Top 5 Things Not to Say to a Creative Person

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This past Saturday, I had a booth at a local arts festival. This was not my first event as an author–in fact, it’s more like the sixth or seventh–and each time it gets a little easier to shove my trembling, terrified introverted self deep in my brain, take a deep breath, and start initiating conversation with strangers with a smile on my face.

Now that I’ve practiced coming out of my shell enough times, I can actually say it’s fun! I connected with so many old friends, new acquaintances, and eager future readers. I packed up my booth at the end of the day feeling tired, hungry, and rewarded. But as they always do, this event drew my attention to how creative people–artists, musicians, craftsmen, authors, you name it–are often treated in the public. They’re not treated particularly well, if you’re wondering; not overwhelmingly so, at least.

The more I do in-person events like these, the more I grow used to it. I don’t take comments and looks personally like I might have in the past. But it breaks my heart to know that there is a burgeoning artist out there who has worked up the courage to present their work to the public, perhaps for the first time, only to be met with rudeness and disrespect. A handful of ill-thought comments and remarks made by strangers could be enough to sever whatever glimmering, tenuous thread of hope and enthusiasm they have about their art. And that’s just unacceptable.

So today, here’s my list of what not to say to a creative person. Most of these are book related, since that’s obviously what I know, but I know several of my visual artist friends have had similar experiences.

1. “I can’t buy books from you. I only support local bookstores.”

Rest assured, purchasing a book from an author–especially one who self-publishes–is about as local as it gets. It’s great if you eschew the big chains in favor of independent shops, but don’t lose the spirit of what you’re trying to do by focusing on the letter of the law. A local author is a local business, and does not pose a threat to indie shops.

2. “I’m not interested in talking about your books. I need you to tell me how I can publish mine.”

I often meet budding writers, and that’s always a fantastic experience! It’s great to meet a brother or sister in ink, to paraphrase my friend Lissa Bryan’s expression. But when someone has a booth obviously dedicated to selling their works, it’s very rude to completely ignore their books and ask them for free advice on writing and publishing. They’re in selling mode, and odds are they are not equipped to become your pro bono writing coach at a drop of a hat. Publishing a book is no picnic, no matter which route you take, and you can’t expect someone to give you all the answers in three easy steps. Try to establish a connection instead. Read the back cover of the books, make a few polite comments, and if you think they might be able to help you, ask if it would be all right if you sent them an email later, at a more appropriate time. They will most likely say yes.

3. “I’m a writer, too. I have a fantastic pitch for you.”

Again, please remember that the author you are talking to is just that: an author. They are most likely not also an agent, an editor, the head of a publishing house, or anyone who could help you get a book contract. Even if they weren’t, a signing event specifically for their books is not the time. They are trying to connect with potential readers and don’t have resources on hand to help you at the moment. Ask for their email address and try your questions later.

4. “Is this novel based on your life?”

Maybe this isn’t always a rude question, but when the copy of the book they’re holding is about a girl entering a forbidden affair with her professor, it’s kind of inappropriate.

5. “I’ll buy these on Kindle, as long as they’re not more than two dollars. I never read a book for more than two dollars.”

…Sigh.

I don’t have a problem with eBooks. In fact, due to my busy schedule, I read almost exclusively eBooks these days, because it allows me to read in quick 2-3 minute bursts between classes, on lunch breaks, during unexpected traffic jams, etc. But what I do hate is how they have desensitized the reader when it comes to pricing.

Books don’t pop into existence free of charge. For a decent self-published book, assume that at least $1,000 has gone into cover design, interior formatting, editing, proofreading, and marketing. For a book published through an indie house or one of the Big 5, multiply that number by a lot. And that’s nothing compared to the hours and hours of drafting, revising, editing, polishing, and last minute reading that goes into producing a manuscript worthy of the public.

