Devotional: Fear

"muro8.b" by Hyuro, street artist

I am afraid
of so many things
I cannot count them all.
like failure, for instance
there are uncountably many ways to fail
and I am afraid of all of them.
or sadness
and its harsher twin, weakness.
I fear them both.
yes, darkness too
there’s a reason I don’t go out to howl
at the moon.
I am afraid of being alone
but I console myself: isn’t everyone?
I am afraid to be poor
and more afraid to be rich
because what would I do with all that money
except be unhappy?
(I am even
Afraid
Of myself
Most of the time.
What do I do with the empty spaces
Rattling around my brain?) 

"muro8.b" by Hyuro, street artistAlyssa Monks - Oil on Linen

mantra:

“The person who has not, in a moment of firm resolve, accepted — yes, even rejoiced in — what has struck him with terror — he has never taken possession of the full, ineffable power of our existence.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

First image: muro8.b by Hyuro, street artist. Second image: Alyssa Monk, oil on linen.

Book Review: Vermilion by Molly Tanzer

A few weeks ago I read a rave review of a book called Vermilion on NPR’s website. I am the type of person who typically believes everything NPR tells me, so when they wrote that the book is “a unique, hearty, thought-provoking romp that rewrites history with a vivacious flourish,” and described its protagonist as “one of the most delightful and charismatic fictional creations in recent memory,” I knew I had to pick it up.

Lou Merriwether, our protagonist, is introduced to us on the Amazon sell page as a “gunslinging, chain smoking, Stetson-wearing Taoist psychopomp.” I’m already in love. What the sell page fails to mention, and what makes Lou even more interesting, is that she’s a girl who prefers to pass as a boy, and isn’t entirely sure that she doesn’t have romantic inclinations towards the fairer sex. All this is to say that, on paper, Lou meets and exceeds all of NPR’s ravings about her innovative, exceptionally realistic character.

With exceedingly high expectations, I loaded up my Kindle copy and dived in nose first.

The story is set in an alternative history – an 1860s setting where talking bears and seals (or sea lions? I can never remember the difference) intermingle with humans, where ghosts, zombies, vampires, and werewolves are as common as bounty hunters and diamond thieves. Discrimination, however, is no less common in Tanzer’s imagined history than it was in reality; the Chinese, the Native Americans are every bit as marginalized as they were in true history, with the bear community thrown in to boot. Lou’s journey takes her from relatively civilized San Francisco to the wilds of Wyoming and finally into Estes Park, Colorado, and the characters she meets at every stage of her journey are as wild and various as she is.

Were my expectations met? Yes, I suppose. I got what I paid for – a rollicking good ride, a brilliantly diverse cast, a page-turning mystery/adventure with as many magical elements as historical. Did I enjoy it? Aye, without a doubt – especially once Lou arrived in Wyoming, and the game was afoot, so to speak, it was impossible not to be drawn into the story.

Yet, something seemed lacking. Hard to put my finger exactly on what. Was I hoping, perhaps, for the occasional pretty turn of phrase? The book is hardly spare, but neither is it particularly descriptive. The language was perfectly competent, if unexciting – nothing to write home about. Was it, perhaps, the banality of the setting, especially once Lou reaches the Sanatorium, where the bulk of the mystery takes place? Hearing about the calisthenics classes, the other patients at the San, and the nitty-gritty of the healing regimes seemed to me utterly trivial, and while some of it was amusing, many more of these details seemed unimportant and distracting. Was I distracted, maybe, by the many twists and turns the plot took? I was, admittedly, sometimes a little confused – mystery isn’t my genre, and I may have been a bit out of practice in terms of following the many threads of the story from beginning to end.

And then there’s Lou’s journey from Wyoming to Estes Park with the strange and captivating Shai, who is perhaps the most prominent secondary character in the book. Lou comes close to falling in love with Shai, before they have a dramatic falling out and part ways shortly before Lou arrives at the Sanatorium. Shai crosses the line between ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ at leas a half-dozen times before the end of the book; it’s safe to say that for me, the end of his story was unsatisfactory, and left me wondering why I’d invested so much time in him to begin with.

But then, maybe Tanzer was just laying the groundwork for a sequel. The book certainly ends on a note that could mark the beginning of a series, and Lou would be one of the most interesting detective-adventurers to grace the bookshelves of that category. If Tanzer wrote and published a sequel, I’d devour it, not only for the joy of meeting Lou and her weird, weird world again, but also in the hopes that Tanzer’s second in the series will be better than her first.

All in all, four out of five stars – a wonderful read that sucked me in and charmed me, with a few elements that could be improved on in future installments. I hope Molly Tanzer does have a sequel up her sleeve; and I hope that if you’re a fan of my friend Jess West’s and J. Edward Paul’s “Weird West” genre of stories, you’ll check out Vermilion, because it not only falls into the category, it stands out.

