all the way over here.”

In that moment, as if all the years they knew together shed like hair off a dog in spring, he offered her his hand, and she took it giggling, going off with him like two school kids. It wasn't the first time either of them had walked away from despair, between her ugly marriage and his uglier war; though death this close was a new wrinkle. As she hunted under the sink for a wash tub, clear-minded and comfortable in her skin once again, she heard herself think, Don’t flip the switch just yet. We may have made some headway today, as she reflected on the kindness of that stranger. 

On the front porch, the old beagle, with eyes so big and round each looked like a fortune-teller’s crystal ball, watched Marley come toward him and thumped his thick tail against the boards of the porch floor, raising small puffs of dust. Marley squatted down and began rubbing the dog’s bony head, its breath doggy and smelling almost as bad as the rest of him. He slid his hand down what was once a silky flap of ear, now scarred from cuts and tears, and lifted it tenderly, whispering inside it an intimacy meant only for him, “God bless you whoever you are; and whatever you want, you got it.”

If you are looking for Part 1, click here.

Hope you enjoyed this one. I plan to write some more.

Novels of Substance and Story


Sunday, April 6, 2014

If It Weren't for Dogs and Babies

By Christina Carson

For your entertainment, a short story to read as you sip your Sunday coffee or tea:

A Short Story: Part 1

Marley came up the dusty drive faster than usual creating a cloud about him that his sudden stop in front of the house caused to settle back down on his 50’s pick-up, already encrusted with dirt. It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford a current model vehicle. Rather, keeping old relics running spoke to some part of his lack of certainty that life’s supposed progress was indeed heading toward improvement. He jumped out of the cab and walked faster than his usual amble, taking the porch steps two-at-a-time. This was his third trip to Charlie Frances’s empty house in three days; his gut tensed. A scabby looking little beagle lay in front of the door across the small doormat this time. That wasn't there yesterday, he thought. Marley’s eyes narrowed, creasing his brow along well-worn lines. He looked up with a quick right and left glance. There she was seated in the wicker rocker on the shady side of the wraparound porch. Charlie Frances was back. 

He took a quick breath in and blew it out audibly to calm himself. He swallowed hard and then walked around the corner and slid quietly onto the glider across from her, oblivious to the dust that had settled on its cushions. He leaned forward, his hands clasped loosely and dangling between his knees. Clearing his throat one more time, he asked, “Heh, where you been, Sunshine?” His voice, though not as steady as he would have liked, was soft and sincere. He waited.

Charlie Frances had been sitting with her head down as if in deep thought. As she lifted it slowly, her eyes rose from his dusty boots, to his callused hands, pausing at his chest, garnering confidence to meet his stare. Gentle and accepting, his expression caused her to smile as sweet as when she was six. It always did.

“Tough couple of days, Marley.” Though she seemed calm, the foot on her crossed leg incessantly beat a soundless rhythm on the air beneath it. Marley remained stone still. “Went up to Sawyerville Monday to that estate auction they have there. Wanted to unload some of those old pieces of furniture the folks left me. They could almost pass for antiques, but I think it’s just junk. That’s my inheritance, Marley, this old place, the junk in it, and of course this goddamned diabetes. She paused offering a response to a question he hadn’t yet asked. “I ran a little short of cash.” She saw his mouth open in protest, but raised her hand like a traffic cop to hush him. “My deceased hubby’s hospital bills and funeral expenses arrived three days back. Five invoices in one day totaling $125,000. It’s not doable, Marley. I can’t fix it any longer, this broken mess I call my life. I figured it finally got the jump on me.” She smiled back at him, her face not so much a picture of defeat but confusion. “So I started scrimping on my insulin and chose lights and water over food and drugs.” The implications weren’t lost on him, and he felt panicky inside. “I was thinking the auction house might spot me an advance, then I’d fill my prescription, but before I got back to my pick-up, I started feeling woozy. In a flash, I was down on the sidewalk, couldn’t talk, couldn’t move.”

She tried to blink back tears but was unsuccessful. Unable to bear what he felt from her words, he moved over by her, and squatted next to her. As gently as his thick, awkward hands could move, he pushed the strands of hair the tears began sticking to her cheeks, back behind her ears.

“Shh, shh, shh, shhhh,” he soothed. Oh if only she weren't so sure she deserved all this suffering, he thought not for the first time. He’d seen those storm clouds gather over her when they were just kids together and then build up through the years. It was her husband’s death, however, that unleashed them into a steady downpour. Not only had he given her a shitty life, but also he’d wiped out any savings they had, dying as slowly and as expensively as he could. There was no doubt in Marley’s mind that it happened just like that.

“How did it all come to this?” she asked. “Who would have thought my life would end lying paralyzed on a sidewalk? I had so many good chances in life, Marley. I made it. I got out. I went to university. Away from these bigots. I thought anyway. But some part of me sure stayed stupid. Maybe it was his title, PhD. and all the seeming prestige of being a professor’s wife. It certainly wasn’t his kindness. But, Marley, I was the one who said yes and married the sod. What accounts for such stupidity, Marley? Mine, I’m talking about.”

He knew she wasn't whining, that her question was sincere, but Marley always felt nervous when she asked such questions. He couldn’t answer them. He wasn’t even sure they had an answer. He just didn’t want her to continue the drumming she’d taken as a child, only now by her own hand. She was different. No question about that, had been from the first day he saw her; and it was to that sweetest of memories he’d drift when she’d ask the hard questions.

