Poetry for People Who Think They Don’t Like Poetry

 

I had a boyfriend my junior year of high school. That, in itself, is shocking if you knew me. He was a year older and after graduating, he attended a liberal arts college in our town. It was 1972 and dinosaur computers roamed the earth.

The boyfriend did a  freshman project that involved teaching a computer to write poetry. It was all very creative and revolutionary at the time. We added lists of nouns and verbs and adjectives and whatnot. Then the Compudactyl coughed out simple sentence structure with random words filling the blanks. The poetry was pretty nonsensical but it was an era when that almost worked.

The boyfriend wrote his own poems as well; they read like math problems to me. He’d struggle for days, sweating out cleverness in unusual words arranged in shapes on the page. Art was hard work. I was a teenage girl, drowning in angst, self-loathing, and problems at home, so I wrote poetry, too. I’d scribble something on a napkin, show it to him, and well… Not quite supportive. He thought I didn’t suffer enough in the writing process for the words to add up to any value. He was right. The words were easy. It was life that was complicated.

I continued writing poems through my twenties, dismissing them as post-teen-angst drivel, and never showing them to anyone again. I was a young feminist and survivor of doing stupid things; these were not pink poems about hearts and flowers. I wrote them in my own blood and still didn’t take them seriously.

Misogynasaurus. It’s a testament to the depth of gender bias is in our culture that smart women are often our own worst enemies. Traditionally, we don’t hire us, we don’t vote for us, and we don’t listen to us. I didn’t listen to me… but sometimes it takes us awhile to grow into ourselves.

A few decades later I mentioned to a male friend that I was thinking of posting some poetry. He said something sarcastic, so I turned on my heel and marched away to hide my quivering lip. Truth: He likes my writing. That isn’t what he was sarcastic about. He doesn’t like poetry. He might even be afraid of it.

For crying out loud, I’m afraid of poetry.

Sometimes poetry can seem almost unintelligible. There are big words with obscure meanings and maybe there is a thesis out there written by a graduate student that can explain it to me. But I don’t want to read a thesis to understand a poem. It makes me feel like the one in the room who doesn’t get the joke. I don’t enjoy feeling stupid.

And then some poetry might be so insanely flat and simple that it has no hook for me and then I feel too intelligent, which ends up not being that enjoyable either.

Some poetry is so floral; so pale-apricot and ruffles, so adjective-laden, so very perfectly poetic, that I want to scream with a red pen all over it. Oops. Forgive me. I’m the one who quit Brownies because they were sissies.

Maybe it isn’t about poetry. Or accordion music. Or horror movies. Or Opera. More likely it’s about what appeals to each unique individual. And whether we have an open mind. And how pretentious we are about art in general.

So I did it. I gave up worrying what people thought. Or worse, what I thought. I’ve posted poems once a week, with a photo, for the last year. It’s an act of courage: I write them on Monday mornings and post them fast. I don’t let myself over-think it.

Recently, the same friend talked to me about poetry again. After complimenting a few poems, he said, “I thought I didn’t like poetry but maybe I was wrong.” That puts my poetry in the same category as my other gift to him –Brussel sprouts.

UPDATE: I’m traveling a lot this fall, giving clinics, and loving every minute. In a way, clinics are like book talks with horses included. Hard to beat that. There are several new US locations, as well as Canada. In February, I’ll be working in New Zealand and Australia. I’m planning writing days while I’m away and very excited about everything I’ll learn on this trip. (Contact me if you’d like to know where the clinics are located Down Under.) And this other bit of news: The next book will be poems. I’d like to use a different (more complicated) publishing process with better photo reproduction and shiny paper. Is that too uppity? For all the reasons poetry confounds people? So it goes, “they” told me a memoir was a bad idea, too. 

And thanks to those of you still posting reviews on Amazon. It makes a bigger difference than you imagine, keeping the books alive in the search engines.  I appreciate it.

I’ve thought long and hard about how to get my head around writing poems without feeling a need to apologize. Without the feeling like I’m a pretender to literary élite. I’ve always believed that fighting pretentiousness was my superpower.

But I’m not the first woman on a farm with a pen and there are some personal feelings that want out. I want to praise this beautiful fragile earth. I want to write tiny stories in clean words. And love poems to horses. And most of all, I want to write poetry for people who think they don’t like poetry.

 ….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Composing a Writer #12. What True Self-Publishing Means

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told I was destroying my life. It started in high school where every choice carried potential doom; if you don’t go to college, if you don’t go to the right college, if you sleep with your boyfriend, if you try drugs. I’m sure there are still people waiting for my unplanned pregnancy forty-five years later. Meanwhile, I did have an adolescent crush all right. On Shakespeare.

Choosing to self-publish started the doom threats again. Some literary folks believe not finding a publisher will destroy any credibility you or your book could ever have. That there’s a vain glory in waiting ten or twenty years, suffering for art like an unrequited lover. Balanced against that the fact that the average number of sales for a self-published work is a measly 250 over the lifetime of the book.

