Happy 5th Birthday to The Poison Box!

My most beloved book baby, The Poison Box, turns 5 years old today. Actually, that only marks her debut into the world. She’s actually much older than that - more like 23 years old! I started that book when I was 19 years old and rewrote it several times until I was satisfied with it.

I’m launching a week-long celebration on social media to honor my sweet book baby. I love this book so much and am so proud of the work I put into it. And Mary Raedwolfe, the protagonist, has become a dear, dear companion over these long decades. In fact, I’m still writing her story. I’m almost finished with the next book in the series, and halfway done with the third!

Here’s a video in which I talk about the book, and the sequels. Please forgive the video - my camera really did a number on me and there are a few places in the video where the audio and video don’t match up (ugh, major pet peeve of mine!). My apologies. Maybe just listen instead of watching. ;)

Please follow along on social media and join in the fun!

Thank you, friends and readers for your support.

The Second Briarlore Book

When I started the Briarlore series, I intended to begin with a different story than The Fox at the Door. However, writing - or any creative expression, for that matter - never goes as planned. So my intended debut story (also about a fox) was set aside.

Photo by    Tim ten Cate    on    Unsplash

It has sat heavily on my mind for the past 7 months. I have literally carried around the half-finished, hand-written manuscript with me for 3 months. I was intimidated by the story, and afraid I couldn't do it justice.

I got quite frustrated with myself on Sunday night and decided it was time to type up the manuscript. As I typed, I had a flash of what the next scene would be. And then the next. And then... My hands were flying across the keyboard for HOURS. I was even switching between that story and my manuscript for the second Raedwolfe novel. It was like goddess Tori Amos pounding away at two pianos at the same time.

I finally had to turn in at midnight, knowing I'd forfeit any Monday productivity if I didn't get some sleep. The next morning, I expected to finish the first draft in an hour. And again, I found my plans and expectations thwarted with interruptions, distractions, and insecurities. I finally wrapped up the story just before 10PM.

It was nothing like I expected. It's long, for one thing - probably twice as long as The Fox at the Door. A major plotline that I'd been envisioning left the story ENTIRELY, leaving room to dive quite deeply into the heartbreak of the story's heroine. I cried at the end, as I was typing it. And I don't do that. If I ever feel too weepy over something in my writing, I usually cut it, worried that I've strayed into false sentimentality and/or manipulative cliches. I might find that to be true here, as well...it's too early to tell. But for now, in an unprecedented move, I'm going to leave the ending as is and trust what came to me.

And strangest of all…right now in this moment…I love it. I love the way it turned out, despite the surprises.

These past few weeks of choosing my writing, first, of pushing myself directly into my creative insecurities has been an amazing experience. Finishing the second Briarlore tale has been particularly helpful in reminding me to trust the creative process. Which is something I need to remember as I dive into creating the illustrations.

Trust the work. And your capability to bring it through.

Scratch, scratch, scratch

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There are times in all our lives when things go dreadfully bad…and then a little worse…and sometimes, every now and then, even worse. After a certain age, even in the midst of the loss, we know our grieving will come to an end at some point and that we'll experience joy again. Love. Hope.

Sometimes, though, those rough patches are followed directly by a dry spell. Sometimes a really, really long one. It's as if the universe has hit the pause button on our lives. We're starting to feel ourselves emerge from the shroud of grief, but nothing is happening. We interview for new jobs, flirt with new people, move to a new home, double our efforts to make our dreams come true… And still, nothing happens. We look ahead and see a desert staring back at us. Barren. Endless.

We might start to lose hope.

I struggle with this from time to time. I feel like I've been on a hamster wheel for 2 years now, running faster and faster, trying to get somewhere yet remaining in the same place. I even have nightmares about this sometimes, that I'm trying desperately to run, but my legs somehow just won't fall into rhythm and I can' t move forward.

I suspect many of us feel this way - often, perhaps. There is a dream on the periphery of our current circumstances, one that seems so close, we could literally reach out and pluck it, as if it were an apple in the Garden of Eden. Yet, somehow, we can't quite reach it.

I wanted to write a story that would be a balm for this feeling of frustration, for this "just out of reach-ness." I wanted to write a story that would help us remember hope again, especially when we are in the depths of our grief.

The Fox at the Door will be available for pre-order this Friday, Februrary 2nd, a very special day that was once celebrated by my ancestors as the day the earth began to wake up from its long winter nap. The day crocuses begin to push up through the snow. The time of year when the sheep begin to give birth. It's a time of inspiration and…hope.

Yes, hope.

The book won't be available in its current form on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. It'll only be available on my website. I'll be signing every copy of this limited first print run, packaging each one with my own two hands, and sending them out to you. I want this to be an intimate experience between writer and reader. I want you to feel like I'm personally handing this story to you, gifting you with beauty and hope.

