I wish you all a healthy, prosperous, abundant and joyous New Year. To my writer friends, I wish you rivers of words flowing easily and well, and mountains of eager readers. To everyone else, whatever your New Year’s wish is, I hope it is granted.
This holiday season has as usual been full of wonderful things–including some better-than-normal TV commercials. I was especially impressed with the beer company campaign showing crazed spots fans trying to influence the outcomes for their favorite teams with all kinds of odd rituals, and the tagline on the commercial: “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.”
And doesn’t THAT speak to us as writers?
Writers are by nature superstitious. We never really know where the words are coming from, and when they’re going well, we want them to continue. When they’re not, we want to start the flow again. Either way, we’re never sure it’s what’s inside us that makes that happen, so too often, we ascribe it to an outside force we have to woo and anxiously placate.
What’s YOUR superstition as a writer? Do you have more than one? (C’mon, we all know writers have superstitions, whether they ever admit to them or not.) Do you give in to your superstitions or have you tried to bat them away and act like a ‘normal’ person? (Who am I kidding? If writers were normal, we wouldn’t be writing.)
I have a number of superstitions that affect my writing. Most I won’t mention, because as everyone worth their superstitions knows, the minute you tell it, you destroy the magic. (A lot like telling the story of your novel during a drunken evening with your friends–that’s a guarantee it’ll never get written.) And I’m in no mood, on this first day of a beautiful new year, to destroy any magic that might be coming my way in 2014.
But I’ll tell you about my superstitions involving numbers. It’s one of my longest-lasting superstitions, and as of this writing, it’s still true.
I have a peculiar relationship with the numbers 3 and 8.
They’re–well, how shall I put it? Lucky?
All I know is, whenever the numbers 3 and 8 show up in my life, something positive follows. For instance, 12 years ago when we left Chicago to move down to Charleston, and I was setting up our new phone service, I found out the area code for this part of South Carolina was 843.
An 8 and a 3–in the area code! That’s when I knew the move was going to be a good one. (And it has been; this has been by far the best place I’ve ever lived.)
At that time, the telephone company allowed you to pick your own phone number, and when I asked the woman on the phone for something with double numbers (easy to remember) that included the numbers 3 and 8, she suggested one that ended in 8833. And the other three digits, added together, came out to 8.
I’ve had that same phone number for 12 years. My South Carolina driver’s license also features the numbers 8 and 3, and the digits on my license plate come out to 3 (both through random circumstances–I had nothing to do with them). Are you starting to see a pattern here?
In choosing the price for two of my 2013 novels–STEALING FIRE and FORWARD TO CAMELOT: 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION–I explained my superstition to my publisher at Drake Valley Press. She was totally on board with it, and together we experimented with combinations of numbers till we came up with pricing that would be fair for the books while still favoring my 3 and 8 trend (STEALING FIRE is $8.99 for the eBook, $17.99 for the paperback, FORWARD TO CAMELOT at $8.99 for the eBook, $23.88 for the paperback–add up the numbers and reduce to a single digit–it works).
I certainly can’t claim those digits affected sales, but STEALING FIRE became a #2 Amazon bestseller within a day or so of going live in July. CAMELOT has received the best reviews I’ve ever gotten, and both books were named to separate Top Ten lists for Best Reads of 2013. It will be interesting to see whether the pattern continues as both books continue in the marketplace.
Ultimately, what matters here is nothing but my belief that those numbers affect my outcome. When I see them in relation to a phone number, an address, or any other numerical designation, they make me smile. They make me trust.
Do they make me a better writer? Well … if I believe I am as a result of those numbers, then yes, I am. If I’m relaxed enough to do my best work because of some ephemeral (and probably silly) but recurring pattern that seems to bode well for me, then everyone involved with my work benefits. And so far (knock on wood), the 3’s and 8’s in my career haven’t let me down. Something good always follows when I spot them. (And yes, I’m looking.)
My mother always laughed at superstitions and said they were ridiculous. She may be right. I’m the only one who goes hunting for those numbers and lights up when they show up. Probably they don’t mean anything at all.
But, I mean, why take the chance?
What’s YOUR superstition??? And might it have anything to do with a new year meaning a fresh start and a new chance to do your best work?
Happy, happy Thanksgiving! This holiday wish goes out not only to all my American friends, family and colleagues, but also to those who may not celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday (to be followed shortly by the ritual of Black Friday, which will make a man out of you even when you’re a woman). I believe that we need to take time to give thanks often. One day is not enough. But it’s good to have the reminder.
As writers, we need to be thankful for many things, and we need to remember how much we’ve been given. On days when we can’t think of a thing to write, it’s easy to forget all the words we’ve already written. When we don’t know how to get to the top of the mountain, we forget that we’re the ones who put up the mountain to begin with, and hey, we can move it if we want to. We can lop off a few feet or we can shrink it down to a hill, or a footpath. But we always have the choice.
