August was a roller coaster. In the outside world, both the Democratic and Republican conventions happened, as well as more protests, more COVID deaths, and an explosion in Beirut. But, to be honest, I could barely pay attention to such world-shaking events, as my own little apartment suffered its own little shake ups. Muggy heat caused swarms of mosquitos to nip at my skin, coyotes roamed near my apartment, power outages threatened our air conditioning, my roommate’s dog died, my roommate’s mom hit her head, my emotions swung from depressed to vulnerable to inspired, and through it all, I had to get my third novel, Company, ready for publication.
I have published 3 times before, but I’ve never done it as fast as this. Since the beginning of the year, I had the date September 5, 2020 (my sister’s birthday) in mind for when I wanted to publish Company. By July, I had just finished smoothing my writing into one readable manuscript. I had one month to edit Company, both for clarity and flow and for mechanics (spelling and grammar). I also had to format the novel, get it onto Amazon, make announcements, and run a marketing campaign. I had a lot to do, so, naturally, I spent the first week of August feeling depressed.
It did not help that, almost as soon as August began, my roommate Rita’s old dog, a German shepherd named Stitch, had to be put down. He’d been diagnosed with bone cancer a few weeks earlier, and it had escalated quickly. As Rita mourned her dog, I mourned my story. I wrote in my diary:
“When a story is done, it feels, to me, less like giving birth, and more like grieving something that is dead. It’s like casting off a piece of my soul, a snippet of my life, into the heartless world. Editing it is basically window dressing, putting the story in funeral clothes. It is leaving me, and I need to put on a song and dance for the world, but that is hard to do.”
Trying to edit in this state seemed like too much, so instead I spent that first week re-reading my entire manuscript, both to let it go and to get an idea of what needed to be fixed. Normally, I get critical when I re-read my work, but I tried to look at Company without judgement, and I ended up feeling good. I came up with a plan to read out loud and edit three chapters a day.
I carried out that plan during the second week of August, the least disruptive week by far. Aside from a few chapters which needed intensive work, the chapters I read were in good shape. I was reading/ editing at the rate of one chapter per hour, spending about three hours per day on editing. This gave me time to work on the business aspects of publishing.
Coming up with a marketing plan brought up feelings of vulnerability, because, while I feel rather confident about my abilities as a writer, I feel less great about my ability to make money off my writing. I had recently learned that Amazon’s algorithms--the method in which people find your book--are based on popularity. You need massive sales in order to be found--and thus get more sales. If you’re small and obscure like me, good luck getting anyone to find you. I raged at the unfairness and then cowered at the thought of being exposed to the world. I never wanted to be popular. In high school, I survived by keeping to myself. In my diary, I wrote:
“You wonder what people will think of your story and of you. Will I offend people? Bore them? Will they find my writing trite? Pretentious? Whenever I think of their judgement, it is always bad. I always think they’ll find something wrong or imperfect, something to disagree with. But these fears and worries are within me, a nagging sense that, You should have fixed this. I judge my work. I don’t want it to stand out. Invisibility is the goal--being inoffensive--but I’m getting tired of that and unsatisfied. I have to confront my own invisibility and be bold and maybe wrong, I guess.”
After I worked through some of my feelings, I got an idea for marketing Company, using a “Bonus Materials” section on my webpage, rather like a DVD. I could offer a behind-the-scenes peek at my story. Was it the best idea for selling my novel? Probably not. But at least this sounded fun, and I had a new project to try. I set to work, but the feelings of vulnerability lingered. No matter how much I journaled or worked, the fear of being criticized and ignored and hurt refused to go away.
Funnily enough, there is nothing like dealing with intense feelings of vulnerability to suddenly inspire your writing. Not editing, mind you; not non-fiction marketing. I’m talking the actual creation of stories type writing. Mostly Hazel and Saul, my witch-and-wizard-romance-in-magical-Victorian-America novel. In the midst of trying to edit Company, I got hit with random scenes from Hazel and Saul that I needed to write down. This took time, which disrupted my plans, which threw my emotions in turmoil--which inspired more writing.
It didn’t help that, bright and early on Monday of Week 3, Rita’s mother took Rita’s dog Atlas to the dog park, got a touch of heatstroke, fainted, hit her head on concrete, started bleeding, and needed to go to the hospital for stitches. Atlas, my roommate’s nearly year-old Belgian sheep dog puppy, is very active and needs attention, or he’ll bounce on my bed, eat my pens, and yip so loud I won’t be able to focus. Rita’s mom helped me out by watching Atlas in the morning so I could write in peace. Needless to say, I got very little peace that Monday. Rita’s mom got better quickly. She even came back on Tuesday to watch Atlas. But the damage to all my fragile plans was done. My editing schedule took a hit, and my business ideas went straight into the toilet.
Throughout this time, Amazon kept sending me emails telling me that I needed to upload a manuscript by September 1. But I had to format it to Amazon’s Kindle Create program first, and before I could format it, I needed to complete the editing. I buckled down and got to work and by Wednesday, August 26--Week 4--I had completed the edits. All I needed to do was run one last spell check, write all the front matter (Title Page, Copyright, Dedication), write all the back matter (Acknowledgements, About the Author), format it, and upload it to Amazon. If all went well, I’d be done by the end of Thursday.
So naturally, on Thursday morning, the electricity went out.
The power outage only lasted a half an hour, but that half hour caused a lot of confusion. Was the power back permanently or would it go out again? Electricity was sort of important. Rita needed the air conditioning, and I needed the Internet. My roommate decided to head for her parents' house, where the power seemed more stable, but I stayed at the apartment and risked the uncertainty. It paid off. I worked all day, and I got my manuscript was uploaded. Whether my marketing went as planned or not, at least I had a product to sell.
On Friday, I went to my parents’ house in order to relax and get ready for my final marketing push. That evening, my dad told me that Chadwick Boseman died.
It feels like a lot of celebrities have been dying recently, but this death was different. Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer, which no one even knew he had. I was shocked. And even though, sadly, the only work of his that I really knew was his role in the MCU, I was very affected by his death. Shortly afterward, I wrote this:
“I don’t know him, and I can only speculate as to the meaning behind his actions. But it does seem like he did the work because it was meaningful and purposeful to him. To know that he carried this illness with him and all the fear and pain without a word of complaint, it was just incredible. It sort of recast his performances in a new light: that he was able to portray the strength and dignity required because he had strength and dignity, and through the roles, through his life, he showed us that. The word dignity just keeps coming to me, and I feel like it is something he tried to teach us, and it is something I feel like our culture hardly cares about anymore, that we have sort of forgotten, with all our screaming and crying for attention. But it is still important. And I think, I hope, that I am able to carry myself with a sense of dignity, just like he did.”
And so the month of August ended as it began: with a sense of mourning and loss.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.