Category Archives: writing

Learning curve

I’ve been busy. I am busy. Busy is good, right? I have an editing job on at the moment, I’m trying not to lose the impetus I have with writing the third book of my trilogy, I’m promoting the first (in my own slow, awkward and ill-informed way), and on the cusp – the very CUSP, I tell you – of publishing book two. Also, it’s spring break for child #1 this week, which makes all that a bit harder to get to. Next week will be spring break for child #2, but she’s all set up with a camp that will essentially remove her from my orbit for exactly the same amount of time as if she were at school.

Why yes, it would be more convenient to have them both on break at the same time, but no, that is not my life this year. We also had a houseguest last weekend and the weather is right there changing from spring to summer (that is, what I think of spring weather – nice – to summer weather – too hot) outside my window. Time once again to regret my sandal choices and wonder what I wear when it’s too warm for jeans.

I have to tell you that baseball is much harder than it looks. Dash has had me out throwing and catching with him today and yesterday, after chivvying me to finish my work so we could do something fun (i.e., throwing and catching), and yesterday there was a lot of missing and dropping on my part; today not quite so much. But my hand stings because he’s got quite an arm on him and even under a too-big softball mitt, when I catch one straight to the heel of my hand it makes me wince. In general I throw the way you might say a girl throws if you weren’t a feminist who knew better than to say that. I also catch that way.

The cats’ current nickname is Squoodleperps. I address them both as Squoodleperps. They seem fine with that, so they probably like it, I think.


Last week I went to talk to the local homeschool co-op (yes, you can homeschool your kids and still have to be somewhere on a rainy Tuesday morning, which some might say defeats the purpose) about my book and being an author and things like that, she said self-deprecatingly. One thing I’m starting to get through my thick skull is that I have to stop with the self-deprecating stuff because as far as other people are concerned the fact that I self-published rather than having a publisher is of very little import, and while it might make me feel like a fakey mcfakerson because all I did was put a bunch of words together and whistle up some online magic and hey presto I have a book that I say is good and you should read but nobody of real worth has said that so why would you listen … sorry, where was I? I mean, even if I think that’s not the same, as far as most people are concerned I’ve written a book and here it is, it looks great, they’d like to buy it and read it and maybe they’ll love it. And maybe they will, I’ve heard from people who do. (I love those people.) And me being all cutesy shy and self-deprecating about it is just confusing, as far as they’re concerned, so I need to stop it. Slap me if you see me doing it.

Another thing I have to do is come up with an answer to “What’s it about?” that’s not “Well, it’s about a girl, who goes to school, and … stuff…” because that’s not going to make anyone think “Hey, that sounds like a book I’d like to read” or “I should buy that for my granddaughter because she’d really like it.” One pithy elevator pitch for potential readers, stat. Saying “Just read the back” is probably not what I’m meant to do.

And I need to work out answers to frequently asked questions like “Did you always want to be a writer?” and “Did you always write?” so that I’m not sitting there gazing into space all, “Well… yes… no… yes … sort of… I suppose I did.” I can come up with something better than that. I just have to write it down first. Because yes, I always have been a writer of some sort, somewhere, even just inside my head.

It was fun, though. I chose a passage to read aloud (which I probably read too fast; slow down, Maud), and I think they liked what I said. Luckily there were several parents on hand to ask questions, because the kids didn’t have a lot (they were a mixed-age bunch, which was a little tricky to keep engaged). I’d do it again. In fact, I e-mailed the local public school to see about doing just that, maybe.

So I’m learning a lot, is what I mean. It’s good.

Maud on a chair beside a table with books on it, with a colourful and institutional-looking wall as background.

Me, beside a table full of books I didn’t write, about to talk to the homeschoolers.

 

Self-publishing: the hard part

So you thought writing the book was the hard part. And then you thought editing your own writing was the hard part. And then you thought that getting it all through the various self-publishing engines that kept rejecting it for no apparent reason was the hard part. And then having to proof it one last time and then finding all those typos because you actually never did bother to run spellcheck…?

Yeah, none of that was the hard part. The hard part about self-publishing is the PR. You have to be your own marketing machine, and if there’s one characteristic that is conspicuously missing from the middle of the venn diagram showing the personalities of people who like to sit alone at home writing all day and people whose job is literally about developing relationships with members of the public (yes – PR doesn’t just stand for proportional representation), it’s um, well, it’s probably most things. If you even got to the end of that sentence intact. My point is that writers tend to be introverts who don’t like to call people up and try to sell themselves or the very precious and personal fruits of their labours.