Now factor in that for a Kindle book costing less than $2.99, royalties are only 30%. That means that a self-published author, who doesn’t have to split royalties with anyone, receive a whopping $0.30 for an eBook that costs $0.99. Authors who have publishers to split the royalties with get even less than that.

I understand money is tight sometimes. I get that eBooks are sometimes way, way overpriced–I’ve seen some that are the same price as the print book, and that’s a little extreme.

But if you want to buy a book and support an author, I really urge you to consider paying more than $2 every once and a while. There are some great free and $0.99 books out there, and it’s always nice to find a bargain, but please don’t expect everyone to be able to afford to give their work away for $0.30–or free.

A is for Advice

I’m a little too late to formally participate in the Blog A-Z  event, but after reading some of my friends post I decided I really liked the idea! There’s no way I’ll finish these out by the end of April, but I think I’ll do them at my own pace all the same. 


I see them all the time. You see them, too, I’m sure. They’re everywhere, these lists of advice handed down from invisible so-called experts with no room for nuance. You must not marry young, you must only breastfeed your babies, you must only make these moves in your career . . . and here are the reasons why.

I’ve made plenty a numbered list during my time as a blogger, and I don’t think the format is a bad idea, but I cringe when a piece like this moves from suggestion to decree. The writers of such lists seems to assume that everyone in the world has the same ambitions, desires, dreams, goals, and situations.

Perhaps this evolves from  our desire to have one size fits all solutions to our most common problems. I can understand that. It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? But unfortunately, this approach often ends up working just as well as those “one size fits all” shirts no one ever buys, because when it comes to most things, it just isn’t possible.

So here is my advice to you, dear readers:

Marry young. Marry later in life. Don’t marry at all.

Have lots of children. Have only one or two. Don’t have any.

Breastfeed. Bottle feed. Use formula.

Focus on your career. Be a full-time parent. Find a way to do both. 

Travel the world. Travel domestically. Never travel at all.

Send your kids to public school. Private school. Homeschool. 

Etcetera, etcetera.

I  can’t make your decisions for you, and neither can anyone else. Listen to the experiences of others, evaluate your own situation, and figure out what works for you. Ignore the rest. Life is too short to let other people try to control your major life decisions.

An Open Book – April Edition

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Thanks to Carolyn Astfalk for starting off the #OpenBook link up this month. (Visit her original post here.) Now, let’s get started!

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My husband is still reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in the little free time he has. As far as I can tell, he’s enjoying it! I’ve never read any Jules Verne, which I should probably change sooner rather than later. This particular selection doesn’t sound like it would be my personal cup of tea, but whatever works!

 

 

 

 

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After giving up on Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War yesterday, I picked up Eleanor by Jason Gurley. I’ve heard a lot about this book–a lot of critical acclaim, not just buzz on the book blogger circuit–and I was able to get a copy on NetGalley, so I’m going to give it a try. At 11% I’m not quite sure I understand the plot fully enough yet to attempt an explanation, but I’m enjoying it so far. The writing is beautiful, and from what I’ve heard there are elements of magical realism to come. I love magical realism! And I haven’t experienced it in quite a while. I’m excited.

 

 

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I am also revisiting the Harry Potter books via audio. I’m currently on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which is my favorite in the series. This is the last book in which Harry can really be considered innocent, in my mind. Hereafter, he’s an adult in an adolescent body, and the plot grows ever darker. This is only the second “reading” I’ve done with the series, as I wasn’t formally introduced to the wizarding world until 2014, and I’m loving the opportunity to explore the intricacy of J.K. Rowling’s planning. I was aware of it beforehand, obviously, as it’s been the source of many an academic paper and literary discussion, and I noticed a lot of the foreshadowing as I made my way through the books the first time, but it’s interesting to see how even the tiniest details all point toward the end. If you haven’t listened to the audiobooks, you’re missing out on a treat. Jim Dale’s narration voice is a treasure.

