Bunny

The day I first saw you, all I could make out was a tiny shock of ginger fur in amongst the ferns.

You were so small, your eyes so big, your feet and little ears so dainty.

Swooping wings made you flee into the shadows, but you were always there. Over time I saw you grow. You nibbled on my marigolds and capsicum leaves. My parsley was your domain, little holes everywhere showed roots were your favourite. Sometimes you felt confident enough to sit in the sunshine, chewing on clover or nasturtiums. It was a garden of happy abundance for you.

A cockatoo or kookaburra flying in to see what there was to eat would send your little white tail bobbing into the undergrowth. You learned how to keep yourself safe.

Rabbits aren’t supposed to be around here. Sydney isn’t your proper place, and though you were born in a warren at the back of the neighbour’s property, I wouldn’t be surprised if either or both your parents were escaped pets.

You were too cute to get angry at, too sweet to want to get rid of. Your friends the black bunny and grey bunny sometimes showed up, but you, sweet ginger seemed to find my backyard home more than they ever did.

This morning, the noisy mynahs were alarmed. Nature’s guard-birds, I knew something was up. It was crows. Where there are rabbits, crows are sure to follow. Two crows in the backyard. Something was up.

I found what was left of you on the lawn under the shade of the ash tree. You were fully grown now, able to take care of yourself, flee from danger. The ginger fur scattered over the lawn and bushes told me whatever took you was particularly savage, your talent for survival and escape proving not enough for you this time.

I buried you in the garden bed close to where you were born. You weren’t supposed to be here, yet you were. As the soil covered your maimed form, my final glimpse of you was your white tail, the last I ever caught of you every time you dove for cover.

I don’t know who took you. The damage suggested a dog, not a crow. Crows clean up, rather than go in for the kill. Whatever took you did so because that’s what they do. I’m sorry it happened when I must have been asleep. If it had happened when I was awake, I would have likely stepped in to protect you.

As I wash the soil from my hands, I tell myself I know you were never supposed to have been here. That didn’t mean you deserved anything other than a life of happy plenty, though.

I’m sorry.

Good bye, little friend.

Echoes of the Past

It was a tiny scrap of disintegrating paper.

I found it at the bottom of a shoebox previously used to hold a collection of worthless crystals and a couple of fossils. A scrap I had completely forgotten about. The shoebox had been wet. The mould-ridden bottom was ready to fall out, scattering minerals and prehistoric beasties everywhere. A plastic tub for them; recycling bin for the shoebox.

The scrap was rotten, covered in mould spots, but there were the words. Words in my handwriting, the blue ballpoint pen ink indistinct but present. Words I had put to paper as I thought about song lyrics. A song I would never write, lyrics I would never finish, an ode to one now long gone. Yet … the words lived on, forgotten at the bottom of a rotting shoebox.

Until now.

Sapphire eyes dancing,

Show us your world.

Spin round, glancing,

Bright hair all curled.

So full is my heart,

Stay close to me a while.

Couldn’t bear to be apart,

Sunshine in your smile.

 

The rest, alas, illegible. The scrap has now joined the shoebox in the bin. I don’t want to risk getting sick from any of the moulds and fungus growing on it.

As for the lyrics. Cheesy? Yup.

Not for me the destiny of Lennon-McCartney.

Still, there’s something equally unsettling and moving about rediscovering unexpressed passions from years long gone. It was the beginning of the nineties—a time of excitement and optimism and bright colours and young love. Such a contrast to present day with all its maudlin drab narcissism.

I didn’t think of myself as a poet back then. I still don’t, but perhaps back then there was enough stirring me to consider poetry as the medium of choice for expressing my romantic side.

These days I’m lucky if I can rhyme ‘orange’ with ‘forage’. I’m not too worried. Rhyming lines are only one form of poetry.

Now if only I could find a new passion to wax lyrical about…

Diane

“Daddy, where do dreams go when they die?”

“I dunno, son. Why do you ask?”

“Mummy was saying her dreams have died. We visit Parkers Road Cemetery to see Diane. Where do we go to visit where mummy’s dreams are buried?”

“I … think … Diane was a dream of you mummy’s. Mine too.”

“Is that why you’re sad all the time? Did your dreams die as well?”

He lost his fight against the tears. A year wasn’t long enough. Not by a long shot, and Timothy was simply too young to understand, even now.

