My Vote is for Us

I’m sure there will be studies on this election for years. Not just about the politics but the societal impact. The vitriol. The depression. The friendships strained or broken. Every day I notice shorter tempers, more sarcasm, more name-calling. Sadness.

I’m sad too. Not over the flawed people running nor the flawed platforms they represent. I’m sad about us. Where we’re going. Why we aren’t getting along. Why we aren’t sharing and growing.

No matter how important these very real issues are, we’re all paddling the boat together and sometimes it’s just not going to go the way we’d each like. I’ll never stop rowing, but not at the expense of being a good, positive, and friendly person.

I know there are people out there suffering silently, wishing they could ask their friends to be more civil, more open, but not knowing how to do so without joining the fray. To you, I hear you so loud it echoes in my ears. I know. I’m sorry.

Meanwhile, we see internet posts from people we care about saying they’ll hate or never forgive people who vote a certain way. Telling them to F off. Making fun of people. Telling them they are stupid while passionately posting, in many cases without having all the facts or understanding the complexities. It’s hard. It’s hard to see it, and I can’t imagine it feels so good to do it. Does it?

I won’t belabor the point further. I’ll just say – this year my vote is for us. The one I’ll say in public, anyway. Which means I care about you no matter how you’re voting. I care about you if you disagree with issues that are important to me. I care about you if you think I’m stupid or misguided. Or if you think I’m smart. I care either way.

The disagreements are not worth it. Squad is more important. And like it or not, we’re all in this together. Everyone. Please, take a breath. Listen – to each other.

However you’re feeling right now, I hope that you’ll smile. I hope that you’ll smile at someone. Say hello. It’s worth it.

Cheers – E, October 2016

My First Comic Con!

I sold books at my first comic con this February, at the Great Lakes Comic Con in Warren, Michigan. I was nervous to get into comic cons, mostly because there is a lot of investment in event fees, getting there, taking time off from my other work, dealing with the kids, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sell enough books to even start to make up for that. But, my friend Lisa talked me into it – and I’m glad. It went pretty well, especially for a first try.

IMG_0237bWhen I first got there, Chris realized that, in his desire to load it at the last minute, he’d left the cover poster in Ohio. Signs are important, as they draw interest and can cause people to see what your writing (or other art) is about. So while he rushed off on a mission to print a substitute (he made it happen, super-hero style!) I set up the station.

Once I had the books out on the gorgeous new table runner my mom made me, it took about ten seconds for my first mishap. I saw a bottle and thought, “Oh, Chris got me this carbonated drink to enjoy. How nice.” And I opened it, being sure to turn the cap slowly. Not slowly enough. In a multi-directional explosion of berry-flavored water that I can’t really exaggerate, I somehow managed to spray this stuff on myself, on the floor, on the chair – with drops landing all the way up to the books. Yet, not a single book was touched. I feel like some sort of writer magic overtook me in this moment as I contorted myself to block the spray while I resealed the cap. A man was walking by, and I’m not even going to try to describe the look he gave me. So it must have been pretty dramatic. Why I didn’t snap a picture of the aftermath, I can’t explain. Shock, probably. It would have been quite a picture. When Chris returned with the sign about ten seconds before the show started, the rest of the water (after what I could do with paper towels from the restroom) had finally dried up, and we were ready to go.

I really enjoyed meeting the people. There is a real comradery at events like this (I have attended them just never been a guest before), between people that aren’t afraid to enjoy a bit of magic in their lives, and also who use that magic as an outlet to help with other challenges they face. In significant ways, these were my people, and I had a great time talking to them. Which says a lot, as those types of interactions can be difficult for me.

I have an admittedly hard time promoting my own products, but Anna’s lovely covers certainly helped. Also, I learned a new trick: offer that people can read the reviews online. I was surprised how effective that was, even in a face-to-face setting. You, my reviewers, are my best asset, as a few people even came back to buy the book after reading the reviews on their phone. I sold quite a few copies of both The Banished Craft and Spireseeker – yay! I love getting my stories into people’s hands. : )

So I’ve got the hang of this now. It’s still going to be a challenge financially and logistically, but I’ll work it out. If you like what I do, please tell people about it and encourage them to buy and gift copies of the books. And keep leaving those reviews – they appear to sell books much better than I do! If you’d like to see me this spring, please stop by Gem City Comic Con, Dayton, Ohio, 2-3 April, or Motor City Comic Con in Novi (Detroit), Michigan, 13-15 May. I would love that.