But if you self-publish and you’d like more people than your best friend and your parents to buy your book you have to be prepared to blow your own trumpet a bit. This is what I’ve learned about that part, so far.

  1. Have a product you’re legitimately proud of, from the outside cover to the inside writing. You can’t sell your work to someone if you’re saying “Well, I’d have liked it to be a bit better…” You have to go all out. That’s easier if you really do love it.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask. Self-published is not a dirty word – many very well-regarded books are self-published these days. Many distributors take them on. Many bookstores sell them. It’s hard, but it’s not impossible.
  3. Places that are not bookshops also sell books, and might be easier to get your book into. Depending on the subject matter, think outside the box about where you might offload a few. I have a friend who’s selling his book in the tourist information office in his town. My neighbourhood supermarket has a local authors’ display right by the shopping baskets.
  4. You can build a relationship with someone over the phone or email – you don’t have to be there in person. Be professional and friendly and don’t burn any bridges.
  5. Order copies for yourself and sell them to your friends. They save on shipping charges and you can sign them personally for them, just in case you end up famous. Your friends are lovely people who want to help you. Don’t give all your copies away.
  6. Christmas is a really good time to remind your friends that you wrote a book, because they can buy it again for someone else.

I know there are a million blogposts out there telling me how to market my book. And being me, I haven’t read any of them. I’ve purposely ignored them, because I hate being told what I should be doing. (Who me? Like my daughter? I don’t know what you’re talking about.) This is what I’ve done so far, since first publication in July. (Sure, snail’s pace. Don’t give out to me.)

  • I happen to know someone who works in the county library system here. She offered to give a copy to her colleague who chooses the books. Her colleague put that one copy in my local library. Score.
  • I emailed the person in charge of choosing books for the Dun Laoghaire library system in Dublin – where I would really like to see the book available, to kids who live where it’s set. She told me to contact their distributor, which I did. After a long wait and much to-ing and fro-ing it turned out that he’d like to carry it but his contract was being given to a UK multinational so he couldn’t. Then he might, but he doesn’t deal with CreateSpace. Then the lovely woman in the library said “Never mind, I’ve just ordered six copies from this other supplier we have.” Done and done.
  • I contacted several local bookshops in Dublin – small ones, not big chains – to see if they would carry the book. Not a simple matter. Very few bookshops are truly independent, it seems, and they all told me that the book had to be distributed by Argosy Books or Eason Wholesale in order for them to be able to sell them. I sent a copy to Argosy but they passed. Eason wants to know all about my launch and publicity plans – which really isn’t something I can do much on, not being in the country, so I don’t think that’ll take off. You really do need a PR machine to get into bookshops, it seems.
  • I sent a copy of the book and an article about writing and books and being an emigrant to the Books Supplement at the Irish Times. They haven’t selected it for review (yet) but they did run my article in the online edition, which was nice. I don’t know if it translated to any sales, but it gave me something to tell the distributors about publicity. I should try to do more of this with the other Irish papers.
  • I submitted a the same article, more or less, to Writing.ie for their Writing & Me section, and I think they’ll run it soon. They didn’t mind that it had already been published elsewhere.

Being in a different place from where my target market is definitely hampers me. If I was in Dublin I could try to set something up in person with the library and maybe some local schools, and that might translate into enough local interest for the Argosy people to change their minds. Maybe I’ll manage that some day. I still do suffer from impostor syndrome to quite an extent, and feel that I’d be professing to be something I’m not if I did all that.

I think what I’m learning is that good writing might bring your readers back, but you have to set the machine in motion to get those readers in the first place. The distributors don’t read the book, I’m pretty sure: they look at it with a buyer’s eye – does it look professional (thanks to my awesome cover designer and CreateSpace, I have no worries on that front) and is there some buzz built up to get people to buy it.

This’ll have to be  more of a slow burn than a buzz. But it’s all part of the learning process.

One cat on a chair, one cat under the chair, bookshelves behind the chair

Cats and books and sunshine

Self-publishing – the basics

I wrote a book. And then I decided to self-publish it. So I asked a couple of friends who had self-published, and they gave me encouragement and pointed me towards some blog posts that had very comprehensive advice, and then I did it. You can easily google up such blog posts, so this will not be all the information, but it might be a start, if you’re wondering about it. This is as much for my own memory-keeping as anything else, since I forget stuff and I’ll be wanting to do it all again once I’ve got book two finished. It would be nice not to have to reinvent the wheel for myself.

