So I haven’t blogged in a while, and here’s part of the reason. I only try to blog when I have something important to say, something from which you, the reader, might benefit, and I don’t feel as if I’ve had anything vital to impart for quite some time.
But that’s okay. I’d rather be silent than clutter your life with yet another blog post that extolls the virtues of writing, or focuses on an element of fiction-writing that will undoubtedly improve your work and land you on the list of New York Times bestselling authors.
I’ve been writing full-time for seven or eight years now, and I’ve learned some things along the way about the world of publishing. I want to pass them on to you in the hope that they help.
Let me start with a couple of caveats. First, what I’m about to say applies to me, but that doesn’t mean it applies to you. As a wise man once said, “Be wary of advice, even this.” If there was one sure-fire way to become a successful writer it would be copyrighted and sold for a very high price on Amazon—probably even available for same-day shipping. I don’t claim to have any such insight; all I’m sharing are my personal experiences.
Second, these lessons are geared to writers in the early stage of their career, especially those trying to publish their first novel. In this post I’ll discuss three lessons. There are more, but I’ll save them for another time. So, here we go:
- Unless you’re a well-known commodity, no one—except maybe your mom and a few close friends—could care less that you published a book.
I know this sucks and is hurtful to hear. And I also know that your book could be an exception, but the reality is that it will most likely be lost in the sea of books published every day. Yes, I realize your prose is brilliant and your plot masterfully constructed. I know you’ve spent a long, long time writing your book and that you’ve sacrificed a lot to make your dream come true. You may have even given up watching your favorite TV shows in order to devote more time to your writing, and told your friends that you just can’t hang out with them because you’re committed to your craft. Maybe you’ve withstood the glaring looks that come from loved ones as you sit at your computer day after laborious day cranking out your novel.
But the quicker you realize this, the sooner you become more realistic about your expectations. Once your book becomes available on Amazon, people aren’t just going to flock to it because they’re drawn to your brilliance or because they like your dazzling cover. This isn’t Field of Dreams, where if you write it, they will come. It’s more like the bog of disappointment, where you soon realize that you can’t give up your day job, travel extensively, and become a barefoot writer just because you’ve published a novel.
- Chances are extremely good that your manuscript is not ready for publication yet, especially if you’re self-publishing.
I can’t hammer this home enough. In fact, I was going to use caps for this bullet point, but I didn’t want to scream at you. This is not an argument to run right out and hire a content/copy editor. In my experience few, if any, are worth their weight in gold, contrary to testimonials on their websites.
There are two main components to a novel: the story itself and the writing, which includes style and grammar. If you want your book to sell, you must master both elements. If you’re submitting to an agent or directly to a publisher, unless you’ve executed both story and writing superbly (or you have personal connections), your story will be rejected. While crushingly disappointing, this at least saves you the embarrassment of self-publishing a disastrous piece of writing that will garner you all the unwarranted attention of someone farting loudly in a You Tube video.
Many Twitter and Facebook proclamations notwithstanding, not everything you write glimmers, nor are you—and this one really irks me—already a great writer. It usually takes years to become a great writer, which, for our purposes, we’ll define as writing something people pay to read.
But here’s the good news: You have at your disposal tools to improve your manuscript and make it more marketable. (Note: My goal in publishing a book has changed from writing a book that will become the basis of a major motion picture to publishing something that doesn’t embarrass me.) What are those tools?
Good books to read and something to write with. Yes, that is what it takes to become a good writer and to write a good book—reading and writing: a lot of both. Now, some of those good books you read might include books on the craft of writing, but be careful here. Don’t fall into the trap I’ve often fallen into: reading books on writing as opposed to writing a book. Despite the vast quantity of books on writing, very few are essential reading. Please save yourself enormous time by focusing on the handful of books that truly are worthwhile, and contact me if you have any questions/concerns. Reading and writing good books can help tremendously in designing your story and improving the way you tell it (i.e., style). In terms of of grammar mistakes and typos, there is no substitute for going through your work over and over and over again until you get it as right as humanly possible.
- Whether to go with an agent, a small press, or to self-publish is much less of a choice than many people suppose.