Publishing can feel hopeless but perhaps the way you can tell you’re ready is that you’ve completed the millionth edit of your book and you’re at a place where it’s harder to not publish than it is to go forward. Confidence has slipped in with the editors, beta readers, and re-writing. You got stronger through the process, you think you can survive the leap.

[Reminder: This is a series about writing; a map of the paths and stopovers that I made in my book process. I’m no literary expert but as a way of saying thank you, I’m sharing my attempts to navigate all the usual roadblocks.]

Self-publishing starts innocently. Someone asks if you know that Amazon will publish an ebook for almost no money. It’s true and it takes less than twenty minutes to become a published author. There are no quality checks –part of the reason eBooks get a bad name. You can publish without so much as a spell check. If you think your family and a handful of friends will be your only readers, it might be good enough.

Here’s the catch. Amazon is working on a plan for world domination. They have nearly put Barnes and Noble out of business and Barnes and Noble were the biggest booksellers in history, having already threatened to put indie bookstores out of business. It’s that big fish eats little fish model of capitalism. So, it makes sense that indie bookstores don’t buy CreateSpace (Amazon’s publishing branch) books. Better to not use their ISBN number as it catalogs your book forever as Amazon’s and you don’t get to support your local bookstore. It seems like a quick publish but is it worth the limitations and politics and ongoing royalties involved?

Then you research self-publishing on the web and find a range of options. Some are vanity presses that print for money. (Think bottom feeders.) They accept all books and then sell you services like editing and cover design for various amounts of money. You might even recognize their brand names. Some authors don’t want involvement in publishing “details” and are happy to pay for the convenience. Be aware that it’s generally over-priced with a large up-front investment from the author. Editing is included and there will be a required investment of a few thousand dollars. In the end, you get a percentage of the sale but so do they –forever. Do you really want to pay them a percentage going forward for work that you’ve already paid for?

Here’s the tricky part, where the sharks live. Vanity presses frequently call themselves self-publishers.  Those are two different things but it’s very hard to figure that out doing the research. It’s an industry secret of sorts. There are varying sales pitches with lots of gray areas. Some of those vanity press books are beautiful. Not to mention, they’re great at selling themselves to authors. It can sound reasonable because traditionally published authors get a few cents a book. If you sell like Stephen King, it adds up but for small fish, not so much. A true self-publish should mean that you get all the money.

Here’s where I say again, be aware. First-time authors are like fat trout in the stream, easy picking because we’re inexperienced and tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves. There is an industry of businesses who prey on our naiveté and passion and they work right beside professionals with ethics and knowledge to help us. It’s hard to tell the difference in the beginning.

Most confusing for me was a hybrid press that asked for submissions just like an indie press would. I got the thrill of being accepted, along with a flattering phone call, only to find out that it would cost almost $10,000 to get my book to press. Sure, they offered a bit more than the cheaper vanity presses but that was an impossible amount of money. They tried to make me feel guilty or uncommitted but the money wasn’t possible. Once I verbalized that, their enthusiastic interest in my book evaporated.

A big deciding factor for me with Stable Relation was that I’d paid for three professional edits in the process of writing. It was a wonderful and educational investment. The quality of my manuscript was a direct result of that but why pay for it again, as most so-called self-publishers or vanity presses required?

The family story goes that my first sentence was, “I’ll do it myself.” As a kid, I quit the Brownies after a month because I thought they were sissies, gluing macaroni on paper when there were horses to ride.

I guess it’s no surprise that in the end I’d self-publish but at least I’d taken the time to become well-informed about the process. I could write a book about publishing, but instead, here are the Cliff’s Notes:

I searched for a cover artist whose work I liked and found Jane in England. I chose the cover from a group of designs that I had input on. She has a great eye and got all the details in place. She was knowledgeable and made the process of cover and interior design quick and easy. The cover needed a bold visual and with my art background, I was picky. I wanted my true self-publish to stand proudly on shelves next traditionally published books. Hiring a professional achieved that.

Jane returned the finished covers and interiors, both paperback and ebook, in digital file format, along with bookmarks and PR images, and a bill for a few hundred dollars instead of a few thousand. The rest was easy:

  • I filed a business name for my publishing company. Prairie Moon Press was born for a few dollars.
  • I bought my ISBN numbers from Bowker in the name of Prairie Moon Press.  I bought a group of them; each book and eBook need its own identification number.
  • I set up an account with Ingram Spark. They are the largest international distributor of books; the place that Barnes and Noble and all other independent bookstores buy from. Uploading my book’s files was as easy as posting on Facebook and within a week, a proof of Stable Relation came in the mail. The cost for set-up is $49.
  • I set up free eBook distribution on Smashwords for international availability.
  • After that, I opened an account on Amazon CreateSpace, because I knew the vast majority of my sales would be there. They can buy the books from IngramSpark but they charge me more and availability is spotty. Meaning Amazon likes to do business with themselves best. I uploaded both paperback and eBook there, and again, a proof arrived in a week. No charge to set up with your finished files.
  • The books become available when the proofs are accepted. The whole process is fairly simple and although IngramSpark and Createspace take a small percentage for distribution, your royalty is much higher than you’d think. You are now an author and a publisher.
  • Finally, it’s time to promote your book. During this part, to beat a dead metaphor, you gasp for air like a prehistoric catfish landed in the Sahara. And you have only begun!