First of all, self-publishing is pretty easy to do. You can do it. I don’t know if you can do it well, and it’s definitely a good idea to get expert help in a couple of areas, but you can do it. And everyone you know will be madly impressed if you do.

Ebook or physical book?

I originally planned to just make an ebook, because a print edition sounded much too real and scary and hard to do. It turns out making a print edition is not a lot more than an ebook, so my advice would be to do it anyway. There’s no upfront cost to publishing a print book with CreateSpace, and if you order physical copies and distribute/sell them yourself, you make more of a profit than you would on the ebooks.

Since mine is a children’s book, I feel like there’s more of a market for the print book than the ebook – and the print version is just nicer. You can do more with fonts and have more control over the end product – with an ebook you’re quite limited because the reader always has ultimate control over font and size.

Where does it go?

There are two places to put your ebook, so everyone tells me – you need to put it on Smashwords and also, separately, on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Amazon will sell the KDP one for Kindles, and the Smashwords version is vital for distribution for any other e-reader like the Nook or as an iBook.

To make the print version you use CreateSpace, which is affiliated with Amazon but is not the same company. People will be able to buy your print edition and your Kindle edition from the same page on Amazon.com and all the other Amazon sites worldwide.

(Of course, there are other ways you can do this. I’m just telling you what I did, but these seem to be fairly standard.)

How do I know how to set the price?

The websites will all tell you what sort of price point you should set your book at so that you make a profit but don’t price it so high that you scare customers off. You can look at similar books online to get a feel for the prices too.

Can I outsource some of the work?

You wrote a book. Of course you can get other people to do other stuff, because you want this to look professional, don’t you? You’ll have to pay them real money, though – none of this “exposure” nonsense.

Editing: You should get your book edited, or at the very least ask someone else who’s picky about grammar and notices that sort of thing to read it. (You can hire me to edit it, if you want. That’s a thing I do.) The more editing you get, the better your book will be.

Design: You’ll need a cover. For the ebook this is just a rectangle with a picture on it, but for the print version you need a spine and a back cover too. The whole thing has to fit certain specifications that you’ll understand if you have some technical design background, but otherwise this is something you might well want to farm out. Nobody will read your wonderful writing if the book cover isn’t appealing, so this is money well spent. (Mine was.)

Layout: And finally you have to set the whole thing up so that the various websites you upload it to will accept it. This is something I was happy to do myself, but it took some trial and error. If you’re terrified of it you can hire someone to do this too.

The websites will point you in the direction of professionals for all these jobs, or you can find someone you know and trust and want to pay. I like giving work to friends, because that’s what makes the world go round.

How do I format it?

Each of the three locations has slightly different requirements, but here are some basics:

  • You don’t need a fancy program – you can work in Word.
  • You’ll need to use the Styles feature, for Smashwords especially, so that your paragraphs all work properly.
  • Don’t use double spaces after full stops (or anywhere else for that matter), and keep your fingers away from that Tab key. Never tab or spacebar to move text across the page. Centre your text or use a style to set consistent tabs.
  • Run spellcheck at the end, even if you have the spelling checker turned off because it’s annoying. (It is.)
  • Follow the Smashwords style guide. It tells you everything you need to know and is easy to read. If you do this one first the others are easy to move on to.

Public relations

The last part, and maybe the hardest, is sales and marketing. For some people, just seeing their names in print is the final aim, but I think most self-published authors are hoping to at the very least break even and preferably even make some sort of profit, eventually – as well as just hanging out for the thrill of hearing that someone read your words and liked them.

Nobody will know about your great book if you hide your light under a bushel, so once it’s up and running you have to tell everyone, and get them to tell everyone, and encourage people to buy it and read it and leave you five-star reviews at all the online vendors. You have to be your own PR machine, which for many writers is exactly the opposite of their dream job.

I’ll let you know how that bit goes…

Faking it

I am fake-it-till-you-make-it-ing like crazy today. It’s the only way through. I don’t exactly want to call it impostor syndrome, but it’s a new way of defining myself, and I’m not entirely sure of it yet.

Technically, as of yesterday, I’m a published author now. I just have to resist the temptation to demur and dissemble, to shake my head and say “No, no, not really. Any fool can publish their own book, it’s so easy these days. It’s not like I have a contract with an actual publisher.” For one thing, many people don’t really understand the difference, and don’t care. For another, the difference really is becoming less important as self-publishing becomes more and more mainstream. For a third – I did the work, I really did write all those words – which still surprises me sometimes – and I put them all together and I fixed them up and then I formatted it all and uploaded it all in the tedious process that is submitting your book to the self-publishing machine.