Up Next

I’m going to spend this month (and the next, and probably the next) slowly whittling away at my entirely too long NetGalley queue. What I hope to read in April:

The Dressmaker’s War by Mary Chamberlain
A Girl’s Guide to Moving On by Debbie Macomber
Baker’s Magic by Diane Zahler
The Infinite Air by Fiona Kidman
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
Regrets Only by M.J. Pullen
Dear Thing by Julie Cohen

I doubt I’ll finish all these, especially since there are only four more weeks left in the semester and I have essays and papers to write, but a girl can dream, can’t she?


What are you reading?

Would you like to participate in An Open book and share what you are reading? 

The rules are simple:

1. Include a link back to Carolyn Astfalk’s blog somewhere in your post. (Better yet, link to the week’s post.)

2. Link up your post. 

3. Use the hashtag #OpenBook on social media. 

4. Try to visit some of the other bloggers’ sites and see what they are reading. Let’s build a community and expand our reading horizons. 

Add your link by clicking the #OpenBook image below.

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#OpenBook is a monthly link-up each first Wednesday of the month. Check out the rules here.

You can sign up for an Open Book reminder email, which goes out one week before the link-up.

Top 10 4- and 5-Star NetGalley Reads

It’s time to confess that I have a problem. I request entirely too many titles on NetGalley. Between taking classes, writing, and working, I really don’t have time to be reading for pleasure, but what can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment.

Thanks to the generosity of several publishers and authors, I’ve been exposed to some truly amazing reads lately. I post my reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and my review site Read Yourself to Sleep, but I rarely share my thoughts on books here. Today, I’d like to change that! Here’s a list of the ten most recent 4- and 5-star reads I’ve experienced thanks to NetGalley!

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A Trip in Photos: Charleston and Asheville

Vacations are intoxicating in the Ard household. My husband and I both work six days a week, with a different off day to boot, so we spend most of the year circling one another and communicating via text message. We usually only have off days together on federal holidays, so when we’re given the opportunity to have a full six days off together, it usually goes straight to our heads. We dive into our vacation with little to no plan and just get drunk on free time together. We forget to keep track of the great restaurants we discover and the wonderful places we visit.

This year, I was determined our experience would be different. I planned out an itinerary for us. I booked hotel rooms and purchased tickets to attractions in advance. And I (most likely, to the great annoyance of my Facebook friends) took tons and tons of pictures.

Spring Break coincided with our third wedding anniversary, and since this is likely the last big trip we’ll take for a few years, we decided to go a little bit further from home this year. We made it to a city I’ve been dying to revisit for years–Charleston, South Carolina–as well as Flat Rock, Asheville, and Maggie Valley, North Carolina.

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Obligatory rest stop selfie, taken somewhere in Morgan County, Georgia.

We arrived in Charleston on Sunday afternoon in the middle of a rain storm. The harbor was completely shrouded in thick clouds, and the roads were borderline flooded. Our original plans of eating seafood on an open-air porch and taking a carriage ride through the historic district went quickly out the window. But despite this upset–and a few wrong turns, thanks to an outdated GPS map–we ended up having a nice dinner at a neat little place called Sawyer’s on the Boulevard, a sprawling country-style house with a mini swamp and a gorgeous patio.

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Not pictured is the appetizer, which we decimated before we were able to photograph it: a plate of potato straws piled high with bacon, beer cheese, green onions, and sour cream. Delicious.

The next morning, we grabbed a biscuit at a trusty Chick-fil-A, since our hotel didn’t offer complimentary breakfast, after we headed out to Sullivan’s Island to check out Stella Maris Catholic Church. We’re both super Protestant, but I had to go see this church in person because it’s the place that Annemarie, one of the protagonists in the upcoming This Dread Road, worshipped as a child and teen. It wasn’t open to the public Monday mornings, but I made sure to take plenty of pictures of the outside!

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We followed that exciting morning up with a trip out to Fort Sumter, the fort on a manmade island that served as the site for the first gunshots of the Civil War. Those who’ve read The Partition of Africa will remember that this was a place Hattie was eager to see. It wasn’t my first time visiting the fort, but it was the first time since writing Partition, so it was definitely a special experience!