Abstraction: Enlightenment

“‘We hear so much of the splendid stone bridge of Joshu, but I see nothing but a miserable old rustic log bridge.’
Joshu retorted, ‘You just see the rustic log bridge, and fail to see the stone bridge of Joshu.’
‘What is the stone bridge then?’
‘Horses go over it, asses go over it.'”
– Essays in Zen Buddhism, D. T. Suzuki

copgloves:</p><br />
<p>Delphine de Luppé<br /><br />
Caissons 3<br /><br />

Vertical landscape by Eiko Ojala, via Behance

Finding Zen at the top of a mountain is easy. Finding it in an alley in the rain is much harder. Only when you have achieved both are you truly enlightened. 

First image, Delphine de Luppe, “Caissons 3″. Second image, Eiko Ojala, “Vertical Landscape”. 

Abstraction: Revolution

Syria’s war has claimed more than 130,000 lives. At least two million of its citizens have fled into neighbouring states and more than two million others have been displaced within its borders. Industry and economy has long ground to a halt. Hope too has been on a relentless slide. Syria has six Unesco sites, representing at least 2,000 years of history. All have been damaged.”
– The Guardian

In Another Light

The Room of the Revolutionary 

“Here they talked of revolution
Here it was they lit the flame
Here they sang about tomorrow
And tomorrow never came”
– Les Miserables, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” 

Syria (2)

 

 

 

 

 


The Old Souk

– Top image: Ben Johnson, “The Room of the Revolutionary”. Bottom image: Stanley Greene Corbis, The Old Souk, Aleppo. 

[This is part of a new blog series in which I am attempting to incorporate art, music, and poetry into my own short works of prose or poetry. This particular series is titled ‘Abstraction’ because it is an attempt to add tangible, emotional meaning to an abstract idea or word.]

Abstraction: Identity

it does not matter
where i go
because you are not there

HYURO mural

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mantra: 

“The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.”

– Derek Walcott, Love After Love

– image by HYURO, a street artist. Click the image for a link to his work.

[This is part of a new blog series in which I am attempting to incorporate art, music, and poetry into my own short works of prose or poetry. This particular series is titled ‘Abstraction’ because it is an attempt to add tangible, emotional meaning to an abstract idea or word.]

Devotional: Multitudes

I contain
so much
of you 

Salvador Dali

“Who taught you to write in blood on my back? Who taught you to use your hands as branding irons?”
Jeanette Winterson (Written on the Body)

– Image: Salvador Dali, Figure with Drawers for a Four-Part Screen

Devotional: Love Letters

We’re no good at sending love into the world, and even worse at receiving it. I want to shout it from the rooftops, but the streets are stony and deaf. How can I crack my heart to let a sliver of this color out?

All of you in a space full of sounds — in the shade and in the light. You were called AUXOCHROME the one who captures color. I CHROMOPHORE — the one who gives color.” – Frieda Kahlo to Diego Rivera 

– Claude Cahun, ‘I Extend My Arms’ 1931 or 1932

 

Devotional: Peasants

Friday.

I count the hours in every weekend, wasting them as surely as I waste breath. My generation’s mantra, “live life to the fullest”, a product of the post-WWI attitude of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” and the roaring growth of the Baby Boomers, has left me obsessed with material things, questing after ‘experiences’ that vanish into memory as quickly as I can live them, demanding more, always more. I am unsatisfied with my simple life of working for my bread, tending my grapevines, as I chase endlessly after spiritual fulfillment that is, in truth, nothing but a golden mask.

“Living life to the fullest” has become a phrase more closely related to rich men and women dancing on resort beaches and sipping expensive cocktails than with spiritual fulfillment. It’s turned into a clothing advertisement, a luxury cruise in the Mediterranean, a private island in the Maldives, a fashion runway in New York City. It’s the leisure time to curate your fashion blog, decorate your four-thousand square foot Brooklyn loft, write your memoir. It’s Instagram, Facebook, Gucci, Burberry, Coachella. It’s acquisition: the accumulation of ‘experiences’ and ‘beautiful things’ that come to define you, your tastes, your history.

It’s bullshit.

I’m a peasant, god damn it, and my life will be full and rich and vibrant, too.

“All we do is hide away
All we do is, all we do is hide away
All we do is chase the day
All we do is, all we do is chase the day

All we do is play it safe
All we do is live inside a cage
All we do is play it safe
All we do, all we do”

– Image: “Peasant Shoes” by Vincent Van Gogh

Devotional: Loneliness

Wednesday.

Loneliness is real, but this is not it. This is the kind of loneliness you have to get used to. This is the kind of loneliness that makes you who you are. How you fill your time now tells the person you are today who to become tomorrow. Will you clutch your loneliness to your chest and cradle it, nurse it, let it sour you? Or will you breathe softly with it, hear it out, let it ripen and blossom until it is no longer loneliness but nourishment, so that your soul swells to fill the spaces left by absence?