This is the last post of this series, and probably the least interesting –being more technical that creative. Please understand that I take this task seriously. There’s always business required for art to succeed and I respect that. I’ll continue to write about writing and I’ll tag to this series. I’ll toss out writing challenges from time to time. Thank you to everyone who’s played a part here. I want to end sharing the words we started with –a call to your craft:

“Writing is the art of molding our voices to say just the exact thing we mean, with honesty, vulnerability, and hopefully a little humor. Take your writing seriously. Whether the world ever reads us or not, it’s past time that we give our own words the respect they deserve.”

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

Composing a Writer #11. Submission and Rejection

I’m not proud of what I did. In my defense, I was in my early twenties; old enough to know disappointment, even violence, at the hands of men. I knew I wasn’t at my best. It had been a stressful, lonely couple of years. He was wearing a tie and he seemed sincere, quiet-spoken, and maybe an inch shorter than me. They say you fall for men who remind you of your father. Not me; this man was his polar opposite.

Still, there’s no excuse and I’ve carried the shame for decades. I can’t even quite admit the details now. I only said hello to be polite but then we were talking, haltingly at first. Before I knew it, one thing led to another and, it’s embarrassing to say this, he was kind to me. He told me that I was pretty. That’s when it happened. I crumpled and bought the vacuüm cleaner. I’m not sure if this makes it better or worse but I think he was at least seventy.

[Reminder: This is a series about writing; a map of the paths and stopovers that I made in my book process. I’m no literary expert but as a way of saying thank you, I’m sharing my attempts to navigate all the usual roadblocks.]

This is just to say that there’s a special mix of exhaustion and numb hysteria when a writer makes a choice…

I decided to submit my manuscript to small publishing houses. I did another few hundred hours of online research and found about twenty-five possibles who accepted memoir. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I spent as much time researching publishing as I had to edit the whole manuscript.

Each publisher had slightly different submission requirements. They all want a cover letter, bio, resume, and first chapter. Some ask for a comparison statement and most want to know that you have a following who will purchase your book, and what you’re willing to do to promote the book. The resume has an obvious challenge for first-time authors.

Some publishers want a 50-word description, some want 250 or 500. Then maybe 2,500 words. After spending an eternity writing the manuscript, now you must hack it down to an enticing tidbit. Then, you need that tidbit to come in assorted sizes. It’s harder than it sounds. In the end, there’s a file on your computer filled with a few versions of each bit of required paperwork.

Then publisher by publisher, each submission got cobbled together; the same bits but in various orders. Finally, with a precious feeling of elation and dread, that last part… the submit click. Consider this the part of the roller coaster ride where there is a long incline before the big vertical drop.

I think I’m supposed to say something about patience about now. Here goes. When working with animals, patience is the place where all good things come together. Other trainers tell me that I redefine patience. However, when working with “the way of the world,” I consider patience another word for procrastination. Sorry. I probably redefine relentless, too.

The research never stops, but now is the time to do all the other things you should have done already. Make an author website and an author page on Facebook. I had a hard time even calling myself an author, without a book, so I opted to share my quest for a publisher in the first posts on my author blog. It felt sticky and vulnerable, but I was lucky that so many of my horse/life blog readers signed up for the new blog. Their comments on my older blog kept me going while writing Stable Relation, but now their comments on my new author blog, kept me lifted there, too. Bless those early readers. They carried me from the first word.

Steep yourself in publishing information. Check out Goodreads and the back side of Amazon. Continue following writer’s blogs. You’ll find that the industry is changing fast and no one knows what’s going to happen. It’s been that way for years but it’s good to be reminded. In the middle, one thing becomes abundantly clear. It isn’t if your manuscript will be published, the only question is how you’re willing to let it happen.

Within the first two weeks, I’d heard back from the first wave of publishers. They told me that they didn’t accept memoir after all. I choked back my why say so then? remarks and thanked them. Then Feminist Press in New York asked for the full manuscript. Finally, someone wanted the whole book. I sent it within minutes.

More rejections came back, but always with a compliment about my writing. Two publishers initiated personal emails with suggestions because, although their press didn’t publish memoir, they had ideas for me. Somehow, I had no publisher but wasn’t rejected either. Feminist Press sent the kindest note –a kind of apology rejection.

A blog reader asked if I wanted to talk with one of her friends who was a retired publisher and that conversation was invaluable. I emailed a publicist who required a reading before taking an author on, but she responded with an in-depth book assessment that was nothing short of glowing.

Stable Relation had come a long way and the process gave me confidence. My writing was acknowledged as my genre was rejected. On the advice of a handful of publishers, I decided to self-publish. Not because my manuscript wasn’t good enough for a real publisher, but because the publishing world was complicated and Stable Relation wasn’t easy to categorize. They thought my book deserved a chance and I believed they meant it.