I don’t know how many posts I’ve seen on Facebook concerning this issue. Here’s the lowdown on what I’ve discovered, may it save you a lot of time and worry. If you want to sell books, it’s best to have a reputable agent who can submit your work to a major publishing house. In fact, in the overwhelming majority of cases, this is the only way to sell a lot of books. Very few writers land an agent with their first book, which makes perfectly good sense. It’s only after you’ve proven that you can write well over a sustained period of time that a good agent will consider representing you. Think of yourself as an artist—the better and more extensive your portfolio, the better your odds of exhibiting at a major art gallery. So, a credited agent at a reputable agency is the gold standard for writers who want to sell books.
If you fail to secure representation after querying several agents (“several” can mean hundreds depending on your genre), and odds are good that you will fail, you have two major options: self-publishing or going with a small press. Before discussing these in a little more detail, I should mention a third option: You can hire a company (i.e., Book Baby) to publish and market your book. But this essentially amounts to vanity publishing and it’s not something I recommend unless you have a bunch of money—and we’re talking thousands of dollars—that you don’t mind losing. You should never pay anyone to publish your book unless you are doing it for friends and family or simply to scratch “publish a book” from your bucket list.
That having been said, I’d like to share a little of what I’ve learned concerning self-publishing and small presses. Regarding the self-publishing revolution, the good news is that anyone can publish a book; the bad news is that anyone can publish a book. While technically it’s true that anyone can publish a book, this all too often prevents people asking themselves the equally important question of whether they should. This is a little like Jurassic Park when Jeff Goldblum’s character points out that scientists were so busy determining if they could raise creatures from dino-DNA that they failed to ask themselves the even more important question of whether they should do so. The result, in terms of book publications, has been the glutting of the market with egregious products, which only serves to hinder those trying to do and sell quality work.
But let’s assume that despite your story being great, your writing compelling, and your typos non-existent, you still can’t get an agent. When reaching this point, many writers decide to self-publish. After all, the reasoning goes, self-publishing allows you to maintain control over your work, including the cover, the price, and—most importantly—the profits. All of this is true. Unfortunately, after talking to many self-published authors, I have found that all too often this amounts to a lot of control over essentially nothing (in terms of profits). There are, of course, exceptions—a few people have written and self-published books that went on to make money. But it seems that unless you already have a significant following, self-publishing rarely yields the desired result.
Being published by a reputable small press falls somewhere in the middle of having an agent and publishing your own work. My first, literary novel, Conversations Among Ruins, was published by a small press. The first two books in my political-religious thriller series—The Brothers’ Keepers and Killing John the Baptist—are also published by a (different) small press. What do you get when you’re published by a small press? In most cases you get a free cover and free editing services, and freedom from such logistical concerns as formatting and uploading, pricing, and keeping track of sales. You also get the backing of the publisher, which includes their name and reputation. In my case, I submitted The Brothers’ Keepers to Melange Books because I knew they were a publisher accepted by International Thriller Writers (ITW), an organization I wanted to join. Once my novel was accepted by Melange, I applied to ITW and was accepted. The following year I submitted The Brothers’ Keepers to Bookbub for their consideration and was accepted for a promotion and sold thousands of books in a very short time period. Though I have no hard data to support this, I believe Melange’s association with ITW helped pave the way to the Bookbub deal.
The downside to being published by a small press, in comparison to being published by one of the Big 5, is that you’re essentially responsible for your own marketing and you don’t get the exposure you would if you were published by, say, Random House. You also don’t see the same percentage of revenue from book sales because the small press takes their cut.
One final route to publication should be mentioned. This is the option of submitting your work directly to an imprint of one of the Big 5 (e.g., Alibi, Tor, etc.). You don’t need an agent to do this, and my guess is that you’d get more exposure with one of these imprints than you would a small press/indie publisher. Click here for more information on this option. I think it’s definitely something worth considering and deserves more investigation on your part if you choose to go this route.
Personally, in descending order of preference, I would rank the various paths to publication as follows: 1) securing an agent and being published by one of the Big 5; 2) being published by an imprint of one of the Big 5; 3) being published by a small, reputable press; 4) self-publishing; 5) vanity publishing. One final hint: if you decide to try to get an agent, Query Tracker is an excellent place to start.
