Wednesday, May 4, 2016

"For one brief, shining moment..." Or, My Thoughts on the Closing of Booktrope

The other day, I was struggling to find a way to define what Booktrope represented to me as a writer coming in, and then as an author published through their team-publishing model. Then, someone online (please forgive me, I forget who it was: if you let me know I will correct this post to include your name and credit you properly for the reference) compared what Booktrope was to Camelot, and I thought, Bingo. Nail, head, hit.

It was a place where everyone worked (at least for a time) as a team of equals. Sure, there were issues with some teams not working out and people coming and going but overall, since 2013 I published five novels with them, and I am immensely proud of that body of work. I know that the people who worked with me helped to make the books better in countless ways, through editing, cover design,  project management, and even dealing with my absolute inability to correctly use a semi-colon (sorry, Jennifer! Love you! xoxo)

Emotions have understandably run very high since the closing was announced at approximately 5PM EDT time last Friday. I for one was shocked but not surprised; I had seen the writing on the wall for a while. I had even said to my husband within the past few weeks, “Why is it I sense a tremor in the Force telling me that soon I’ll have to cope with my books going out of print?”

And I was right: that is exactly what is going to happen on May 31st

My five beautiful Booktrope published novels

My books will vanish from all points of sale (aside from third party sellers of paperbacks, of course. Those may stay out there for a bit.) Oh, and piracy sites *laugh* I’m sure that my books will remain on some of those as well. (I just wish I knew how many people had read them through those sites! Honestly, I’m being serious.) All that ever mattered to me was having my stories read; though I did try my hardest to market to the best of my ability and as my health allowed. I gave it all my level best. And that includes for the year I was self published before GODSPEED and OF STARDUST were picked up by Booktrope.

Now… I’m tired. Yet, somehow, I’m renewed and looking forward to what happens next to my stories and all the characters that inhabit them.

I’ve been writing since early childhood, but I’ve only been publishing for the past five years. I’d only become interested in ever becoming published about six years ago, after I lost and regained my eyesight. Somehow, that dream came into being.

First it was poetry and prose in literary magazines, then a few short stories. More poetry and a few paintings were published along the way as I worked with a team of friends and pros to get GODSPEED out into the world.

I was published for the very first time (thank you, Rusty Nail editor and author Craig Hart) just before I turned 40.

Now, just as I am turning 45 this month, I will have to stand and watch as a lot of that work goes away.

Such sad words, these: out of print

I don’t have it in me to indie publish again. It’s not that people haven’t offered to help, or that I haven’t done it before. I have, and that’s why I know I don’t have the health or strength to do it again, let alone times five books.

So I’ve settled up with the teams that worked on my Booktrope books (who showed incredible generosity to me for which I will be forever grateful) and I have decided that the home for my stories is obvious; because two of those five novels already have a had a home there for a long time, and two more did for a time as well.

The answer, for me, is Wattpad.

Therefore, after my books disappear from Amazon, BN, and iTunes on May31 and the rights revert back to me on June 1, I will begin publishing the books that are missing from my collection on Wattpad. (GODSPEED and UPON A TIME have been up there for a long time with Booktrope’s blessing, so I see no need to remove them for the three weeks remaining until shut down.)

It’s going to be a monumental amount of work to transfer the books over (especially if I can’t get that pesky formatting glitch that has plagued me on Wattpad for a while worked out…) It’s going to be hard on my eyes, and I can only work on them so fast. But I hope to get a head start and begin uploading so I can push “publish” on June 1st and have at least part of OF STARDUST back up there to offer my readers.

They loved the book when it was on Wattpad before; it had 1.2 million reads when I had to take it down for contractual reasons. Those reasons exist no more. So back it will go, as will its sequel IN STARLIGHT. I also plan to post the never-available-on-Wattpad-before novel WISHING CROSS STATION. I have to procure a new cover for it first, and will soon start the process of doing that.

Then I can just let people do what I have always wanted them to do: read my books.

No more sales figures or garnering reviews to worry about. No more mandatory social media posts. Marketing as I've known it will become a part of my past.

I’ll have freedom to share the stories with people who would never be able to buy them… and I have heard from so many of them in my three years on Wattpad. It always brings a tear to my eye when someone who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to read one of my books says they love it. It never, ever gets old. I look at Wattpad as the world’s biggest public library; and I love the idea of access to my books for anyone with a phone, tablet, or computer.

Make no mistake, I am heartbroken that Booktrope is going away, and I feel terrible for the eleven people on staff who will be losing their jobs, not to mention the countless authors, editors, proofers, book/project managers, and artists who have all been thrown into an emotional blender over all of this. No one wins in this situation; it is just a sad fact of life that often, businesses don’t make it.

In the end, I will look back on my time with Booktrope with deepest gratitude above all else. They believed in my work enough to give it a chance to be seen on the marketplace; they connected me with wonderful people that I hope to remain in contact with for years and years to come. Many on staff itself have become dear to be because of all the help and kindness shown to me over the years. I won’t ever forget what they’ve done.