We have many blessings as writers, and counting them often is a good exercise. It makes that mountain a lot easier to climb, in the long run.
This year especially I have so much to be thankful for. Every year at New Year’s I hope for the following year to be transformative. 2013 really was, and I believe my life and career will be substantially better going forward. I’m sure you have your own list of writerly blessings. Here, in no particular order, is mine:
1) My family, especially my two wonderful sons. Thank you for Colin’s scholarships to Clemson and for Kenny’s injury-free baseball seasons (all of them) and for all the time I’ve been able to spend with them, and for their forgiving me the times I didn’t. The truth is, much as you want the whole world to stand still and gape at your brilliance, there are days when you’re less than brilliant, and sometimes even less than kind. On those days (and the joyous ones as well), it helps to have people who love you and root for you. I will never forget that after Colin read the original version of FORWARD TO CAMELOT, his response was, “Gee, Mom, it didn’t suck.” I may embroider that on a sampler one day.
2) The three books I’ve published this year: STEALING FIRE and FORWARD TO CAMELOT: 50th Anniversary Edition, through Drake Valley Press, and REALIZING YOU (through CreateSpace). I’m so grateful they were out on time and for the wonderful reception they’ve all received so far.
3) Kevin Finn, my co-author on CAMELOT, for his patience and perseverance (especially when I argued) and for his talent, wisdom and willingness to concede on occasion (which I’m not sure I would have had the strength to do). His editor’s eye and his ability to coax me into cutting made the final version of this novel by far the best we have ever done. I believe the novel’s amazing reviews are due, in part, to the work we did this summer, cutting it down from an unwieldy 488 pages to a tighter and more manageable 382 pages. Thanks, Kevin.
4) Ron Doades, my co-author on REALIZING YOU. Ron and I struggled for a long time to create an entirely new genre, which was never easy, but his patience and optimism made the process so much simpler than it could have been. His vision for a new kind of self-help book was the catalyst for an amazing journey we both took. Thanks for inviting me along, Ron.
5) Drake Valley Press, for its hard work, prompt turnaround and endless dealings with the details. The company’s belief in STEALING FIRE and CAMELOT supported me greatly through two back-to-back production cycles. I’m not sure I could have gotten through it without their encouragement.
6) The reviews, which lifted up my heart with every line. Astonishingly, there hasn’t been a SINGLE negative review of any of the books, which is almost unheard-of. One of the two 3-star reviews of STEALING FIRE began, “STEALING FIRE is an exceptionally well written novel” and ended with “Perfect ending. Great beach read.” If that’s the worst thing I ever hear about something I wrote, I have NOTHING to complain about!
7) The cover art, which was an exercise in frustration on CAMELOT and REALIZING YOU and only went smoothly with STEALING FIRE, where I discovered almost at once the right image and already had the right color and font, so everything came together when they were blended. Kevin and I fought some of our toughest battles over the new cover for CAMELOT, and Ron and I went back and forth for the better part of a year over the final cover and cover text for REALIZING YOU. Nonetheless, they all came together beautifully, and just looking at the paperbacks on my bookshelf makes me happy. Thank you to the designers and publishers for a masterly job.
8) My author photo on STEALING FIRE and CAMELOT (same pic), which was beautifully shot by photographer Vicki Faith. I knew what I wanted to look like but wasn’t sure all those qualities could come out in a single image. She managed it, and bonus–it looks great on both book covers and every website where the image is displayed. Thank you, Vicki. You made me look glorious!
9) The readers who have already bought it and enjoyed it, and those who will in the future. The deep dark truth is, I don’t really write for readers. I write because I have an impulse I can’t resist. It makes me want to get it down on paper and it’s impossible to deny. The pleasure of crafting the story as I see it and then seeing it finished, as though by a force outside myself, is the greatest joy of my life. That others actually want to read it–and enjoy the experience–is the greatest bonus on earth. I am thankful for that impulse and the process that draws others to my work, and with all my heart, I pray it continues for the rest of my life and beyond.
10) Most of all, my heart goes out to God with thanks for the gift He has given me. It is so easy to think that what you can do, what seems to come naturally, is of no value–or that everyone else can do it too, so it’s not that important. If I’ve learned anything worth knowing this year, it is that this gift is only given to a few, and those who are given it are expected to use it constantly and wisely. It’s not for me to say whether I have used it wisely, or whether my efforts in the future will count as wise. I do know that this time, these last few years, are the first time I have felt I knew what I was doing as a writer. Whatever my shortcomings and whatever other writers can do that I can’t, I can still do what I’ve done this year. I’m very, very proud of all I’ve accomplished, and it’s clear to me that the only way forward for me is with my writing and with what I will learn through each new project.
My best wishes to everyone within reach of this blog, for the happiest of holidays, and especially for those writers who are struggling, for a way to find your light in the darkness. I promise, no matter how it seems right now, it’s there.