I’ll stop for now because this has become a long post. I hope you’ve found what I’ve said helpful. As always, I’m eager to hear your thoughts, comments, and experiences.
All the best,
Hi. Remember me? I’m the guy who used to blog on a pretty regular basis, someone who is dual diagnosed (with depression/anxiety and alcoholism) and the author of Conversations Among Ruins and the soon to be re-released religious thriller The Brothers’ Keepers.
I haven’t blogged in a long time. Why, you might ask? Part of the reason is that I simply fell out of the habit of blogging. It is easier not to do something than to do something, and the power of inertia, in itself, is often seductive.
Another reason is that I reached the conclusion, however wrong-headed, that my blogging didn’t really make a difference. There are so many blogs and bloggers out there, what impact could I possibly have in the infinite galaxy of cyberspace?
But I’ve come to the point where I think that view rather selfish; for if I can help just one person then my efforts are vindicated. I’ve also featured some incredibly talented writers on this blog and I want to continue to do so. Please let me know if you’d like to be interviewed by commenting below or by sending me an email.
An even bigger reason I’ve stayed away has to do with embarrassment, on my part, and feeling like a failure. Let me explain.
In February of this year I started volunteering at a substance abuse clinic. My goal was to attain the hours necessary to become a substance abuse counselor. The staff was wonderful, and warmly welcomed me into the “family.” I was placed in group therapy sessions as an observer and read a great deal of the literature on various aspects of substance abuse and its treatment. From the beginning, however, I experienced a great deal of anxiety and depression. It became increasingly difficult for me to get out of bed in the morning and calm myself down enough to drive to the clinic. After about a month, I reached a place where I was barely functioning, and at that point, made the decision to stop volunteering.
I felt like a failure, and still do to some extent. But I’ve come to realize that what happened is nothing to be ashamed of. I went through a difficult episode and I managed to get to the other side without picking up a drink. That is really the most important thing—that I didn’t drink. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned over the past several years is that as long as I don’t drink I still have a fighting chance at this thing called life. The fact is I make the decision every day not to drink no matter what, because there’s nothing in this world a drink will make better. Sobriety must come first, and that sometimes means other things must go. That’s just the way it is. But I know I’m not alone: it’s the hard reality of all alcoholics who make the decision every day not to drink.
In terms of writing, I’ve been doing some, but not nearly enough. My religious thriller, The Brothers’ Keepers, is due to be re-released in July of this year by Melange Books, and will be available for the first time in both e-book and print formats. Here’s a blurb:
When Jesuit religious historian Nicholas Branson is brought into the FBI’s case of the murder of a U.S. senator in a confessional, he becomes involved in a web of political and ecclesiastical intrigue and a search for an eight-hundred-year-old treasure that will shake the foundations of Judeo-Christian civilization.
Publishing the novel through Melange Books has allowed me to become a member of International Thriller Writers, which I’m very excited about. The group includes top writers in the genre, such as Steve Berry, Lee Child, James Patterson, and R.L. Stine and does a great deal of charitable work in support of literacy, public libraries, and many other worthy causes.
In addition, I’ve recently completed an epistolary novel with British author L.T. Kelly. Take Me Home is a love story involving a British divorcee stationed in Iraq and an American ex-pat widower and novelist living in the U.K. We hope to find a home for it soon. Working with L.T. Kelly was such a pleasure that we’ve decided to write a second novel, a thriller, that promises to be just as controversial as The Brothers’ Keepers. If you’re not familiar with L.T. Kelly’s work, please do check out her wonderfully crafted tales of contemporary romance (Kissing Cassie and Kissing Katie) and paranormal romance (Falling to Pieces and Falling into You).
I’m also close to finishing the second Branson novel, tentatively entitled The One Called John. Please stay tuned for more on that.
Finally, I’ve adapted Conversations Among Ruins to the stage. I thought the story’s treatment of dual diagnosis (i.e., a mood disorder accompanied by chemical dependency) might find effective expression in the theater. I’ve submitted the play to the John Gassner Memorial Playwrighting Award Competition and will know the results in October.