Perhaps the team publishing model was too good-- too idealistic-- a thing to last.

But for a time… for “one brief shining moment…” as the Lerner and Lowe song goes… there was Camelot, and it was a beautiful place to be.

Travel well, fellow ‘Tropers. May all your work find a way back into the world that brings you joy, happiness, and above all, peace.

My dream hasn’t died, though I’m parting ways with publishing as an industry. It has only changed… and now I think it could grow to be bigger, and better, than I ever dared to hope before.



Wednesday, March 30, 2016

My Wish on this World Bipolar Day 2016

My wish this year is simple: better treatments, more affordably priced, and available to all who need them.

That's a tall order, I know.

I'm one of the lucky ones. I can afford, thanks to insurance and my husband's medical savings plan through his job, to get most of the medication that I need. I say most because there are newer treatments that my doctor would love to try me on (I'm struggling with my old med cocktail lately, it doesn't seem to be working any more even with dose increases, which increase side effects even if they don't help your mixed state...)

She had some samples from the manufacturer, but said plainly she was reluctant to start me on them because the medication would cost 1000.00 per month, out of pocket, because it's not covered by my Medicare Part D insurance plan.

Because I have a Medicare Part D insurance plan, I am ineligible for discount programs from the manufacturers of the medications. Why this should be I have no idea; it seems to me that if you're on Medicare you should need the discount more, not less. But it doesn't matter. Because of that, I can't get the costs down.

So whether or not the newer meds would help me remains a mystery for now; until their price comes down, I won't be able to find out.

It's terrifying, how many meds my insurance company has eliminated from its formulary this year. Including the brand name drug of my mainstay in my treatment; so far, the generic does not seem to be working as well as the brand name did, even at a higher dose.

It leaves me wondering what will become of me if time doesn't work with the latest med adjustment to straighten me out. If the depression keeps gaining on me; if I keep sleeping all day because one med makes me exhausted even though another makes me edgy.

This is the shallowest thing I could post as far as side effects from my Bipolar treatment go, but it's more than just an issue of appearance and losing your self-image.

I've gained a lot of weight in the almost five years since I began my journey on Bipolar treatment, mostly, sadly, because I couldn't continue on Lithium, which didn't seem to impact my weight.

I'm not even on the meds considered the worst offenders for weight gain (though, those are the ones that my insurance company would rather I take, the ones that are tier 1 and 2 meds) still, I've gained and weigh more than I ever have in my life, even more than when I was 9 months pregnant with my daughter.

Adjusting my diet does not seem to help. I am limited from working out because of degenerative disc disease and other joint problems from a rare genetic syndrome.

In other words, I'm toast when it comes to these meds and weight gain.

The weight gain isn't just humiliation on top of all the other suffering that Bipolar already brings, it puts me at a greater risk for serious health problems, specifically Diabetes, which can be brought on by this classification of medications.

I am taking multiple meds in that classification. And it scares me. A lot.

This is what I looked like before I was (correctly, at last) diagnosed with Bipolar and began treatment:

This is what I look like today:

It isn't the years that have aged me so much. It's the medication (and yes, the illnesses themselves.) But the weight gain is just insult to injury and I worry for my future-- will I add Diabetes to the list of things that I have to deal with because of the fact that these treatments are the only options available that my body can tolerate?

I've been on so many medications since being diagnosed, and failed or been allergic/intolerant of most, that I'm kind of stuck right now with what I've got, even though it really doesn't feel like its working any more.

All the while, in my doctor's office, sits samples of a new med which may very well be able to help me. That has a better side effect profile than the meds I'm currently on.

It could be The Answer.

And I can't have it.

Because of money.

Like I said, I'm lucky that I can afford any treatment at all; right now the copay on one of my meds cost 415 dollars to fill at the pharmacy. I'm lucky that supply will last two months.

If it works. If it helps at all. If it's even worth taking any more.

So again, my wish for everyone who suffers not only mental illness but all illnesses on this World Bipolar Day: affordable medications. More research. Don't just medicate us and cast us into a corner once a drug goes generic and we don't interest you any more, Big Pharma.

Keep working on better treatments, and I promise you, anyone who possibly can will be so grateful for them, that we would very, very gladly pay all we can for them.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Project Tomorrow (Or, The Battle Between Art and Medication)

EPCOT (the enormous theme park in Walt Disney World in Florida) inspires me.

Don’t get me wrong, the kid in me will always love the Magic Kingdom. It is the happy place for dreamers from all over the world.

But I will never forget first visiting EPCOT as an eleven year old girl, when it was brand new.

It ignited something in my imagination (and not just because of the One Little Spark song Figment the dragon sings) that remains unique to the place. It’s something I’ve never found anywhere else, and when I’m especially low or uninspired, EPCOT beckons me home.

Right now I find my creative reserves are at what I’d call an all-time low. The events of the past few years have all caught up with me (as life tends to do when you try to outrun it) and my brain is working overtime trying to process it all: emotions, thoughts, impressions, losses and dreams now come and gone.