“Diane was as special to us just as you are, Timothy. We tried to give you both what was best, especially our love. Diane had a passion for … horses, so when we were able, we got her Thundersky. I don’t think either your mother or I thought Diane was in any danger, but when she came off that day, we found out.”

“Found out?”

“We found out how wrong we were. Diane had learned all about riding, but she didn’t understand about—”

He choked.

“Daddy?”

“I—I can’t even talk about it any more. Dr Edgerton is going to kill me. Every time I see a horse, I still can’t help but think of Diane.”

“Is that why all the things from her room got packed away?”

“I think so. It was far too much for your mother. She won’t even watch the news because there’s sometimes horse racing on.”

“Is it because Diane was your happy dream?”

“Yes son. Diane was our happy dream, but all those dreams are sad ones now. We have you, son. You’re our special dream. Your mother and I need to try and build fresh dreams together, but there will always be that place where Diane was, and that makes it extra hard. Sometimes dreams can’t be buried, even if there was ever a cemetery for them. No matter what, we’ll always love you.”

“I love you, daddy.”

“I love you, son. Goodnight.”

He switched off the light.

What Self-Publishing Has Taught Me

It’s important to preface this essay with a caveat: I have various mental health issues, and cogent reasoning has been only marginally possible through a thick treacle of fatigue, anxiety, depression and myriad other maladies that have messed with my head for quite some time now. It’s very possible many of the issues and problems outlined below have been the result of normal things perceived through the frosted wobbly haze of my “challenges”, and the process of self-publishing is indeed a profitable breeze for most normal people. I’m afraid without a guide or proxy to assist, I’ve been on my own and had to work my own way through as best I can, which frankly isn’t saying much.

Anyway … to begin…

I wrote a book.

Then I wrote another and another, and before I knew it I had several novels done and dusted. Much of the time the words came easily, especially when I wasn’t battling foggy medication-induced mind-mangling. I learned the specifics of beta reading, editing and proof-reading, and before long I was performing said duties on not just client work but my own projects as well. I had colleagues who read what I wrote, and liked it a lot. Not neighbourly types or family members who humour you with platitudes—genuine dyed-in-the-wool critical eyes who’d point out all the pitfalls and shortcomings I’d missed, and before I knew it I had not just writing, but genuine literature on my hands.

It was therapeutic. It was good.

I felt as if I had accomplished something, which when you’re drifting on a tumultuous dark sea of confusion and illness, is a Really Good Thing™.

I sent one of my manuscripts off to an agent. I just knew they’d love it, love my writing, and one of their ranks would take my work under their wing and champion it to the right publisher, who would make it soar. I felt confidence for the first time in a long time.

Weeks turned into months, and finally there was the rejection slip. Oh well. Next crowd. Rejection slip. A year passed and the rejection slip pile simply grew. I remained confident. The trick was to find that special someone who was searching for a voice like mine. More rejection slips. Enough to dry my frustrated eyes. What were they seeing that I couldn’t? Or what was I seeing they couldn’t? I live off welfare and can’t do much in the way of “normal” work—writing seemed one way I could earn an income. Why were these people failing to see the commercial value of what I was sending them?

Something had to give, so I decided to delve into the challenge of self-publishing. There were plenty of companies advertising services for self-publishers. I researched. Sent emails. Even received phone calls. For the first time, I was grateful I had no money and couldn’t afford the services on offer—what a load of rubbish I came across. So many promises, such spin, execrable amounts of expensive nonsense. I was in this to make money, not spend it (especially seeing as I didn’t have any to spend anyway). So many snake-oil salesmen prowling the wings for unwary prey.

With the prospect of pay from a publisher via an agent rapidly diminishing, I chose to use my background in desktop publishing and go it alone. I created cover art, page layout and design to make my novel work as a printed book, before reformatting it to suit being an eBook. Job done, and uploaded to Smashwords for the eBook and Createspace for the hardcopy

Boom—one of my novels was out there in the big wide world.

publishinggraphic

There’s something special about getting your first ISBN, something quite magical about a barcode assigned just for your creation. I had hoped validation as an author would have come in the form of a contract with an agent, but instead it arrived in the mail as a hardcopy from Createspace. There it was—my creation made manifest. I thought it looked quite handsome, the pages a crisp white and filled with my words designed to shape thoughts, form characters, excite and entertain, so haughtily rejected by myriad would-be agents.