That’s about it on my end. It feels good to blog again. I apologize for not blogging for such a long time. Please continue to let me know if I can be of service in any way.
Steve read from his books Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions, while Ray read a new piece, and a story called “Spring Planting” from his collection In a World of Small Truths. I read a chapter from Conversations Among Ruins.
Despite the cold and the threat of adverse weather, we had a good turnout. We are grateful to those who came, to Brian Lampkin for having us, and for Bethany Chafin at WFDD, who was kind enough to interview us and to help spread the word about our books and the event. Click here to listen to the radio interview we did.
I certainly hope I have the pleasure of reading with Steve and Ray again at some point in the very near future.
Here are some pictures.
Actually, I have done some blog posts, but not for this blog. Starting February 16, I’ll be doing a virtual book tour for The Brothers’ Keepers with Goddess Fish Promotions. The tour will range for four weeks, with twenty stops scheduled along the way. I’ll keep you posted as it moves along.
Meanwhile, I’ll be promoting Conversations Among Ruins (CAR) through radio and bookstores.
I will be on It Matters Radio on Thursday, February 12. The show starts at 9:00 PM EST. I’m usually in bed by 8:00, so it should be quite interesting. The topic will be mental illness in literature, and I’ll be discussing CAR in that context.
Toward the end of this month I will be on Wake Forest University’s NPR-affiliate, WFDD, to talk about CAR, and dual diagnosis. I will be joined by two fabulous authors, Steve Lindahl and Ray Morrison. It looks like this will happen on February 26 at 11:00, but we’re awaiting final confirmation.
I will be at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro on March 5 at 7:00 PM along with Steve Lindahl and Ray Morrison.
I will keep you updated on more appearances as they develop.
Finally, I am working hard on the next Nicholas Branson novel. I won’t say too much in order to avoid spoilers, but I can promise it will be at least as exciting as The Brothers’ Keepers!
Thank you for all the support you’ve given me since I began this blog.
I am interested in hearing topics you’d like to read more about, so please feel free to suggest some in your comments or e-mail.
All the best,
Something happened at McIntyre’s Books last Saturday, when I read from Conversations Among Ruins—something personal and beautiful. For the first time, in a very long time, I felt connected to a group of strangers.
I sometimes felt connected with my students when I lectured, but this was different. Conversations Among Ruins is a personal story. The book isn’t entirely autobiographical, but I did draw from my life experiences to write it. Like me, the protagonist is dual diagnosed, meaning he suffers from a mood disorder and chemical dependency.
I learned that people, if given the chance to do so in a safe environment, want to talk about this issue. I discovered that once I gave myself permission to open up about it, others gave themselves permission as well.
The stigma associated with mental illness is huge, as is the stigma attached to addiction—combining the two makes things worse.
The best way I know of combatting the stigma is to talk about dual diagnosis, just like we talk about other medical conditions. I don’t know a single person who is ashamed of having heart disease or diabetes. But the number of people I’ve met who feel ashamed about having a mental disorder and/or chemical dependency is overwhelming.
Opening up a dialogue and providing a safe space for others to share is a major step in the right direction. One young woman in the audience had read Conversations Among Ruins beforehand and felt comfortable enough to share her personal experiences. I am so grateful to have been a part of her journey. Others came up to me afterward and expressed how much my reading had meant to them.
I am so grateful to the people who came out to hear me read, and to those who couldn’t come, but who supported me with their wonderful words. You all took part in the enormously important work of fighting the stigma against dual diagnosis. Thank you one and all. Thank you for letting me be a small part of your journey. And please know you are a large part of mine.
My reading from Conversations Among Ruins at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village yesterday was a resounding success. It started with the extremely supportive members of my writing group coming out to demonstrate their support. They are truly a wonderful, talented group of folks.
The receptivity of the audience to the issue of dual diagnosis was amazing, as was the quality of audience participation. I could not have picked a better group of people.
Afterward, I had folks come up to me and thank me for giving them permission to speak about dual diagnosis, psychiatric conditions, and addiction. I learned that people really want to talk about these issues, and that if given a chance to do so, they open up like flowers.