I also paid real money for cover art and design. I have to confess that I didn’t pay real money, or even Monopoly money, for editing. I know the book could have been even better if I’d had it professionally edited, and as a professional editor myself that’s what I always tell people. But this is, when it comes down to it, a vanity project. I don’t expect to make any money off it, and I blew my budget on the cover instead. If I break even I’ll consider it a really great achievement. So I edited it myself, which is a terrible thing to do because it’s hard to take off your writer hat and put on your editor hat and read it as if you’ve never seen it before.

Then there’s the “It’s only a children’s book” self-put-down. A children’s book is also a real book. It’s 40,000 words long, so I think it counts. Someone told me today that it’s really hard to write for the 9-12 age group. I usually think of it as just channelling my inner immaturity, because it seems to come pretty naturally to me; but I’ll do my best to let myself take the compliment.

So there was this moment today when a friend posted my link to the book on Amazon in a Facebook group, and I realised that to anyone in that group who doesn’t know me personally, this is who I am now. I’m a person who writes books. And that therefore, it is the case that in real life I am a person who writes books – or at least, has written one, with aspirations to continue. It’s quite an adjustment, mentally, to think of myself that way, even though I’ve been doing this book-writing thing for quite a while now. I just haven’t been shouting about it, and now I have to shout about it – at least on social media – because that’s part of doing it.

That thing about the crack team of designers that my imaginary publisher would have provided me with – they would also have had a crack team of editors, from developmental to proofreading, and a crack PR team too, to publicize my book and send out press releases and all that jazz. Except, the way book publishing is going these days, authors who are signed even to very large and reputable publishing houses are expected to do a lot of their own – well, let’s call it “outreach”. And hey, I’m a top editor myself (in the vein of Bridget Jones’s “top, top people”), so all I have to do is get over myself and put the word out without being all sheepish and humble about it. Faking it like crazy.

And then I shall sit back and watch the pennies roll in. Maybe even two or three at a time.

Branch overhanging still water, and its reflection

Here’s a nice picture I took today that bears no relation to the text; feel free to interpret it metaphorically

By its cover

When you daydream about writing a book, you might sometimes think about how much fun it’ll be when you get the the part when you’re instructing your cover designers, a top-notch team on the payroll of your publisher, of course, in exactly how you think the cover should look. It’s like daydreaming about baby names when you’re trying to get pregnant – there’s quite a large element of “I shouldn’t even think about this because it’s just tempting fate,” but it’s so much fun you sometimes let yourself do it anyway.

When you decide to self-publish, you have to find your own crack team of cover designers, which puts all the power in your hands, but also shows you just how much you don’t know about this part of the process. I could have found someone from Smashwords (the website through which I’m publishing the ebook) or on some other freelancing website, but I’d rather give work to friends than to strangers, and I have a lot of talented friends. (Note: I didn’t say “sponge freebies from”, I said “give work to”.)

It takes a bit of time, though, especially when you’re as vague as I am about what you actually want in a book cover. I know what I like, when I see it. I even had some ideas about what my book cover could show. I needed help brainstorming, and I needed to see lots of possibilities. It took three people and several months, but I’m finally at the point where I have a cover I love and it’s almost ready to go.

The writing inside is irrelevant if nobody buys your book because the cover put them off. It might not be a bad cover, but it might not look the way they want their books to look. It might look too twee, or too brash, or – when you’re talking about children’s books – for the wrong age group. I never noticed how age-group-specific cover design is until I had a cover I thought I liked and my seven year old said it looked like a little kids’ book. Redo, redo, redo!

And did you ever consider how much the title’s font affects your decision about a book? Not the words, just the shape of the letters – such tiny differences, and yet so vital. I spent all yesterday morning trying out different fonts until I was googly-eyed, and even though I can stop now I keep noticing them everywhere. Children especially, are massively judgmental, and unwilling to even try something that doesn’t look the way they think it should look, no matter how much it’s recommended to them. Especially if it’s recommended to them, if they’re anything like my children.

(I remember how often my mother told me to read Little Women and how long it took me to look at it, purely because she said I should. Then one day I took it off the shelf and started reading, and thought the only way out was to be about halfway through by the time she noticed. I wonder where Mabel gets her contrariness from?)