They met the day his dad, a local farmer, was taking him to town but had stopped first at Charlie Frances’s home place to see her dad. She was sitting on this same porch, singing to a stray she’d just rescued, a coarse-coated mongrel with cloudy eyes and bones sticking out every which way. She had him in her lap and appeared not to notice his stench or his filth. She was doctoring his sores, digging out the ticks, and singing a song she made up as she went along.

Marley had tried most of his life to understand what happened in the magic of that moment, how it is that love begins. He wasn’t dull-witted. But it was something that hid in his heart away from the prying eyes of reason and logic. He didn’t even get to speak with her that day, and truth be told, he was glad, as absolutely nothing would have come out of his mouth in that moment. But he sensed how different she was, and he began to notice how she never fit in. People labeled her a dreamer, as they couldn’t figure out any other way to describe a child whose interest in the world gave wonderment a whole new meaning. She wasn’t making an acquaintance with the world. It was like she already knew it, and now was only deepening her relationships with it. As a result, she saw things no one else saw. It was hard to explain, for she seemed to live from a totally different frame of reference. The world for her wasn’t subject to object. She was like a baby discovering its toes only to realize they were part of her. She knew the world in that way, each new discovery somehow connected to her and her to everything else. It was people who eluded her grasp, for they kept demanding of her that she see the world from how they thought it was. And to her that seemed down-right silly.

Amid the sweaty practicality of a farming community, her behavior seemed foolish and unproductive. Her innocent need to understand most everything wasn’t valued, but considered instead as haughty, blasphemous even. Only Marley knew her, sensed who she was, and felt the strange energy of life that swirled about her. She created the pounding in his chest, the same thrill of just being alive he got when he’d test himself playing chicken on the river road or taking over the controls on his uncle’s plane. She made him feel whole and useful and more a man he respected. All he ever wanted to do was make it right for her, let her know someone got who she was, and loved her for every inch of it.

“People walked right by me, Marley. Right by me, lying there, helpless. One even made some comment about being drunk in the middle of the day. Even the old street guy, who was sitting there drinking out of a paper bag, moved off a bit as if I was defiling his space as well. The light around me was starting to close off into a cone, and my one thought was, how did I make such a mess of my life? I was sure I’d die on that pavement with nothing but peoples’ judgments being the last words ringing in my ears. I wasn’t in any pain, just losing control of everything. And then it happened, like it was right out of a Disney movie….

Look for Part Two tomorrow to brighten you Monday morning.

Christina Carson, Writer
Novels of Substance & Story

Friday, April 4, 2014

Baby Out with the Bath Water

by Christina Carson

I was sitting on our bed, fountain pen in hand. Nightshade was the ink color in it which harmonized with the soft gray of that rainy Sunday morning. In my lap was a little writing table and on it several sheets of Japanese paper as smooth as silk. I was about to write a letter to a friend of old, writing in the old way, ink pen on paper. But what was actually pending was a remarkable experience, an insight couched in the words of the dated saw: Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

You see, as I started to write that letter, almost immediately I felt what happens when we communicate with one another through this specific form of writing – fountain pen and paper. I sat amazed at what I felt as the words rolled out on the page. They didn’t create the feeling of being constrained like the short jags we exchange via social media. They didn't instill a sense of being rushed or behind, or a need to get through quickly like digital communication elicits. They did not feel like someone fulfilling a duty or checking off a list of To Do’s. Instead the words were pulling up from the depths of me something so poignant that I had no desire to zero in on the mundane or the trivial. When I’d finished, what I mailed off was a small part of me, given to my dear friend. She will, I’m sure, read and reread it, as  handwritten letters always invite. And we will reclaim a relationship I’d not formerly handled implicit with the love and gratefulness I have always felt for her.

I realized more powerfully than I was able to ignore that we humans are making a very big mistake to allow technology to own us as it does: to arrange our priorities, to determine the rhythm of our lives, to race us past what truly matters to get to yet another empty distraction. To live a life dictated by digital parameters is causing us to lose values, attitudes and activities that help us to remember the sense of humanity that falls so naturally out of the words—human being.

I don’t pretend to know the why of this; I just know it is so. The power of words to convey wisdom, peace and love do not come out of my digital reader. They do however, come off the inked page of a book. A photographer friend told me the other day she is going to add black-and-white photography to her artistic endeavors because she cannot feel the depth of art she seeks through digital photography—too many mechanical pieces between her and the work, encouraging the belief that a single moment isn't worth your all. That you can clean it up later.

Here is one possible explanation. All life is about connection, because the crowning experience of life is realizing the absolute interconnectedness of All Things and living from that realization. Such an experience requires of us that we slow down, quiet down, and engage with an activity in a manner which actually draws out of us something new, something more than we’d known before about ourselves or life. 

For this to happen, we must be challenged. When life no longer requires us to develop ourselves, because, in the name of progress, it makes redundant the very skills that engaged us with that task, we wither on the vine of boredom. For example, if I don’t have to know words and spelling; if I don’t have to take responsibility for writing as the art form it is; if I am not involved in the stages of addressing, stamping and closing an envelope that brings the entire experience to a satisfying end, then what am I left with for my efforts? How empty am I going to allow my life to become? What we seem to have convinced ourselves of in the froth and speed and flashing lights of the digital world is that quantity has surpassed quality as a means of determining richness of life. 

Oh and by the way, here’s one more item I found in the bathwater. When was the last time you coffee lovers had a cup of perked coffee. You know, that kind that fills the entire house with that delicious aroma and treats you to how fine coffee can truly taste. When did we let that one go? And why?

Want to see what it feels like for you to own your life again? Start with a fountain pen and paper and write a letter to someone, anyone, even me. Then notice the tenor of your anticipation as you wait for the reply. 

Novels of Substance and Story