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After disembarking the Fort Sumter ferry, we went straight into another adventure–the South Carolina Aquarium! We experienced a 4D movie, which was totally geared towards children but fun nonetheless, a shark and sting ray touch tank, lots of beautiful fish and wildlife exhibits, and MERMAIDS!

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We capped off the afternoon with a scrumptious meal at the Charleston Crab House and a quick visit to Folly Beach, the setting for my upcoming Christmas Novella ‘Tis the Season, just in time for sunset. It was my husband’s first time to see the Atlantic Ocean!

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Tuesday was jam-packed! We started out the morning attending 8 o’clock Mass at Stella Maris before visiting Boone Hall, one of the country’s oldest working plantations. The main house was actually built in the 1930s, well after the property stopped running on slave labor. In addition to serving as a museum and attraction, several crops are still grown on the property. The oak-lined drive served as inspiration for the road into Twelve Oaks in the film Gone with the Wind. We visited a black history in America mini-museum housed in some of the surviving slave cabins, toured the home, took a motor carriage ride to survey the current agriculture, and attended a fascinating presentation on Gullah culture. We capped it all off with a wonderful pizza and house-made candy bar at EVO Pizzeria.

We discovered EVO Pizzeria by mistake. The previous night, we were absently watching a show called Unique Sweets. Neither of us had been paying much attention until the narrator said, “And if you ever find yourself in Charleston, South Carolina…” Both of us perked up, and were excited to learn about this pizza place that also made their own candy bars in house. It’s definitely worth the trip!

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After a quick visit to Lowcountry Harley-Davidson–my husband works at a Harley dealership and loves seeing how other dealers work–we thought about dropping by Fort Moultrie to see the other side of the Fort Sumter story, but instead we stopped back at the hotel for an unexpected but much-needed nap. Then, it was off to the Market district for a quick bite at Tbonz Gill and Grill before our walking ghost tour!

We spent some time in the Washington Square Park while waiting for our tour to start. Also, we tried to walk off what can only be described as diabetes in a cup–a cookies and cream milkshake with a hunk of cookies and cream fudge thrown right in. We kicked off the tour with a gorgeous cotton candy sunset, which was the perfect view while hearing about the first documented female serial killer in the US.

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The next morning, we checked out of our hotel and made a quick stop by Page’s Okra Grill for breakfast before we headed for North Carolina. This place hands down has the best breakfast food you can imagine! The shrimp and grits I had actually was designated as best shrimp and grits on the East Cost by Southern Living. JD’s chicken and waffle was pretty amazing, too! The food was really heavy–we only managed to eat about half of both dishes.

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After a few hours on the road, we stopped in Flat Rock, North Carolina to tour Connemara, the estate of late poet and biographer Carl Sandburg. Carl’s wife Lillian ran a goat farm while they lived on the estate, and the National Park Service actually maintain a herd of goats descended from her original herd. It was great fun!

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We ate dinner at the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co. The food was okay, nothing to write home about, but the best part about this restaurant was the discount movie theater in the back. We ended up staying to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens for $3 each, because why not?

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Our last day, we drove up to Maggie Valley, North Carolina to visit the Wheels Through Time Museum of Transportation. I took a ton of pictures there–this is only a sampling!

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.We punctuated the end to our week of fun by stopping in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to eat a late lunch at The Terminal Brewhouse, one of our favorite restaurants there. After that, it was home sweet home!

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I didn’t write the entire week, but I’m beginning to think that’s a good thing. I got lots of sleep, spent quality time with my love, managed to exercise quite a bit through our walking adventures, and learned a lot of interesting stuff. When we left I felt ragged, worn down, and on the verge of severe burn-out. Now I feel energized, inspired, and motivated! This Dread Road, ‘Tis the Season, and One Last Aria–watch out. I’m coming for you.