And don’t forget to follow along at http://facebook.com/epicheals – the cover for The Fettered Flame will be up very soon! The book is basically finished now, as I am in the copy editing and proofreading stages. I’m still looking for reviewers of repute for the back cover, so if you know anyone that would be interested, let us know at atthis@atthisarts.com. I’m very happy with how it turned out, and hope you’ll like it too.

Cheers – E.D.E. Bell, 19 March 2016

 

On the Soul

Today, a little cat named Vashti spent her last hours on this Earth. In tribute, I am posting this blog post I made in July 2000, when Vashti was two years old. It’s a bit indulgent, but it reminds me how much I’ve grown as well in all these great years together. Without modification, here is On the Soul:

On the Soul

Today, I was at home working on some things, and I took a break by sitting on my bed for a moment. I thought I heard my older cat, Vashti, somewhere in the room, so I called her name. (If you think you can’t tell a cat by the sounds she makes, you can.) Within a few seconds, Vashti hopped up on the bed and walked over to me. Even though I had intended to just be there for a moment, Vashti seemed to take this as an invitation for quality time. She cuddled up against my chest and rested her head comfortably on my arm, the whole time staring up at me.

I was touched by the cuteness of it all, and thought to myself what a joy it was having my two little troublemakers around. Having enjoyed the moment, I started to get up, but stopped when Vashti gave me an alarmed look, and placed her paw firmly against my face, as if she were trying to stop me. It worked. I paused, and went back to thinking, as she slowly took her paw down. (Yet continued to stare intently up at me.) I thought about just how intelligent her little eyes looked. Humans do get awfully arrogant, I thought. Just because we’re so much more intelligent than other animals, (and we are), it’s like we completely discount the consciousness and intelligence they do have. Consciousness has no value to us if it’s not our own. We kill animals, eat them, torment them, and none of it matters because they don’t have enough consciousness by our judgement. But you could hardly see that in Vashti’s eyes. In her eyes, consciousness didn’t come in levels. It was just there.

I got up to go again, but back came the little black paw, much firmer this time. I chuckled, that I was being commanded by a little cat, and I was actually obeying. I looked down at her again. She was softly purring now, and still staring back at me. I scratched her head, and she closed her eyes for a moment and purred more loudly. Then she looked back up at me so intently. I looked back. I wondered if she was thinking about me as I sat there and thought about her. What was she thinking? She didn’t have words like I did to structure her thoughts. She couldn’t have my understanding of the many differences between us. She couldn’t have much of a concept of a human, or a cat, or where she fit in. That’s it. I thought. She doesn’t. It didn’t matter to her that I was a human. She didn’t know or care that we were so different. She didn’t care about my education, or my job, or my new car. All she knew was that I was her friend, and she wanted me to stay there just a little longer to scratch her ears. So I did.

And I think the people who say that the difference between humans and other animals is that only humans have a soul… have never looked into the eyes of a little black cat.

E.D.E. – 26 July 2000

Can Engineers Write?

Of course they can. Engineers are creative! Let’s dispel that myth right now. Engineers aren’t given a set of instructions to follow; they are given problems to solve or prevent. For me, creative writing has been a fun and challenging expansion of what I already do.

I had the privilege to attend the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) Great Lakes Region annual conference in Chicago this fall. Being around such passionate Systems Engineers got me thinking about how much my engineering training helps my writing. As some of you know, I’m a Certified Systems Engineering Professional (CSEP) – not a standard qualification for a fantasy writer. SE application may be a dry topic to many, but this unconventional training is central to defining who I am as a writer. I’ve found that the more I get used to writing, the more I am able to leverage my engineering skills.