This Week: With one blog left in this series, this week is about your process. Please take a moment and tell me how your writing is going. Are you writing differently? How do you cross the line from wanting to write and writing –and even writing for publishing? Have your writing or publishing goals changed? Tell me about your research and add the link to your author website. It’s your turn to tell me a story about your writing –please and thank you.

Even the word submission is touchy for me, as a horse trainer and a woman. My reaction has evolved through my life and my memoir, Stable Relation, is that exact story.  The irony was not lost when publishing brought me snout to snout with another opportunity to submit. I held my head up, listened to varied advice, and made a choice.

I took the compliment without buying the vacuum cleaner.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

Composing a Writer #10. A Manuscript is Not a Book

Let’s say pigs fly. You’ve written the thing you always wanted to write. It’s a miracle. It’s been in your mind since reading that first book that stole you away. It means you’ve sat by yourself for untold hours and managed to commit the words to the page. You’ve edited it to perfection with an obsessive-compulsive love disorder that includes nurturing the idea like a baby bird, watching it grow feather by feather, only to hack it to bits with a meat cleaver so it can rise from the flames …a phoenix. Ta-da. You have a completed manuscript.

I don’t know how this would feel to a fresh young mind, but I do know how it feels in the second half-century of life. Fist-pumping elation and a happy dance complete with the backside shimmy that’s best left undescribed. This is where the story ends in the movie version. The End scrolling over my… um, end.

Meanwhile back in real life, I notice that I don’t actually have a book. I have a file in my computer. It feels marginally better than having a stack of paper that my prairie wind would surely find a way to plaster along the south fence line.

I’m feeling a strange combination of gosh-it’s-no-big-thing humility and I-did-it-I-did-it! pride for a thing stuck inside my computer, when a stranger saunters into my thoughts. Someone with a swagger and she might be wearing a push-up bra. At first I guessed her name was Kills Kittens for Fun but no, it was Ambition. I could tell because the word was lettered in cursive across the chest of her sweater… a sweater that might have fit her back when she was a high school cheerleader. And worse, a couple of inches of her midriff was showing. She set down her suitcase, drained her can of beer, and burped. Just kill me.

[Reminder: This is a series about writing; a map of the paths and stopovers that I made in my book process. I’m no literary expert but as a way of saying thank you, I’m sharing my attempts to navigate all the usual roadblocks.]


This Week: We’re ten weeks in and writing is vying for equal time as your primary language. Words flow like a conversation with an old friend. You have as many words to write as you have to speak; you have paragraphs and chapters, you have a book, a trilogy, a tetralogy, a pentalogy and even a hexalogy. You are filthy stinky rich in nouns and verbs and adjectives.

Assignment: Write about the day after an accomplishment or graduation or the birth or death of something. Write about the thing after the thing. Write your feelings about ambition; how does it fit you? What do you think of ambitious women? Men? Is it okay to make money from your art? Or write the hardest thing of all –write something intentionally funny. You can tell it’s working if you chuckle while you type. Then share whatever you like on our Writing Herd Facebook page. Or comment on what others have written. Or, just know we are your herd, no excuses necessary. Wait and jump in when it’s right for you.


It was my last chance to slide the manuscript in a drawer, or bury it in my tax return file on the computer. But instead, I had an overwhelming need. Nothing prepared me for how much I wanted my manuscript published. I thought writing it would be enough but each step in the writing process edited me as a would-be author. I changed as much as the manuscript did but I’d been so busy writing and studying the publishing world, that I hadn’t noticed. But now I was overtaken with an uncomfortable ambition to get the story out in the world and I’d worked on it so completely that I thought Stable Relation was worthy of that. It was like waking up with a weird kind of amnesia: I knew exactly who I was but I had no history to prove it.

There is so much attitude in the writing world about the publishing question. Some will say submitting to traditional publishers are the only way to get that genuine stamp of acceptance. Publishers are the gatekeepers to a literary career. That any less means your writing has no value because self-published books are trash. So, you worship the rich history of suffering, related by examples of famous authors whose work got rejected time and again before they became famous. Because we all know the very best artists wear suffering like war medals on their chests. It’s the Big Five Publishers or die!

But the Big Five Publishers are more distant and élite than ever before. Some say they are all going down because they aren’t keeping up with changes in their industry. But to get a manuscript to the big boys, they say you must be someone famous or know someone famous. You’ll need an agent because the very idea of traditional publishing is running the other direction. So, you attend conferences and try to network. And worry that you’ll always be a groupie for famous authors while paying off your travel debt and remaining unpublished yourself.

Small presses are a possibility. Genre publishing is booming and it’s a door open to authors of romance or Christian or children’s books. Opportunities drop off fast if you aren’t in one of those genres. And Stable Relation was every publisher’s ugly stepchild –a memoir. Even with a popular genre, small presses won’t invest in an author unless she can prove she has readers waiting. If you manage to hook a small press, they will promote your book for sixty days but it takes them twice that time to let you know if they will even read your manuscript.