 

Top 10 Ways to Manage Stress & Anxiety

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My current situation is stressful. I work two jobs, which total close to fifty hours per week. I’m taking two college courses, both of which require lots of writing and reading. I’m working actively on one novel, the third in a series, and am planning two novellas which I intend to release before the end of the year. I became a homeowner not too long ago. I have a marriage, which like all relationships need regular care and attention to maintain. I want to be a mother soon. Oh, and I have an anxiety disorder.

So you could say I’m a little stressed right now.

Here’s the thing, though–thanks to my anxiety disorder, I’m almost always stressed about something. So even though my situation is a little over the top, I’ve managed to keep it together because honestly, I’m having a blast. I love my main job, I don’t hate my weekend gig, writing is what gives me purpose, owning a home is such a rewarding adventure, my husband is amazing, and kids can be fun, or so I hear. Even though this is the busiest I’ve been since, like, ever, I’ve managed to keep my anxiety in check. In fact, I haven’t had a major panic attack in months, and I haven’t needed to take my anxiety medication–which used to be a twice daily occurrence–in more than nine months.

I don’t pretend to be some kind of guru or expert, and I’m definitely not a doctor, so don’t take this list as a scientific prescription. You might need to take your responsibilities down a notch or say no to requests a little more often than you’d like. But here are the top ten ways I’ve managed to keep my stress and anxiety down to a realistic level this semester.

1. Prioritize

When I have a long to-do list, my gut instinct is to attempt all tasks at once and then collapse in a heap of failure when I realize that isn’t possible. The best way to tackle several tasks in a short period of time is to prioritize them, then work them start to finish one by one. You’ll be more likely to finish them all, and you’ll be rewarded with a more regular feeling of accomplishment.

2. Exercise

I’ll admit that I’m still working on making this a habit. When you have a ton of work to do, none of which can be accomplished on a treadmill, taking an exercise break seems counterintuitive, but the truth is that your mind will be sharper and more alert after even 15 minutes of physical activity. It’s worth it.

3. Hydrate

If you’re like me, you caffeinate when there are deadlines approaching. No judgment here–caffeine is a beautiful thing, and it can help us accomplish a lot–but soda, energy drinks, and coffee will never be able to replace water when it comes to our health. If you catch yourself lagging, suffering from headaches, or you’re hungrier, thirstier, or more tired than you should be, drink a liter of water. Nine times out of ten, it makes me feel better.

4. Eat Well

Your nerves will try to entice you with ice cream and pizza. You have to fight the good fight! Make sure you’re getting enough vegetables, fruit, and lean protein in your diet. Going too heavy on the carbs will make you feel yucky and irritable, and will result in weight gain if you do it for an extended period of time.

5. Take Your Vitamins

You don’t have to choose between Flintstones vitamins and those gigantic, foul-tasting pills anymore. They make gummy vitamins now that are basically candy! I started taking a multivitamin regularly back in September and it has made a tremendous difference in how I feel. When I feel better, I’m able to accomplish more!

6. Breathe

If you struggle with panic attacks, like I do, something that’s helped me cope with them (without medication) is to take long, deep breaths while I focus on various physical objects within my reach. Think about your blanket in mundane detail, over and over again. Talk about it out loud, if you need to. And don’t forget to breathe. Hyperventilation can lead to high blood pressure, among other issues, and can leave you feeling even more stressed and tired, so it’s best to avoid it if you can. (Note: If you experience panic or anxiety attacks that are interfering with your daily life, please seek medical attention.)

7. Ask for Help

Whether this means you finally go to see a doctor about your anxiety and accept a prescription, or you just ask your spouse to take over some of your responsibilities, asking for help is important. I know it can be hard sometimes, especially if you’re like me and don’t like admitting you can’t do ALL THE THINGS, but it’s important to recognize your limitations and own them. Asking for help prevents you from overextending yourself and burning out.