I’m not a salesman. Not for me the straw boater and cane, peddling to the masses. My mental health makes me appallingly shy (I genuinely have Social Anxiety Disorder, which largely condemns me to the house and away from dread “other people”), so rushing up to strangers and extolling the virtues of what I have to offer just isn’t one of my faculties. Nevertheless, in this day and age, the self-publishing author—like the painter or film-maker, or frankly any other creative profession—becomes the salesman. I don’t want to sell books, I want to write them. I’m an author, not a retailer! How does someone stuck at home sell books? I turned to Twitter and Facebook. I promoted. I found people who would spruik on my behalf. Thousands of people were reached. It was amazing. Thanks to Smashwords, my book was in every online retailer of eBooks, from Nook to Apple iBooks, Kobo to Scribd and beyond. Thanks to Createspace, my book was firmly ensconced in the Amazon universe, available in the US and UK and Australia, as well as Japan and Brazil and France, but not in Japanese or Portuguese or French, as I don’t have the kind of resources to afford a translation service. Coverage had been attained (in English anyway), success seemed assured.

Think again.

There are literally millions of new books out there, and it’s inevitable getting lost in the noise. Any author might have a Unique Selling Point (USP) for their novel, but it’s going to remain unheard unless a sales voice also has cut-through. In a sea of clamouring authors and publishers, that kind of cut-through is going to cost the kind of bucks that in many cases just makes it not worth it.

In the months since launch, I’ve spent $95 on paid promotions on both Twitter and Facebook. For that trouble, I’ve earned tens of thousands of “impressions” and $12 cash (after all up less than a dozen sales). I’m behind, and by the looks of things, getting into profit just isn’t going to happen despite continued promoting. Someone might suggest spending a bit more—say, $700—however not only do I not have $700 to piss against the advertising wall, and given everything I’ve researched, I remain unconvinced that kind of spend would return over $700 in revenue anyway. “You’ve got to spend money to make money”—yay, unless you don’t have any money to spend to begin with. Is that it? Is it not enough to slave over creating a book in the first place?

In the world of self-publishing: absolutely not. The book itself is only a minor cog in a much larger machine that still only maybe sees a return at the end.

Not that my book would win any prizes, but it’s not rubbish, either. Yet, I can’t convince folks to part with a measly dollar to read it. Is my writing truly worthless? Are people not interested in the thriller genre any more? I guess all they need for their fix is to turn on the TV news these days. Oh well.

So, I can only conclude it’s my fault (it always is, it seems), and I’ve screwed up somewhere. Maybe I can write good narrative prose of car chases, gunfights and terrorist attacks, only to suck at writing sales copy. It’s probably true—I never wanted to be a copywriter for magazines or newspapers flogging stuff, and attempting to write spin to sell my book seems to be a weakness or blindness on my part. Nobody’s sent me a demand notice ordering me to cease my wilful acts of promoting, so it can’t be that bad, but translating spin into sales just isn’t me.

Here’s the worst part: all this promoting, all this sales hustling, and I’m not writing. Not a word. I started on a sequel, but I’ve been spending all my time online, trying to find people who will buy my book, and my sequel (and other works) remains untouched. Self-publishing has transformed me from capable author into incompetent hustler. I’m not a salesman, I’m an author (I have a barcode and everything to prove it, too). I want to earn money from what I write, to lift me from below the poverty line, off welfare and into the guise of a self-reliant individual. My mental health needs it, and my ability to buy groceries needs it, too.

I need an agent who understands what I am as well as who I am, who believes in what I write and its ability—armed with cut-through in promotions designed by professionals who are sensational at promoting—to sell. Too many agents judge a writer’s ability on a few paragraphs or pages from a single manuscript. What if what I’ve written elsewhere is what’s needed to convince? It’s insane, it’s blinkered and it’s self-defeating. There are some extraordinarily wonderful authors out there who do very well. There are also some atrocious hacks who make good money, not because they’re lucky, but because they’re backed by agents and publishers who know how to sell, even if what they’re selling is really bad. I don’t know how to sell. I’m an author, not a salesman, and selling is not my job. I need a salesman—an agent who can work with a publisher to translate my writing into sales. Even if I’m a hack, surely it isn’t that hard? It’s done all the time. What’s another hack? Am I a hack? I didn’t think I was, and neither did my manuscript assessors, but maybe they’re wrong and I’m wrong and it turns out I’m the hackiest hack who ever hacked. That doesn’t mean what I write is unsellable. In some cases, quite the opposite.