Or do you self-publish? Because technology has changed the publishing world. Because everyone knows a self-published book that broke the glass ceiling like Still Alice did. Because some published authors are now self-publishing after being dropped by publishers who won’t publish new books. Or do you find the statistic that says that only 10% of self-published books sell more than a hundred copies?

There’s no answer, so you spend a few thousand hours more, researching publishing and self-publishing online, and see that there is no more agreement than there was a month ago. You think no one wants your book. You think self-publishing could be a swamp filled with alligators, and one with particularly gnarly teeth could have yarns from a certain cheerleader sweater dangling like bloody floss.

(TBC)

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

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Nickers, brays, bleats, howls, and quacks. Now.

longear-approved

We are Long-Ear approved. A whole lot of books do not have this designation.

Barn Dance has been available for a week, and the race is on. But it’s an endurance race and not a sprint; perfectly suited for a contrary herd like us. The start was a bit uneven in an attempt to answer readers asking for a holiday release. I let Amazon have a head start. They are bigger and stronger and didn’t need it.

Independent bookstores are my love, and in order to have my books available there, I do a list of extra things. If you have a bookstore you love, you can get any of my books from them. Tell them Ingram has it; especially if you are located outside the U.S. In a day or two now, Barn Dance will be available from my personal favorite, Barnes and Noble. Support them when you can, but getting it there before the holidays is doubtful.

(Ebook versions are all available on Smashwords, iTunes, and all the usual online locales.)

And if you want to go old-school, you can still get a book from me, signed and with a sweet bookmark or two, by clicking here. There’s no extra charge for the Corgi hair that is bound to be included, as well.

If you like my books, please consider telling a friend or writing a review. You, sitting there with your coffee, are my entire publicity plan. Here’s the crazy part: It’s working. Thank you. I’m so grateful for the precious time you spend reading. It would be painfully dark and quiet without you!

And finally, to introduce my spokes-donkeys today, with Nickole in the photo: Ajax and Comet are here for some training. They are available for adoption through the Colorado Horse Rescue Network. And photos never lie. They are smart asses.


Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

A Word from My Publicist (Cover Reveal)

pr-barn-dance-cover-ebook

My name is Edgar Rice Burro. I’m the publicist for Prairie Moon Press. I got the job because I have the loudest voice, and I’m not afraid to use it. Also, I’m not afraid to tell humans what to do. I’m helpful that way. 

***

I am the human and I used to think I had a thin veneer of control on this farm. I might have been exaggerating.

***

My human finally took my advice and put my handsome face on a book cover. She’s slow on the uptake, but she gives a good ear rub, so I’m patient with her. This book will sell like cold carrots on a hot day.

***

I do the hard jobs for Prairie Moon Press. I wrote the book, for instance. I paid for everything. He just came in at the end and brayed about it. Like it was all his idea. Okay, maybe it was.

***

This book has stories about all of us in the barn. And the barkers and mouse-killers that live across the paddock in the human-barn.  Even goats, and if she let goats in, she has very low standards, but like I said–my human gives good ear rubs.

***

We’re a farm that also fosters and re-trains rescue horses, as well as rescue dogs. The book also includes memories of those who didn’t stay with us forever but are still part of the extended herd. The thing that they don’t tell you about rescue is that it’s an inside job–I think I’ll probably always need it.

***

And when my human wants to rant–and she does love a rant–about being an awkward age, whatever that means, she calls herself an old gray mare. Something I respect, by the way.

***

Final proofs are being finished now but publishing is slow this time of year. In order to expedite the process, I’m not letting the goat help. Stay tuned; I’m publishing as fast as I can.

***

Look into my eyes. Now it’s my job to say, “Buy this book!” But how can you resist? There are words and stuff, but the cover is the real deal–photos don’t lie! Intelligence, sincerity, and donkey scruples. I’m irresistible. 

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro

The Devil Is In the Details

 

wm-lateral-lilith-fauxcoverHow to create a homemade project that looks professional and inviting and even artistic–that’s the dilemma.

I would love to weave a romantic tale about my dilettante author life; that my groom delivers my horse while I pose on the mounting block in my baby-seal-skin riding boots. That I write at dusk by a sapphire pool while owls perch on my shoulder. That my personal masseuse/bodyguard/Corgi wrangler travels along in my Lear jet, as I flit to book talks in Paris, Rio, and Commerce City.

Can I just say there is nothing romantic about writing? It’s more like a bad habit. I start at 3:30 in the morning because I actually have a real job. If you can call horse training a real job. I’m not great company by dinner time, either. But if there is something less romantic than writing, it might be publishing. A friend suggested I write about this part; she thought it would be interesting. I’m dubious.