8. Sleep

This, like several of the points here, seems counterintuitive, but it’s important. Sleep deprivation is unhealthy and, depending on the situation, can be dangerous to you and others around you. It’s all right to pull the occasional all-nighter, but that isn’t a good habit to cultivate. On an average night, you should be getting enough sleep that you feel rested in the morning (an amount which varies from person to person).

9. Enjoy Yourself

I don’t get to read for pleasure nearly as much as I would like to these days, so I’ve recently turned to audio books. I listen to them when I’m driving, exercising, or doing tasks that don’t require too much active thought. Listening to stories I already know calm me, and most narrators have very soothing, rhythmic voices. Find something like this that helps you enjoy yourself, even in your busy schedule. It’s worth it!

10. Relax

This seems like a silly thing to say, but relaxation is important! Sometimes you need to push your responsibilities aside and watch a movie with your family, play a game, or even just take a quick nap. No one can run on empty, not even you. Remember to stop and refuel!

 

 

How Your High Expectations Are Holding You Back

Usually when we think about expectations holding us back, our minds immediately go to low expectations, don’t we? A fish will only grow as large as its tank allows it, and all that. And the sentiment is completely true–if our goals are small, our accomplishments will be small. It’s only math.

But today, I want to talk about the other side of that problem. I want to talk about how your high expectations could very well be holding you back from something even greater.

If comparison is the thief of joy, expectations are the murderer.

Just over five years ago, I started dating the man who became my husband. Right out of the gate, he established himself as a thoughtful gift giver. Valentine’s Day fell just three weeks after we made our relationship official, and in that small amount of time he’d somehow managed to secure a first American edition of my favorite book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which he presented to me wrapped in brown paper and strings, just like the parcels Mr. Tumnus was carrying when he first met Lucy in the Wood. To top it off, he arranged for us to view one of my favorite films, Casablanca, at a historic theater.

My little geeky heart was in Heaven.

As time went on, though, the reality of this man’s thoughtfulness when it came to selecting gifts faded under the weight of my skewered expectations. Because you see, when it comes to the “traditional” boyfriend/fiancé/husband gifts, he isn’t so inclined. I can count on one hand the times he’s brought me flowers, and on one finger the times he’s brought me flowers without being nagged into it.

This used to bother me, especially when I worked in an office with women whose husbands sent dozens of long-stemmed red roses for everyone to see. My husband was a kind, intelligent, thoughtful man–why couldn’t he just have a natural inclination to send roses, too? That I didn’t even really care for roses seemed besides the point. It was just what was done.

This seed of irritation blossomed into a full-blown bitterness, culminating in a gift of a lovely, yet I’m sure overpriced, mixed bouquet on our first wedding anniversary. While I adored them and thought they were beautiful, the truth worried at my soul just below the surface. This wasn’t a token of affection. It was the white flag of surrender, offered by my husband as a last resort in the hopes that I would finally approve of what he had to offer me.

After that instance, I stopped nagging my husband to buy me flowers and decided to be grateful for the things he chose to give me out of love instead.

After letting those expectations go, I realized I didn’t even really like flowers that much. Sure, they’re nice, but they don’t do anything. They sit there, a momentary but very mortal decoration, and before long they’ve shriveled up and died. But the things my husband chose to give me on his own? Those were things I could actively use and enjoy for a long time. And the fact that he’s specially ordered 99% of the gifts he’s ever given me, or made special trips to multiple stores that are out of his way, mean so much more to me than the times he’s caved and half-heartedly purchased something that neither of us really wanted to begin with.

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The last time he brought me flowers was this past Valentine’s Day. They were free leftover flowers at his work, and he had to bring them home by shoving them in a box so he could get them on his motorcycle so they were falling apart a little, but they were my favorite bouquet by far.

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There are times when sticking to your guns as far as expectations go are a good thing. There are also times to re-evaluate what’s really important. Don’t let your high expectations prevent you from experiencing an even greater joy. There are things you don’t even know you want just on the horizon.