So I’m going inside my head today and I’m thinking back to my last trip to EPCOT, which was at the beginning of March, for the start of the annual Flower and Garden Festival.

This was but the latest example of me ‘running away from home’ as it were; planning the trip the day before I left. I was desperate to escape the snow and cold; desperate to walk and see how far my legs could go (which didn’t turn out to be as far as I’d have liked. I wrote about that in another post.) Desperate to escape the walls closing in around me.

On my last day there, I drove my rented scooter past a sign I’ve seen hundreds of times in my life; and it really struck me.

This is the sign:

I found myself wondering what my own personal “Project Tomorrow” will be. Lately I’ve been asking myself if writing (and thinking of myself as primarily a writer) hasn’t just been a really long phase I’ve been going through.

Okay, so a forty year phase, but still, a phase nonetheless.

I’ve been writing all my life, but with singular focus for about twenty years now, and I find myself wondering, as I approach my 45th birthday in six weeks or so, what I’ll do for an encore.

I’m at the point of total frustration and misery with writing itself; especially when I even think about trying to write another novel. The reason for that is clear to me: it’s that I haven’t been grabbed by THE idea yet; the one that will take hold of me and refuse to let go the way that GODSPEED did. The way that WISHING CROSS STATION did.

As much as I love my other books (and I do, each has a special place in my heart) those two are what I consider the beginning and the end of what I am able to do as a writer; the best I know how to do.

I know it’s a learning process. I know that it’s supposed to always continue, a writer honing their craft and going on and on and on with it, chasing, as it’s been said, inspiration with a club.

That’s just not the way my brain works.

Though the honest truth is, my brain hasn’t been working well at much of anything lately. More med adjustments are still being, well, adjusted to, and I find myself lost, looking for that project tomorrow.

Do I get out the old Yamaha keyboard and go back to trying to make music? Do I get out the pen and paper and just write whatever poetry pops into my head, lock it away, and call it a day? Do I try to paint even though the canvas seems to erase every stroke I make with my brush as I make it, then twist it into something I hadn’t intended at all?

When do I figure out how to blog about anything besides my artistic struggles?

Maybe I should only blog when I figure out how to talk about something other than my artistic struggles.

You don’t want to hear me talk about marketing (and goodness knows I don’t want to hear me talk about marketing anymore either) and I don’t have any new creative material to offer at the moment.

Maybe I’m just trying to work it all through in my head by sharing this, and maybe I’m trying to let someone else who may be struggling out there know they’re not alone.

I’m not sure what the purpose of this post is, besides the idea that there has to be some kind of project tomorrow in my life.

There has to be something I can still contribute, creatively.

Though I wonder, sometimes. I seriously wonder.

I've often said that I’d give up all my artistic pursuits and accept treatment for Bipolar, if it could make me “normal”.

Almost five years later, I’m asking myself, is this normal?

Is this what a normal, non-creative life feels like?

It feels like trying to wear a dress several sizes too small. I feel like it is cutting off my circulation, my ability to breathe, and all I can think to do is tear at it until the zipper breaks and the fabric falls away and I’m free of it again at last.

(Maybe this is why so many creatives live in Yoga pants. Not sure. Fear of confining clothing?)

Anyway, I think of the movie Tangled and Flynn Ryder’s advice to Rapunzel that if her dreams came true (which mine did, I’ve been published as a poet, a novelist, and an artist) then it was time to find a new dream.

A new dream.

Project Tomorrow.

There has to be some inspiration left, some small spark of creative life left in me yet. Otherwise, I don’t know how I’ll cope.

This is what has become the constant struggle: between accepting what treatment for Bipolar does to me vs. what it gives to the people in my life, and the protection from myself that it gives me.

Because of Bipolar I have the ability to be my own worst enemy, and the greatest danger to my existence.

When I take the meds like I’m supposed to, that gets better, or, at least is numbed down into a manageable thing, a lot of the time.

Even if it leaves me feeling empty, at least I’m still here to feel empty. Do you see what I’m saying?

Maybe, in the end, that’s what this post is really about. It’s about grieving for the loss of absolute creative freedom and inspiration that a life before meds offered me. It’s about accepting the fact that I have to find a new normal with every adjustment of my neuro-chemistry.

I’ve been through so many meds, so many dose adjustments. So. Much.

It’s no wonder that I’m tired.

They say you can’t pour from an empty vessel. Maybe that’s my Project Tomorrow: to fill myself back up until I spill over; onto the canvas, onto the written page, into song.

Maybe the way to find my new dream is by taking the pressure off to have a dream at all for a while, and just allow myself to exist in the now that is.

To read. To listen to music. To think. To daydream.

To imagine that I will find my creative self again, somewhere, buried beneath the layers of medicines and psychosis and vicious Bipolar 1 cycles.

To try to find out if, after all this time and all that’s happened, I’m still me, after all.

Only time will tell.