I’ve spent hours this week laying on the ground in pens here on the farm. I’m trying to take a photo for the next book cover and there are new power lines from a huge wind farm that cross-hatch all my backgrounds, not to mention miss-matched fence panels and a flotilla of wheelbarrows. So I was trying to get an angle where there is little background (like the llama in this photo) and just sky behind. Of course, when I lay on the ground in a pen I get dirt in unforeseen places. Then I wait, while the animals all tilt their heads at odd angles. Eventually, they saunter over to begin the C.S.I. work. In this photo, Lilith thinks I might be a bit unbalanced, but she doesn’t want me to die before lunch. The activity behind the camera makes her look absolutely sane.

If the devil is in the details, then so is the art.

I’ve done the same thing with a few different animals, at odd times of the day for a couple of weeks now. I’m not sure who be on the next cover. There are a few hundred photos. The photos have to have the right kind of spacing so the title works. Remember the cover for Stable Relation? Hundreds of shots there, too. Nubè was catatonic by the time I gave up.

It wasn’t my intention to use my photography at the beginning. I have friends who are professionals and I respect their work. Besides, I’m not very sophisticated. I use my phone and if I need a tripod, I use a donkey. My books are as homemade as canned beans.

I do work with a book designer in the UK; she started with the first book, Stable Relation. I gave her some random ideas–like I liked the original cover for Wild with the hiking boot. I told her the covers I liked in her portfolio, and sent a couple of “kinda like this” photos. She did six mock-up covers, five of them with commercial photos and one of my photos. I shared them around to friends for their opinions. I loved one of her ideas especially… but eventually decided on the black and white idea because the “feeling” was right. I also learned that I could disappoint people (friends) before the book even came out.

When it was time for a cover for Relaxed & Forward, I was all set to skip the group-vote folly and just use that spare cover from the first book. My designer sent me six mock-ups again, different colors and fonts on that first image, along with similar images from online photo stock. Then she pulled one of the interior chapter photos out, did a mock-up, and, well, she was right. It was perfect.

UPDATE: I’m a little over half-finished editing the final draft of Barn Dance. Then I’ll read it one more time, trying to pretend I’ve never read it before. I’ve set up the ISBN numbers for the new print and ebook, I’m wrangling interior photos, and chanting bad would-be tag lines. I have to write one small perfect paragraph describing the book, making it sound so indispensable that strangers will buy it instantly, form a cult, and send me all their goats. And then there’s the matter of the cover… I’d like Edgar Rice Burro, but he shuns the spotlight. Clearly, some of these tasks are more challenging than others. I’m hoping for a publish date in January for Barn Dance

I’ll be collecting an award at the Miami Book Fair International in mid-November. Anyone else going? There’s book shopping!

And one more time, I want to thank everyone who posted a review online, at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Goodreads. It means the world. Literally, people around the world read them. Now that you have a view inside of my fabulous publishing dynasty, it’s probably obvious that readers are my publicity budget. Thank you for poking the search engine into a grinding, squeaking rattle with the question, “Anna who?” Thank you! The reviews that slowly trickle in now are from people whose names I don’t recognize. It worked!

Now I’m down to details on the new book. Idiosyncratic editing. Numbers, dimensions, and abbreviated descriptions. I’ll head out in early light in the morning and hit the dirt again. No baby-seal-skin boots. No Lear jet warming up. And if I had an owl on my shoulder, she’d be checking my hair for mice and grubs. Romanic, isn’t it?

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro

Going Where You’re Invited

Lately I’ve been haunted by this drumming thought: Now would be a good time to do something smart.

It doesn’t come naturally to me. To be honest, I have a tendency to do things the hard way. I spent a fair amount of time beating down doors, back in the day. If easier methods existed, they never occurred to me. For instance, I liked the idea of winning the lottery but I don’t actually believe in a free lunch, so I never bought the ticket. See what I’m working with here?

Lousy financial decisions have been a constant. Like hiring that financial planner/ex-IRS agent who helped me lose all the profit I made selling a house… to the IRS. And you wouldn’t want to take me along to buy a used truck. And oh yeah, there’s that barn full of un-rideable horses next to my house.

Maybe I got lost on the way to take the road less travelled and that has made all the difference. (Apologies, Mr. Frost.)

All of this is to say that writing a book fit perfectly into my long-term plan. First, I warmed my fingers up by blogging regularly for the last seven years. Readers came one at a time. I was a tortoise-like sensation. Then it took two years to write the first book, Stable Relation. Not a get-rich-quick scheme by any stretch of judgment.

Research told me that ninety percent of self-published books sold less than a hundred copies, but still I took the advice of two publishers and a book publicist and decided to self-publish. Hello, Prairie Moon Press.

Being the publisher meant writing press releases and blurbs. Promoting a reluctant author and entering book contests. And the biggest challenge of all: Talking good about the author in public. It’s enough anxiety to turn your tongue into a Dorito. How did someone who mucked barns and wrote every spare moment get this PR job?

It’s been fourteen months since Stable Relation came out. I’ve been making the whole thing up as I go and it’s been surreal. But is it time to let it rest? I love this book but is it over? Am I turning–even more than usual–into that balding guy rocking out in the cliché-red Corvette?