I want to thank everyone who was there, including Pete Mock for making it such a pleasant experience.
Here are some photos of the event:
I had two books published in 2014. Conversations Among Ruins (CAR), a work of literary fiction, was released on August 13 by All Things That Matter Press. My religious thriller, The Brothers’ Keepers (TBK), became available on October 1 through MuseItUp Publishing.
Both books have risen and fallen in Amazon rankings, which can jump hundreds of thousands of places when someone buys a book. TBK seems to be selling better than CAR, at least according to this very crude measure.
I’ve received one royalty check for CAR. (Just to let you know, I’m not planning any trips to exotic locales.) I really won’t know how TBK is selling until I get my royalty statement from MuseItUp.
Overall, the results have been a little disappointing.
The fundamental issue is how to increase awareness of my books among the veritable sea of books published every month. Outside of the people I tell by word of mouth, and the efforts I’ve taken thus far, I really have no idea how a person is supposed to come across them.
So, what have I done in order to promote sales? In addition to telling everyone I know about the books and encouraging people to write reviews, here are some of the steps I’ve taken:
- I post free ads in Facebook reading/writing groups—this seems to have some limited success. I do notice a correlation between posting in the groups and sales, but as we all know, correlation does not prove causation.
- I hired a publicist—this has had some limited success. I’ve had a book launch at a local bookstore and I’ve seen small reviews of my books in the local paper and other publications. I have more engagements coming up this year, so I will let you know how they work out.
- I ran a giveaway on Goodreads for CAR—this seems to have had no result. The person who won a copy of the book has yet to post a review, and though hundreds of people added the book to their read shelves, I haven’t seen any indication that more people are reading the book now than before. I can’t hold a giveaway for TBK since it is still available only in e-format.
- I tweet about the books—I try to do this in moderation. It is important that ads you post on Twitter for your own books are balanced by tweets on other topics. It is my sense that I’ve sold more books through Twitter than through other means, but it is a hard claim to verify. I am basing this observation on the positive feedback I receive from my tweets, including retweets, and the number of followers I have.
- I’ve hired Goddess Fish Promotions to do a book/blogging tour for TBK—this is scheduled to happen in February, so I’ll let you know how this goes. Depending on the results, I’ll consider doing a tour of CAR.
- I’m running a paid Facebook ad—I have yet to see the results of this effort, though the ads only starting running a few days ago. I have had some clicks to my website as a result of the ad, but can’t really see any conversions into sales (at this very early point).
- I continue to write—this is what I’ve heard is the best means of selling more books: writing more books. And not just any books, but quality stuff.
It is still early to gauge the effectiveness of these efforts: time will indicate their success or failure.
I would greatly appreciate any insights into the best way of increasing the visibility of one’s books. Some of you reading this blog have much more experience than I do when it comes to marketing.
I remain hopeful things will improve in the future.
All the best,
On November 11 I had my book launch for Conversations Among Ruins at Letters Bookshop in Durham, NC. It was an amazing experience because of the people there. I sensed a level of emotional connection with them that I haven’t experienced in a long time. Thank you so much to those who came, and to those who were there in spirit.
How do you frame a story idea in such a way that it lends itself to writing a whole story, or even a novel?
In Anne Lamott’s wonderful book Bird by Bird, she mentions an interview with Carolyn Chute, the author of The Beans of Egypt, Maine. In the interview Chute says, “I feel like a lot of time my writing is like having about twenty boxes of Christmas decorations. But no tree. You’re going, Where do I put this? Then they go, Okay, you can have a tree, but we’ll blindfold you and you gotta cut it down with a spoon.” Ann Lamott goes on to say that, “This is how I’ve arrived at my plots a number of times.”
Are there other ways to frame a story and develop a plot?
Yes. And I’d like to talk about one of them.
But first you may think that what I’m about to say applies only to outliners and not to pantsers. That only outliners need to concern themselves, right off the bat, at least, with plot. But I believe pantsers will benefit from this discussion too, because oftentimes we have to start somewhere: we all need a tree on which to hang our ornaments. And what I’m going to talk about is essentially growing the tree.
I’m not going to talk about where ideas come from. But I will mention one place that’s worked for me. And truly I can’t think of a better place to get story ideas. And that’s from reading.