Something else I have learned is to stick with it. Despite the disheartening lack of response, despite the shortcomings when it comes to alternatives to social media promoting (I don’t have mailing lists or any ability to cold-turkey contact bookstores to ask them to stock my book which I’d have to pay money I don’t have to get manufactured and shipped), I’m determined to not give up, either. Stay the course. I have to believe in the fullness of time word will continue to trickle out, and those individuals out there anxious to read something like what I’ve written will finally track my book down, buy it and enjoy it. Maybe some of them will leave reviews, and with those to hand, some of the best kind of cut-through might be achieved. Everyone who has reviewed it so far has been deeply appreciative and impressed, so there’s hope.

Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Just keep going.

My mental health is in such a state at the moment that I can’t write prose fiction even if I wanted to. It’s a kind-of writer’s block, and comes and goes to varying degrees. It’s my particular demon I have to bear. I’d love to get on with the sequel. I have it all mapped out, and reckon it’d be a corker of a read. Then again I thought the first was a corker to read as well, and all I get to see of it is languishing in a too-quiet corner of the world, pining for some love.

I guess the self-publishing route is good if you’re well resourced, well-connected and a natural at selling. For me it has been a route of frustration and expense I can’t afford, and the chances of me trying it again are extremely remote. The frustration has been nothing compared to the Quest for an Agent®, but I remain convinced that special someone is out there. Like readers, it’s about finding them, and helping them to find you.

Whither Writing? Or is that Wither Writing?

The autotelic creator is someone who creates for the sake of creation. The painter who paints without regard for selling. The musician who performs even if there is no-one to listen. The writing who can’t help but pour out their heart and mind onto a page that could remain unread.

Even an autotelic creator needs to eat, so sometimes they dip their oar into the mainstream and turn their hand to something they feel the “market” might like. For many, it’s not a place they either like or feel any sense of belonging, but still respect as a necessary evil so their own existence may be perpetuated or more comprehensive resources afforded.

A fortunate autotelic creator is one whose creations align closely with the commercially attractive. Tragically, there are also those who lived their whole lives creating wonders, only to be “discovered” long after their death (e.g. Vincent van Gogh). The worst are the ones who are never discovered—their anonymity in life continuing after their death.

Now in our own time, the accessibility and ‘democratisation’ of information has arisen, providing new curses (e.g. ‘alternative facts’) as well as new blessings (e.g. online art galleries, self-publishing eBooks and YouTube). Never before have creatives had access to potential audiences as they do now.

The flipside to that accessibility is economics. Never before has there been pressure applied to authors, musicians and artists to provide their creativity free of charge. The perpetual argument is to provide something for free is to raise awareness of that creative amongst a potential market.

Long ago I was told in no uncertain terms to never give anything away, as to do so was to undervalue my own work. A small sample was fine, but an entire work? Never!

I’ve adhered to that principle since, knowing full well there are numerous individuals out there who consider anything other than free as too expensive, and the world owes them a living. They’re welcome to live in that fantasy land if it makes them happy, but going to a restaurant and asking for a free meal is not only a slap in the face for the individuals responsible for cultivating, harvesting, refining, transporting ingredients, and then all the actual preparation, it’s just plain rude. Why should a work of art or writing or music be any different?

Again—free samples are fine, but not an entire work.

I write and I create art. Music and I parted ways a long time ago, but I still listen to it with a passion that frequently rivals my passion for art and writing. I will continue to write and create art. There have been instances where I have been paid by a person for my art and my writing. There is hope. I haven’t earned nearly enough to make a living off that creativity, but I continue my efforts in the hope that goal may one day be realised.

Perhaps my greatest fear is one day my energies will decline and I can no long write or draw or paint. I’ve already gone through horrific dry-spells thanks to depression, anxiety and a raft full of medical problems, and it has only been through tremendous effort I’ve been able to emerge through the other side of those tribulations. The old saying “use it or lose it” only makes me anxious about every time my hand is stayed—I fear the withering effect of demoralisation. Regardless, I will continue to create. My hope is what I create continues to be worth creating.