I figure just around this time my guardian angel got out of rehab.

And then Stable Relation was awarded a gold medal from the Readers’ Favorite book awards, in the Non-Fiction, Animals category.

The publisher (me) is happy because now the author (me) has the title of  Award Winning Author. I’m flattered but still more likely to come to “Hey, you!”

They hold a ceremony/mini-conference during the huge and wonderful Miami Book Fair, November 18-20th. They invited the winners to come, hobnob a bit, and perhaps snag the ear of an industry pro. And going to a book fair sounds like about as much fun as you can have without goats or donkeys. On Saturday night, there’s a formal event to present the awards. Think rhinestones on my Crocs.

Like I said, I’d really like to do something smart, if I could tell what that was. I try to keep an open mind. Life is like working with donkeys; you end up someplace else but had little control about how you got there.

So, obviously my category wasn’t the biggest, and I won’t know a soul there, and I don’t sleep well in dog-less hotel beds. But I’m going to try something out of character. If you have a history like mine and don’t know what to do next–it’s crazy notion–but maybe you try going where you’re invited.

…Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro
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Crossing a Line, One Year Later

clara loveletterWhen I was twenty-four and just a baby goldsmith, I decided I wanted to show my one-of-a-kind jewelry in a New York gallery. Most of my friends were just out of college and I wanted to think my self-taught education was in line. I steeled my heart, borrowed a typewriter, enclosed some slides, and mailed off an inquiry to the best fine art jewelry gallery in Manhattan, located on Fifth Avenue across from MOMA.

Pigs fly; I got a positive response by return mail and then borrowed money to buy the gold and gemstones for the new pieces. A few weeks after that, I boarded a plane wearing jeans and a t-shirt, carrying a backpack with new collection of work tucked inside. Such a risk. It all felt like watching a foreign film–precarious and surreal.

I checked into the Fashion Institute Dorm, changed into a ridiculous white dress with huge shoulder pads that made me look like an aircraft carrier, and set about walking the two miles to the gallery. That way I’d have plenty of time to get up a good head of anxiety and blister a toe in my new shoes. The meeting was a blur; I remembered to shake hands when I met the gallery director. In a conference room, I pulled my work out one piece at a time and he critiqued as I went, using phrases like “negative space” and “visual tension.” All I could think was Just say it–not acceptable, you don’t need to explain how bad my work is… and then he finished with a question, “Can you leave the pieces with us today?”

The rest of the day is even more of a blur. I blistered the rest of my toes going back to the dorm; I might have skipped most of the way. When I got some of my wits back the next day, I called the gallery to thank them again and got the news that one piece had sold already.

I said the word out-loud: Artist. Calling myself that name in my basement studio was one thing, but now I’d crossed a line. Okay, skipped over it really, but it changed things. Over the next year, I had work in galleries across the country, and almost as an afterthought, my work got more popular at home. I also lost a couple of friends. They stepped away quietly but I noticed. The attempts to reconnect failed. Is there such a thing as success guilt?

Maybe you know the feeling. A dear friend plans a wedding on the heels of the worst break-up of your life. You get a promotion in your dream career when your sister is out of work. If you’re in a place of scarcity it can feel like there isn’t enough luck to go around and one person’s gain depletes your possibility. Or if you’re the one with good news, you bite your tongue because mentioning your good fortune would be like rubbing salt in the their wound. Most of us have been in a place where it takes as much courage to say congratulations as it does to put on the white dress.

A year ago, I crossed another line. I went from writing endlessly in a little studio to holding an actual physical copy of my memoir, Stable Relation, in my hand. When I exposed it to the world, and I exposed myself as well. It took Zen-like focus and wild audacity. I knew a hard reckoning would come. On the high side, no silly white dress.

Writing is like constructing Frankenstein. Playing god with an 80,000 word manuscript, and when it’s finally done, being brought to your knees, trying to wrestle five words into a byline. It’s a hope that your words will catch the wind and at the same time, the profound understanding that you are less than a fleck of dust in this big, complicated world. It’s yelling, “Hey, look at me!” and knowing that your underwear is on your head.

And then, I saw a photo online of my book on someone else’s tablecloth and my mind imploded. In the next few days, more readers posted photos of the book and Stable Relation became my traveling gnome. I was over the moon. I was hiding under my bed.

Reviews started coming in and most were positive. People commonly said that they couldn’t put the book down; they’d finished it without taking a breath. Where’s the next book?

Wait! This literary “snack” had taken me two and a half years to write, a few thousand dollars, and a serious time commitment every single day since. What’s the word for simultaneously choking and laugh-howling with horror?

A year later, this is what I notice: I can laugh without choking again. My list of improbable things has been severely edited and my battered confidence is standing steady. I’m word-fearless and inspired to write stronger every day. I even dabble in poetry; fearless I tell you!

I’ve received heartfelt emails from kindred spirits in other countries, made friends with people I’m in awe of, and my rural mail-carrier told me her mother loved my book.