It's a bit of a risk to do this. There's little profit in it. (Not that I have ever written with profit as my goal - though I have hope that one day, my writing will, indeed, bring in an energetic exchange that will allow me to continue my work.) The books are expensive to print in full color, and becoming the "distribution center," so to speak, adds a lot of time and labor to the process.

But I feel that we're at a time when this needs to happen. There's always a place in the world for e-books and mass market paperbacks, always a place for Amazons and B&Ns. BUT…I think we need to keep a balance and remember to support our small bookstores and our indie authors. I think we need to remember to support the "little guys" who cultivate community, who respect the art of storytelling, and who make space for the bards of our modern world.

I believe that relationship goes both ways - we authors need to cultivate it, too, by offering special projects (Wild Talewort comes to mind) to our readers and being willing to shorten the distance between us.

That's one of my intentions for the year - to reach out to all of you readers and see what happens when we step into the same circle. Hopefully, this will also allow for some events, as well, where we can meet in person. (Stay tuned!)

In the meantime, be sure to check out the website on Friday and order your copy! 

A change in communication

If you’ve been following me for a while, then you know that these past few years, I tend to get really quiet in November and December. I long for silence. I quite suddenly have no desire to produce on the level that I’ve been producing throughout the year. I’m a little bit tired and a little bit overwhelmed, but really, I just want to listen, rather than talking, rather than even writing.

 

This seems perfectly normal to me. Winter is a time to settle down, listen, rest. You wouldn’t know it, though, by the way our culture is designed. Our work schedules do not change – we still work (and are expected to work) the same hours at the same pace winter, spring, summer, or fall. We do not change our sleep schedules with the seasons, even when the nights get longer. And with our consumer-driven holiday season, we are bombarded with stimulus non-stop from November through early January.

 

The older I get, the more I pull back from this. I want to enjoy the holiday season quietly without a lot of fuss. I want to sleep more and try to alter my schedule to make that happen. And I want to pull back from my work – even the work I enjoy very much – to make room for inspiration and rejuvenation.

 

In this time of quiet, I’ve found myself on a search for authentic connection within my online community. I have my blog, which I worked really hard to update weekly this year (until recently). I send email newsletters to my readers, but not regularly. And I try to post a lot on social media (mostly Facebook and Instagram) and interact with people I enjoy and admire on those platforms.

 

When I first started blogging in 2009, people visited one another. Communication happened in newsletters, emails, and blog comments. We weren’t yet at the point of convening on social media platforms. Once that shift occurred, I initially enjoyed it. But as social media has rapidly evolved, I’ve become more and more disillusioned with it.

Photo by  Joanna Kosinska  on  Unsplash

 

Trying to get your message to people, on Facebook in particular, is very challenging due to all the new algorithms that dictate who can see your posts and when. I’ve found it difficult to start or keep communication going on social media (though that’s certainly not the case for many people). I find myself suspicious of the data collection these platforms do – it feels as though they have shifted from places of connection to advertising factories. Even trying to use that advertising to our benefit is, at least from what I’ve seen, a waste. I’ve tried two Facebook ads – one in 2016 and one this year – and both times, every single engagement my ad attracted (and I paid for) was from a spam account.

 

And that’s not even to mention that what was once a place to visit to see pictures and fun stories from friends and family members has now become an endless stream of ads, memes, and political rants.

 

This isn’t how I want to communicate or share with others. There’s nothing intimate about it. I’m not even sure there’s any pleasantry to it. It’s an overwhelming waterfall of words, pictures, stuff…and what I want is focused, tangible interaction.

 

I’ve come to this place before, but I’m even more committed now to focusing more on targeted communication, the way we used to do back in the old days (2009). It’s true, it’s harder to get people to come visit your blog when it’s so much easier to just visit a social media platform and see everyone you follow at one time. But I believe it’s worth it, and I believe that ultimately, those of us with like minds will be moving back in this direction as social media continues to grow and become more and more consumer, rather than community, driven.

 

I also believe in returning to the practice of writing consistent newsletters and reaching people in their inboxes. Again, this is a challenge – so many people will click delete before even opening an email, and let’s face it, with all the spammy “buy my stuff” emails that became so popular, that’s not surprising. (Not that there’s anything wrong with advertising via email – but there’s an art to that, and I think we’ve largely lost that.)

 

Personally, I love a newsletter-type email from writers, shop owners, etc. I try not to subscribe to many, but the lists I remain keep my attention with their creativity, interesting information, and beautiful photos. As I said, there is an art to this. Check out One Willow Apothecaries to see what I mean. Asia Suler has the best emails I’ve ever seen. Stories about the earth, herbalism, and alternative healing, beautiful photos and videos, and subtle reminders about her courses and services (which I’ve purchased and which are amazing). No, I’m not getting a kickback by talking about her. I just believe in her business and that's because she knows how to communicate beautifully and intimately – both on social media and off.