Image by Oveck

How I Sold My First 10,000 Books

It’s been a crazy year and a half for one Amira K. Makansi. Since I began my journey as an author and a publisher in July of 2013, my co-authors and I have released two books and a novella, all set in the world of Okaria, a futuristic post-apocalyptic civilization. In early April we announced that we’d officially sold over 10,000 books, which is pretty. fucking. radical, especially for a few authors who had never been professionally published before we began.

Now, I generally dislike people who get to something of a place of authority and then feel compelled to get up on their soapbox and tell everyone exactly how they got there and why theirs is the only possible path to success, and why if you want to be like them you ought to do exactly as they did, and blah blah blah. I’m not going to do that. But seeing how as there are a lot of authors out there who would probably like to hit that milestone and haven’t, I’m going to share with you five things I did that I think were instrumental to MY ability to hit this goal. Mine personally. Not anyone else’s. I’m sure buttloads of other, vastly more successful authors out there have their own tips, their own paths, and it’s best to follow along with as many people as possible in order to find YOUR OWN path to success. Don’t just listen to me. I might not even be right.

Here are five things my co-authors and I did that helped us sell our first 10,000 books.

1. Write a good book. 

Notice I don’t say “write a great book”. This is because writing a great book, a groundbreaking, earth-shattering, life-changing novel, isn’t really necessary for selling books. What is necessary for book sales is writing a pretty good book. If you’re not getting the majority 4 and 5 star reviews, or your beta readers aren’t saying “I loved it!” “Awesome!” or “Really interesting!” you need to go back to the drawing board. But you don’t have to hear “This book changed my life,” or “I cried at the end,” or “This is the best book I’ve ever read,” in order to feel confident proceeding to the point of sale.

2. Make friends, and be very, very good to them.

When I was first starting out, I joined Twitter, started keeping this blog, and went to a writer’s conference near where I lived. These few things were absolutely essential to my success, because they were networking opportunities. Through these steps I met the people who are the bedrock of my writing network, who I can always count on to help spread the word, and who are every bit as determined and talented – maybe more – than I am. The key is that this isn’t a one-way street. I re-tweet and share their blog posts, tweet out news about upcoming publications of theirs, beta-read manuscripts and short stories for them, and have liked their Facebook pages and posts so I know how they’re doing both as writers and friends. I care about these friends, not just as assets but as human beings. Networking is absolutely critical as a writer, and in order to network effectively, you have to give, give, give your help, support, and empathy. You will build your core of friends and allies this way.

3. Give away free copies – and loads of them – in exchange for reviews.

As a debut author, no one really knows if your books are going to be any good. They could be utter shit. So it’s very difficult to convince people to read what you’ve written if they’re not already familiar with your writing. When we were leading up to the launch of The Sowing, I contacted as many people as I could on Twitter, people who seemed like they were as passionate about writing and reading as I was, and I offered to give them all free copies of the book in exchange for an honest review when the book was released. A lot of people obliged. Some didn’t. Even after the book was released, I kept offering, giving, asking, and probably 80% of people I offered accepted, and went on to write a review for us. We did book tours, which coordinate with readers and book bloggers to arrange review drives in exchange for yet more free copies. And this got us a bunch of pretty decent reviews. Not all of them were good – some were terrible – but the important thing is quantity. And this leads me to #3….

4. BookBub. 

BookBub is perhaps the single most powerful marketing tool in your toolbox as an author, whether traditionally published, hybrid, or indie. BookBub is really for readers more than for authors – it’s a subscription service where you can sign up to receive free or discounted books in genres of your choosing. The reason BookBub is so important for authors is because they have MILLIONS of subscribers. Because of this, though BookBub is extremely selective about who they choose to feature. You need to have a good number of good reviews, a good-looking package, and correct genre-targeting in order to be accepted. But when you do get accepted, the results are enormous. In December of 2013 The Sowing was accepted for its first BookBub feature. Prior to that we’d been selling maybe one or two books a day, but with BookBub we sold over 500 books in a single day and gained momentum that never really slowed down. Even long after our feature, in January/February/March of 2014, we were still selling between 5-10 copies per day, an exponential difference over what we had been doing before. BookBub is a game changer. Period. End of story.

5. Write more good books. 

Ever heard of an author who was a one-hit wonder? No? Me either. That’s because they don’t exist. Writers, unlike musicians or maybe even actors, can’t just hit one home run to solidify their fame. If you wrote a book – even if it was a really fucking awesome book – and then sat back and waited for the $$ to roll in, you have made a terrible mistake. Stop waiting, start writing. We sold 5,000 copies, mostly of The Sowing, after a year of release. And maybe we could have gotten to 10,000, too, but it would have taken about twice as long as it did if we hadn’t published The Reaping and The Prelude. And we’ve got The Harvest on the way. All of our books play off of each other, and they all support each other. If you want one book to sell more, write another. Always have something in the works. Always have a new idea in your back pocket. Always be creating.

So that’s what I’ve got. My tips and tricks leading up to the big 10,000 mark. Questions? Concerns? Want to call me out on my bullshit? Leave a note in the comments, and I’ll get back to you!