In conjunction with reading, you may benefit from playing the what-if game. As I’ll mention a little later I eventually developed the story-line for one of my novels, The Brothers’ Keepers, by playing this game—well, by playing the game and also by doing a boatload of research.
So let’s say you’ve come up with a basic idea for a story. One of the things I like to do next is to make sure the idea hasn’t been done to death. How do you do this? I suggest plugging a few key words of your topic into Amazon with the tag “fiction” added and see what comes up. Of course, if you want to find books for research, of the non-fiction variety, leave the fiction tag off. I can’t tell you how many important books I’ve found this way.
Once I’ve come up with a basic idea for a story, and thought a little about the main characters, I try to frame the story in two sentences. This framing of the story in two sentences is one of the most important things I’ve learned after writing two novels and reading a boatload of books on writing. I learned the technique from Dwight v. Swain, who lays it out in his book Techniques of the Selling Writer. If you don’t have this book, I strongly recommend you get a copy. It is my favorite book on writing.
Okay, so what is this two-sentence method of framing a story?
The first sentence is a statement that deals with character, situation, and objective, and the second is a question that deals with opponent and disaster. That’s all well and good, but what does this look like in practice?
It is hard to improve on Swain’s examples so I’ll start by simply relating one of his. Say you are writing a science-fiction story.
Your basic idea is that humans start growing very tall and the main character’s objective is to find out why. So your first sentence that deals with character, situation, and objective looks something like this:
Sentence 1: When humans suddenly sprout to twelve-feet tall, John Storm tries to find out why.
The first sentence of story structure is posited in the form of a statement. In it, we have the situation (humans suddenly growing tall), the character (John Storm) and the objective (trying to find out why this is happening).
The second sentence that frames the story deals with opponent and disaster and is cast in the form of a question:
Sentence 2: But can he (John Storm) defeat the traitors in high places who want to kill him in order to make the change appear to be the result of an extraterrestrial plot?
Here we have the opponent and the disaster that threatens our protagonist—namely, death.
Sentence 1: Sick of the conformity and hypocrisy that go with his high-paid job, and with a modest life income assured, Dale Boulton decides to retire ten years early, to go live on a shanty boat and poke through crumbling river ghost-towns, in fulfillment of a boyhood dream.
Sentence 2: Can he make the break successfully, when his wife, Sandra, fights him all the way and finally, threatens to have him declared incompetent?
Let’s take an example everyone is probably familiar with: The Wizard of Oz.
What would sentence one look like for this story?
Sentence 1: When a cyclone drops Dorothy into a strange new world, she seeks to return home to her farm in Kansas.
Sentence 2: Can she get the great Wizard of Oz to assist her in her efforts to return home before the Wicked Witch of the East kills her?
This may sound simple, but framing story structure in such a way, really helps.
For my novel The Brother Keepers, I started off with a fascination for the Jesuits. After a good deal of reading and research I eventually formulated and honed the two sentence story structure into something like the following:
Sentence 1: Nicholas Branson, a renegade Jesuit, is brought into an investigation to help solve the mystery of a Senator’s murder.
Sentence 2: Can he discover the truth before he’s killed by religious and political officials hell-bent on keeping the mystery a secret?
Eventually, The Brothers’ Keepers grew into a story with the following mini-synopsis:
Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, and Jesus’ purported spouse, Mary Magdalene. But what about Jesus’ siblings? What role did they play in early Christianity?
Contemporary Jesuit and renowned religious historian Nicholas Branson is about to find out…and the answer will shake the foundations of the Judeo-Christian world.
It all starts with the murder of a United States Senator in a confessional, and the discovery of a strange religious document among his possessions. At the urging of his FBI friend, Branson joins the investigation. His effort to uncover the truth behind the murder draws him into the search for an eight-hundred-year-old treasure and into a web of ecclesiastical and political intrigue.
Accompanied by a beautiful, sharp-tongued research librarian, Jessica Jones, Branson follows a trail of clues, from the peaks of the awe inspiring French Pyrenees to the caves of war-torn Afghanistan. Along the way, shadowy powerful forces trail the pair, determined to keep safe a secret buried for centuries.