Now and then, I notice something missing. Someone missing. I don’t need a parade but those who have remained silent are noticed. I hope they’re well. What does it mean when we choose to miss events in our friends lives? When we don’t acknowledge passages like divorces or children born or new paths taken? Have I offended them? Could it be that our emotional landscapes at odds with each other?

I spend so much of time trying to be a human thesaurus, always searching for the right words to understand these inexplicable contradictions. All the while I’m painfully aware that I can’t control how those same words will be heard…in my writing or in my life.

In the end, maybe assuming good intention is a more productive use of energy than doubting motives. Change has an ironic sense of humor and we might do better to smile and act like we’re in on the joke, even in hard times. The other word for that is grace.

To my blog readers here, I’ve used this space to transition myself into my new surroundings. It’s been the place where I confess my dreams and my shortcomings. I wander around in old pajamas and spill coffee on my keyboard. Mainly I sit in slack-jawed amazement, balanced between wild joy and abject dread. If you have been with me here from the start, what tolerance you’ve shown. I’m sure I haven’t thanked you enough. I’m equally sure you can’t know how much your support has carried me. It’s been the very best part.

Thank you. Big. Always.

 

I Quack at Tweeting.

Tami'sTHEY” tell authors we need a platform. That we can’t get published without one. At the same time I think there might be a rule among writers that it’s cool to hate social media. #iamanartist

“It just takes too much time.” On the rare occasion that I get in a room with other writers, no one wants to have a blog because it’s time-consuming, frustrating work, and then they have to promote it on social media. After five and a half years of actively blogging, I totally agree. I’d even add that you don’t make a dime. On the other hand, it is where actual readers hang out.  #writerswrite #bitingthehandthatfeedsyou

I get defensive in those writer meetings. I like social media. #contraryasagoat

I’m a board member of Horse Advocates of Colorado. We formed, put up a page on Facebook, and had over six hundred followers within a week. Now we are over a thousand members strong and those likes get us into welfare meetings that matter. The legal system knows us and the local horse community can stay informed. I blog for them; it’s time-consuming and unpaid. And it makes a difference. #blogyourpolitics #dogooder

Social media is what you make of it. You can complain about your spouse, take selfies all day, or show us your shoes. #selfobscesseddweeb  Or you can get a kind reminder that your friends care about you on your birthday or when you lose a pet. #notalone #loveyou

We do have freedom of speech in this country and the responsibility of keeping the conversation worthwhile is up to each individual. #oldschoolgoldenrule #hatersgottahate

I rock on Facebook. I’ve found a supportive community that cares about what I care about. I write a blog horses and barn life; it has a sense of humor and a big heart. I try to make words matter; I try to explain things that are hard to explain. #horsesareaparable #bittersweet

It takes courage to hit the publish button each blog post–still now–so many posts later. And the same bravery again for the share button on Facebook. Posts were soundly ignored for the first few years; some go viral now.  #whocareswhatyouthink  #doitanyway

Are you one of the people I’ve been rude to on Twitter? I may imitate cool on Facebook (#geniusinherownmind) but Twitter kills me. I look away and hit the auto-post button. I hate those crazy-weird shortened URLs and abbreviated words hurt my ears. #wouldbeenglishmajor #socialmediasnob

But a writer/friend in Austin, Jann, suggested I up my Twitter-self. She says the writers there are positive and supportive. She was right. @annablake got a new photo and new blurb. #reluctantsuccess  #tryingthankstoJann

Then the real challenge; it’s a different language. Jann gave me some pointers and then started tweeting about my book. #reallifedemonstration  I had no idea what to do next–what if what I did was arrogant or lame. So I stared at the page. And stared some more. #flopsweat

Then I followed a couple of re-tweeters. And I thanked one of them. The staring continued. It’s the hashtags that baffle me the most. Can you tell? Some connect you to people (I think) and some are red herrings. Can any of you help me with this? Seriously, in the comments please.  #twitterfordumbies  #amIbeingobtuse #talkdowntome

WEEKLY UPDATE: book sales trickle in and the promoting continues. Stable Relation has been out for two months. If it had been published traditionally, the publisher would back off now, in favor of newer books. It hasn’t been enough time so I’m talking to the library about buying Stable Relation and I’ve enrolled in their local author program. The first book talks were so fun, that I’m looking for more public speaking opportunities.

I am being redundant, but here is where I ask again; please write a review, just a few words when you have a moment, to post to Amazon, Good Reads and Barnes and Noble. It keeps Stable Relation alive in the search engines; it gives it a bit of weight when promoting the book.

There is a book giveaway at Goodreads, (here,scroll down a bit). It’s a dozen signed copies; you should enter. It’s another way I can thank you.

Most of all, thank you, for reading it in the first place and then following this road with me. Knowing that we are all part of a bigger herd is the best part of the journey. #happytrails #graditudeincapitalletters #itsalongandwindingroad

I did hear back from the tweeter that I thanked. At first I didn’t think there was a messaged, just a garbled short link. So I added a squink to my usual stare, and that’s when I found the message: YW.  I had to look it up.