Now I have a book cover that looks modern and quirky, interesting and fun. It stands out in a crowd – or as a thumbnail on a page filled with other book cover thumbnails – and I think it will appeal to the right demographic. You’d remember noticing it before, and think “I’ve seen that before; maybe this time I’ll check it out.” I love it.

(If you want to know more about my book, drop me a line at awfullychipper@gmail.com and I’ll send you the relevant links. I’m trying not to cross the streams, here.)

Watch your language: Baseball English

It wasn’t until Dash had been playing baseball for a while that I realised just how many expressions in common use – on both sides of the Atlantic, these days – come straight out of the game. If you ever wondered why we say some of these things, here’s your answer:

Step up to the plate

Metaphorically: We use it to mean that it’s time to take action, put your money where your mouth is.
In baseball: The plate is the home plate, where the batter stands (and where he returns to when he’s made a run). So when it’s your turn to bat, you step up to the plate.

Out of the ballpark

Metaphorically: Way out, far away, unrealistically far.
In baseball: If you hit the ball out of the ballpark, you’re guaranteed a home run, because nobody can catch it.

In the ballpark ( or a ballpark figure, for instance)

Metaphorically: Something likely, reasonable; an estimate that’s realistic.
In baseball: Obviously, a ball that’s hit within the bounds of the field. It can be caught, or it might not be, but everyone has a chance to make something of it.

Three strikes and you’re out

Metaphorically: If you do the wrong thing three times, you don’t get any more chances.
In baseball: A strike is when the batter swings at a ball but misses. It also happens when the pitch was good (within reach, as judged by the umpire) but the batter didn’t swing at all. If you get three strikes, your turn to bat is over and you don’t get to run.

A good inning

Metaphorically: A decent length of time; often, a good life.
In baseball (and cricket too): The game is divided into innings. One team bats until they’re out, while the other team fields. The this is top of the inning. Then the teams switch for the second half – the bottom of the inning. When the first team bats again, this is the next inning. A little league game usually has at least six innings. If you scored some points, or stopped the other team from scoring, you had a good inning.

Heads up

Metaphorically: We talk about giving someone a “heads-up” if we want to warn them about something in advance.
In baseball: Shouted when the ball accidentally goes flying towards the spectators, or anywhere outside the bounds of the field, so that everyone pays attention and doesn’t get conked on the head. It’s the “Fore!” of baseball.

Cover all your bases

Metaphorically: You might talk about covering all your bases if you want to be sure you’ve planned for all eventualities.
In baseball: The fielding team has to have a player protecting each base to make it harder for the batting team to get their players around and back to home.

Baseball diamond

Pro baseball, minor league

Just a note

I heard part of an interview with Paul Simon on the radio today. I had to get out of the car to pump my gas/petrol just when it was getting interesting, but when I got back in he said this, and I really liked it:

“I’d rather take the dark subject and touch on it and then say something funny or, you know, back away from it. When you really get into tender areas in people’s lives, you don’t have to, you know, put a stick in it. You just – if you just touch it gently, it hurts enough. And then you move away and – just to indicate that you have some compassion for how tough it is for just about everybody to make it through this life.”

(You can read the whole interview here.)

He was talking about how he approaches sad events or tragedy in his songs. I think it’s a perfect rule of thumb for any writing – no reader wants to be made miserable (Cormac McCarthy, I’m looking at you). I’d much rather tell a story and let people find the little points of parallel for themselves.

The sea at Dublin Bay

Here’s a picture. Imagine it portrays pain, but just a little.

 

Six-minute update (with very important information)

I need a blurb. That’s what’s at the foremost of my mind right now. The things that make people buy a book are the front cover and the description on the back – that’s called the blurb, honest to god, it is, even though it sounds like a pretend word that someone used because they couldn’t remember the technical term. It really is the technical term.

“Why do you need a blurb, Maud?” I hear you ask. Because I’m self-publishing this darned book, so I am. I got the last – very kind, very nice – rejection from the last person I’d sent it to, and now I just want to get it out of my headspace and into the world, where it deserves to be no matter what those other people say, so that I can concentrate on the next thing, which is halfway written but starting to meander dreadfully in search of some excitement.

I have to say it’s immensely satisfying to be able to take control and do something concrete and immediate with my work, after all this time of sending it off and waiting months for a response, amending things, sending it off again… Doing the work myself to get it uploaded to the system is so much better. (I’m not designing my own cover, I’ve asked someone, so I do have to wait for that, but it won’t be long.)