Following are a few examples of how my SE training helps me write:

Listening: Systems Engineers are the bad guys! They tell their management when a plan isn’t likely to work and offer ways to resolve it. Those corrections usually involve a short term cost – either additional resources, a time delay, or just the embarrassment of changing course. I know very well what it’s like to be right, but still be ignored because the news is unpopular. That in mind, I listen carefully to everything an editor has to say, because I understand their job is to make the story better, not to say things I want to hear.

Architecture: Systems Engineers are charged with the big picture. Many SE professionals lament that western training “trains out” the Systems perspective from bright young minds: driving them toward specialized expertise, but losing our instinct to take in the whole world with curiosity. Being trained to see everything at once, it’s easier for me to design the story’s architecture, and slice that into different “viewpoints” – who are the characters, what are the places, what are the plotlines, how does everything connect? This is crucial to identifying and correcting gaps.

Process: Yes, the Systems Engineering “V” model works for novels! In non-technical terms, this says: 1) Plan time in the schedule for all the steps 2) Do things in the right order. (Worldbuilding before writing, for example.) 3) Check readiness before moving to the next phase. 4) Don’t be afraid to go back to earlier phases. 5) Keep all the steps in mind throughout the process. (When you’re worldbuilding, remember you’ll need to write this, and when you’re writing don’t forget how it fits into your world.) Knowing the V-model is especially critical as an independent publisher, where you’re planning from concept through reviews. That process is second-nature to an SE, allowing the focus to be on the writing.

Iteration: Systems Engineers are driven by the idea of feedback. Feedback within the V, but also to the next delivery, the next increment, the next project. We thrive on the concept of the “Lessons Learned.” Instead of negative feedback stopping us, it fuels us to do better. It’s the whole challenge of an SE project – take a need and turn it into a functional system. And then do it better the next time.

Think this is boring? If so, 1) Thank your local Systems Engineer – they are the ones we need to save our world from the crises it faces. I mean that. 2) In fairness I’m also writing about dragons and wizards.

Cheers – E.D.E. Bell, 1 November 2014

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Walking Naked

I don’t plan to blog only about my experiences as an aspiring author; that’s only one facet of my life. But I’ve had a lot of questions about what the experience has been like. And I’m not sure if people want me to answer them honestly. But here it is.

My best analogy to what it’s been like writing and independently publishing a novel is that it’s been like walking naked. Slowly. All around town. Some people call your name enthusiastically, then once they see that you are naked they whisk away, not to be heard from again. Others avert their eyes from the start. And some people shout as you walk by, “Your butt is huge.” As if I didn’t already know. You keep waiting for someone to join you, unashamed to walk with you for a while, to say, “I see how you really are, and it’s ok with me.” But instead, you remind yourself to keep smiling, and just keep walking.

So why did I do it, then? Perhaps only those who have experienced that inner fire of creativity could understand, though I’d venture to say that’s everyone at some point in their lives. There is that moment when you see something else – something different – that you can potentially share with others. And when that moment happens and you say, “I have to try,” then you know that you do. And it has been much different than I expected. In many ways more difficult, and in other ways more rewarding.

First, the disregard for independent publishing is stronger than I expected. I’ve spent a lot of time approaching book stores, small businesses, and reviewers, just to get the, “another of you people” expression, or a hasty response of, “come back when you actually get published.” I do understand, of course. Traditional publishing requires exhaustive effort, and requires an author to pass a series of hurdles that provide more consistent vetting over the end product. But times are changing. Social media is powerful, and I’ve spent my whole life working for the Man. In a superstore kind of world, I’m a boutique kind of girl. I believe in the power of an independent artist; the ability to see a vision and construct it the way in which it speaks to you as an individual. You always pay your dues; it’s just how you pay them. So no thanks, system. My passion for independence is a fire that can’t be doused, despite your tittering.

It’s also challenging working within the “like” culture. Just as it’s easy to like a status about someone’s book without actually intending to read it, I am met every day with congratulations from people telling me they are so happy my dream is coming true, or that they can’t wait to read the book. And then in most cases they don’t. Or they say they are reading it, then never follow up, leaving you to presume they didn’t care for it so much, but don’t want to say anything. Someone recently told me that they didn’t need to read the book to know that it’s great. But people reading it is why I wrote it. To share something with you, something that came from my heart, and something that carries with it a piece of who I am.