 

People like Asia are my inspiration when it comes to shaping my communication intentions. I realize that my audience might always be small if this is the path I take, but to me, it’s worth it. It shouldn’t be about numbers, anyway. It should be about connection.

 

I’m still debating how I want to use my blog (and am even debating splitting some of my creative work off of the Yancy Lael brand/website), but you’ll definitely find more of me here than on social media in 2018, with the possible exception of You Tube. And you’ll see me in your Inbox slightly more often. And I would love to hear more from you, as well – either here, in email, or yes, even on social media.

 

But that’s enough chatting for now. Remember, it’s the time of year to listen more, say less. I’m ready to descend back into silence… at least for now.

Writing Taught Me

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I grew up in the dawning days of technology. I was blessed not to have a computer in the house. There were no cell phones, and certainly no DVD players.

I, like all children at that time, had to find my entertainment in books and my imagination.

As much as I loved school, I would rush home every single day, impatient to stuff a handful of crackers into my pockets, grab my newest book, and run out to the backyard to sit on the swing and read for hours. Saturdays were even better - a full day of reading. I'd set up two patio chairs facing each other, and lay a beach towel over them, creating a little bed. There I would sit for 8 hours, oblivious to my little siblings playing around me, the dogs running by, my father mowing the lawn.

I was lost in the world of E.L. Konigsberg and John Bellairs. Witches, magic, history, mystery - I loved it all.

I was lucky to retain my love of reading even as technology began to creep into the house. As a teenager, I often chose a Nancy Drew novel over the latest Blockbuster rental or computer game. I could read through an entire book in 3 hours and I'd greedily dig through the family bookshelf, looking for more.

These books influenced me so deeply. By the time I was 10, I knew I was going to be a writer when I grew up. The first book I wrote, at that tender age, addressed what it meant to be a warrior for goodness, purity, and innocence. Reading and writing guided the development of my morality, my compassion, and my soul.

Copyright: Y. Lael 2017

Copyright: Y. Lael 2017

Looking back, I can see that the practice of writing helped me develop into the person I am today. I learned discipline and tenacity through my determination to complete the writing projects that I started. The characters that entered my dreams demanded to be fully realized, and for them, I wrote tirelessly, feverishly. I completed five full-length novels by the time I was 25 years old, honing that discipline, learning what it took to give my all to a project, developing a strong work ethic.

And though it took much longer to cultivate, books, reading, and writing also taught me courage. It took many years before I was brave enough to share my work with others and even more years before I dipped my toes into the process of submitting queries for publication. But just as before, my characters and my ideas were so insistent on being heard, I felt compelled to obey that call, even if only one baby step at a time.

I've remained faithful to my craft all these years later, taking what I've learned from writing to every job I've had. The lessons of determination, creativity, discipline, and courage have served me well across industries - from teaching to program coordination. And in the meantime, while pursuing publication, my writing practice has given me yet another gift: ingenuity. I've learned the very complicated ins and outs of self-publishing for the projects that don't want to wait for traditional contracts. I've learned how to format books, create book covers, and even how to create audiobooks, independently.

I've learned that having a passionate calling is a blessing. Our dreams and talents and the books we read not only make us who we are, but teach us all the lessons that we need to learn in order to become the best versions of ourselves.

And I have lived happily ever after (with many books and my laptop at hand).

The Poison Box has arrived!

I wrote the first version of this book when I was 20. In the middle of the book, the protagonist's sister, Mary, died. After I completed the book, I realized that the whole story SHOULD have been about Mary in the first place.

I rewrote the entire book when I was about 23, setting it in the 1960's. Three years of writing and research only to realize: The characters did not belong in the 60's.

After returning home from a year-long artistic binge in Santa Fe, NM, I rewrote the entire book AGAIN. I finished this version of the book in June 2002. I tried to publish it, but soon became frustrated with the plot and characters. Into hibernation it went.

In the years that followed, I attempted to rewrite the entire book again and again. But I kept coming back to the third version - there was some good stuff in there that I didn't want to lose. Frustration. More hibernation.

This is me in the midst of 24/7 editing. Yes, in my pajamas. February 2014

This is me in the midst of 24/7 editing. Yes, in my pajamas. February 2014

I heard about the Amazon Breakout Novel Contest in January of this year and suddenly I had no more excuses: Sit on the novel forever, or let Mary tell her story. I spent almost a month editing the manuscript, sometimes for 10+ hours a day. And...I didn't even make it past the first round of cuts!

So I decided to just put it out there, contest or not. Seventeen years later, the proof arrived in the mail and though I'm still annoyed with the book's imperfections (a.k.a. my shortcomings as a writer), seeing this story in book form is the achievement of one of my greatest dreams in life.

This is for Mary, who has been my imaginary companion for almost two decades and who will probably always be somewhere, in the corners of my mind!