How will it end? Read The Brothers’ Keepers … if you dare.
This book is largely genre fiction. Does the two-sentence farming method work in the case of literary fiction?
I have found it useful. For Conversations Among Ruins, the two sentences started out something like the following:
Sentence 1: While in detox, Daniel Stavros, a young, dual diagnosed lecturer, meets and falls in love with the cryptic Mimi Dexter, a woman who has a tattoo identical to a pendant Daniel’s mother gave him right before she died.
Sentence 2: Can Daniel maintain his job and his sanity in the face of an increasingly tempestuous and mysterious romance?
This story evolved into the following:
Conversations Among Ruins is a portrait of a descent into madness, and the potential of finding salvation there.
While in detox, Daniel Stavros, a young, dual diagnosed* professor meets and falls in love with the cryptic Mimi Dexter. But Mimi has secrets and, strangely, a tattoo identical to a pendant Daniel’s mother gave him right before she died.
Drawn together by broken pasts, they pursue a twisted, tempestuous romance. When it ends, a deteriorating Stavros seeks refuge at a mountain cabin where a series of surreal experiences brings him face to face with something he’s avoided all his life: himself.
Though miles away, Mimi’s actions run oddly parallel to Daniel’s. Will either be redeemed, or will both careen toward self-destruction?
*The term dual diagnosed refers to someone suffering from a mood disorder (e.g., depression) and chemical dependency.
Can you take your work in progress and frame it using the two sentence structure?
I’d love to hear what you come up with.
All the best,
With the publication of Conversations Among Ruins I have told some of my story to the world.
I won’t go into what is and isn’t my life as it relates to the book, but I will say that the main character, Daniel Stavros, is, like me, dual diagnosed.
As I’ve mentioned before, I recently engaged a publicist to help promote the book. This has brought me face to face with the realization that increasing the awareness of dual diagnosis will place me in uncomfortable positions.
For example, my publicist has suggested I reach out to local affiliates of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). These groups hold conferences, at which I might be asked to speak.
The thought terrifies me. In addition to major depressive disorder, I have generalized anxiety disorder that includes a certain degree of agoraphobia. Needless to say, speaking in front of groups of people about mental health is not my idea of a good time. Despite the fact that I have much teaching experience, this sort of thing is vastly different than lecturing to college students.
Because it’s personal.
But the fact that I need to do this without the benefit of mind altering substances is giving me the opportunity to put into practice many of the skills I have learned in recovery.
I’ll share two of these in the hope that they might help someone.
One of my favorite skills is a delaying tactic I call the Not This Second (NTS) mindset. It consists of this: If I don’t have to speak to a roomful of people this very second, I try not to worry about it. After all, what good is worrying about it, if it’s not immediately before me? It consumes a vast amount of emotional resources I could devote to other matters. I know I will be well-prepared when it comes time to speak; that is just my nature. And once I get going things usually turn out just fine. It is the thought of doing something that is often worse than actually doing it. I have to remember this.
I use the NTS mindset for just about anything that I worry about beforehand. A related strategy I use essentially amounts to bait and switch.
Here’s how it works.
Let’s take two things I worry about: One, speaking at a conference, and two, paying back my student loans. As the speaking event draws closer I say to myself, what I really should be worrying about is paying back my student loans. So I try to hold this thought in mind as long as I can as the speaking event approaches. This serves to take some of the pressure off the one event, and allows me to gain perspective. After the speaking engagement, when I start to worry about my student loans, I’ll comfort myself by saying that while the loans are an issue, at least I don’t have to get up in front of a roomful of people and talk about them. It is largely a matter that can be handled privately.
This is not to stay that I don’t stay in the moment. When I am doing whatever task I am doing I try to focus exclusively on that. So when I speak about dual diagnosis, I think about dual diagnosis, not my student loans. But the bait and switch seems to help in the time leading up to the actual event.
I am going to need your support so I can do my job in spreading awareness of dual diagnosis. Please include me in your thoughts and prayers, if you are so inclined.
Thank you so much.
What strategies do you use to combat anxiety?
As always, I look forward to hearing from you.