You learn quickly that everyone’s a critic. It’s hard to listen to someone make jokes about your story, or calmly list all the deficiencies of your plot, your writing, and your characters, as if you created the art to be critiqued rather than enjoyed. Or as if I didn’t already know the book’s weaknesses much better than they did. Either that or they’re offended. If your characters talk about issues, and explore their own identities, then you have violated something sacred. Talking about issues raises those issues, and people were clearly more comfortable when you left the boat un-rocked.

But I’ll tell you what. There is something else I’ve found through this process, and that is discovering a core of people who really do care about you, about your feelings, and about what you tried to do, whether you succeeded or not. People who are willing to stand by you, and say – you’re not embarrassing. Not to me. You’re my friend. And finding those people—and drawing from their strength—has been better than anything I could have hoped to experience. Like my boss, who submitted the book to the company newsletter because, whether he liked or agreed with it or not, he was proud of my accomplishment. Or like the family and colleagues who showed up to my book signing, despite it being in the middle of a blizzard, just to make sure I wasn’t there alone. Or the friend that let me name a magical creature after her, believing that the dream was magical, whether the final story was or not. Or my mother-in-law, who took it door-to-door at her office. Or my mom, who when people say, “it’s just not my sort of thing,” looks them in the eye and says without qualification, “I liked it.”

By now, I thought I’d have more feedback on the story. I thought someone would want to discuss the characters, think about the issues I raised, or even be inspired to share their own story. But, really, the most frequent positive feedback I’ve had is people telling me they admire my balls. “You have huge balls,” they say. Balls? You mean—? Oh.

See, and that’s the best part about realizing that you are walking naked. It’s that liberating moment when you realize that your self-doubt and apprehension are no longer relevant. You are already naked. Whatever it is that makes people uncomfortable, it’s out there now. So what, then, is left to protect? Yep, I’m here, I’m kind of strange, I write about things you think are weird, and I might even believe differently than you do. But I’m fueled by the fires of creative passion and I’m not ready to give up yet. And maybe—just maybe—some of you will join me along the way.

E.D.E. Bell – 11 January, 2014

Why Blog?

Why Blog?

So the obvious first question is… why write a blog?  I could say something about self expression, free speech, and the like – and there would be truth to it.  However the real reason is: I like to read your blogs.  Many friends and family over the years have had blogs, and I genuinely enjoy them.  I’d rather read about your life, your experiences, or something that’s on your mind than I would read about political spin or celebrity arrests.  And truth be told, I’d rather read your blog than watch you take pictures of yourself in your bathroom.  So maybe, I thought, if I create a blog someone will like it too.

Most people don’t know that I’ve been writing for a long time.  I’m not a trained writer, and my grammar and punctuation probably offends, but I enjoy it so I keep doing it.  Some day when I’m gone, some grandchild will look through my computer and find folders of written works from over the years ranging from stories, poems, and even a bit of sports writing.  I finally decided to write a full-length book earlier this year, and I’ve been working on it since.

As for the blog title I recognize it could imply drunken ramblings, but in the end my other options were all either too indulgent or too self-deprecating.  This one is too silly to be taken seriously.  And I do really enjoy a good Carménère.  It’s good for the heart, you know.

My window for bloggable topics is very small.  I can’t blog about my job because I’d like to keep it.  I can’t blog about family for much of the same reason.  I can’t blog about my more controversial ideas – and believe me I have them – without potentially alienating people I care about.  I’m not going to rant – it’s tacky.  And I’m not going to whine – things just aren’t that bad.  I’m also not going to share my more personal thoughts and experiences.  All of this being said, I do not believe I have excluded everything I have to say.  There are still a few topics left, and I’d like to share them with you.  If you’re interested.

I probably won’t post often, and it probably won’t be revolutionary.  Here’s my perspective on it.  If my blog isn’t interesting to read or it annoys you, please don’t read it.  But if you occasionally enjoy hearing what I have to say, please stop back in.

Thanks for your time, and here’s to the journey –

Emily.