In other news, Dash got so much in the way of gift tokens and straight-up money for his birthday that he bought an iPad mini. This was sort of my idea, in that I suggested it, because I couldn’t imagine what else he could possibly spend all that on. Now, of course, I’m remembering all those reasons I had for why he shouldn’t have his own device yet, and thinking that maybe just buying 57 green light sabres instead mightn’t have been such a bad idea.

Mabel is disgusted, of course. She shouted for a while about how it wasn’t fair that he was born first so he gets to have big parties and lots of presents and he’s ten, and then somehow she made me say that we might get a fish. She is now set on a fish and I don’t know how to get out of this. I have no interest in a fish, but I suppose that’s not the point, is it?

Time’s up. Ding!

But I wasn’t finished… other things…

We went to Philadelphia, which I’d never really been to and it’s lovely, we should go back. We spent a lot of time in a very fancy hotel, not waiting for Justin Bieber like some of the other people there but attending a wedding which was lovely, and for which the children actually dressed up, which I consider a bigger achievement on my part than my elegant yet comfortable shoes or the fact that I really liked my dress. On the last day we walked around and the sun came out and the kids climbed on possibly the best statue in the world (so many animals!) and it was quite breathtaking.

And now my to-do list has nothing on it. Just “Hit publish”.

Oh, I know what I wanted to say. You want to buy my book, right? You know lots of middle-grade girls who like reading and have access to an e-reader? You love YA fiction yourself, actually, especially when it’s set slightly nostalgically in Ireland in the 80s, yes? But I don’t want to give up my anonymity – such as it is – here by linking to it directly. So here’s the deal: if you’re even a tiny bit interested in knowing more about it, drop me a line – yes, an actual email, it doesn’t have to say much at all, just what you’re looking for – to awfullychipper@gmail.com and I’ll open the door to the mysterious other side – that is, I’ll send you the link to the website I just made for the book, where you’ll find all the info on how to order it when it’s available. And you can share that, and the FB page that goes along with it, to your heart’s content.

In fact, I’d be awfully grateful if you would. You guys are my ground zero, you know. No, wait, you’re my Typhoid Mary. My… what’s a non disaster associated way to say that? You’re the inner circle, that’s it.

You know what you have to do.

Dash and Mabel at City Hall, Philly

Philadelphia in the rain

Mabel on the statue of a bear under blue skies

And in sunshine

A little from column A, a little from column B

And then I wrote it and I had nowhere else to put it except here, so here it is. It doesn’t have a title yet. Though it might be “Ariel, altered”.

—–

Looking up through the blue-green mirk, she could see sparkles on top of the water. The sun was shining up there, but down here it was chilly, dim, always. Whatever was up there didn’t concern her: her life was below. She had all day to do what needed to be done, but here she was rushing at the last minute. Her little boy would scold her, as only a serious four-year-old can, for not paying attention to her duties. He was off looking for shiny glass and pieces of metal dropped by those above, tossed away because they’re no longer needed, done with. Down here nothing is ever done with. It goes on. It stays until it’s nibbled or floated or rusted apart, but it’s still here, just in a different form.

Her heart was weighted, not bouyant like the little boy’s. He was the sort who would have bobbed up to the surface with sheer exuberance if biology had only let him. For her, meandering along the bottom was easy. She never said she was unhappy with her life, but she felt as if she’d come to the end of the new things, and she hadn’t done anything, and when would she ever?

Her long hair surged slowly around her head as she prepared the food, getting in her eyes. She didn’t have a spare hand to push it away, and it would only come back again anyway. No hair ties for mermaids. Even a braid was frowned upon, after a certain age. The man wouldn’t like it, though he didn’t like hairs floating around his dinner either. “You should have thought of that before you came down here and found me,” she said when he wrinkled his nose. So fastidious, she thought to herself. Men shouldn’t care that much about their food, they should just eat it and be grateful they didn’t have to catch it themselves.

She skewered the small fish with some sharp bones to keep them together, tied a wide ribbon of seaweed around the larger ones, and anchored the whole thing to the rock with a couple of round, white stones. “It’s ready,” she called out, but her words were whipped away by the current. She bobbed there peacefully, working at not minding. The food wouldn’t go cold. She flicked a hand at a curious catfish to keep him away. “Find your own, this is taken.” The small boy rushed down from the middle waters, grabbing a few mouthfuls and dashing off again. “Can’t you stay here a while and have a civilized meal with us?” she asked him. “What’s so urgent up there? Have you been snacking? You’ll ruin your appetite.” He was already gone.

She remembered playing with the shafts of sunlight at that age, watching the fry weave in and out, silver and black, silver and black. Flipping over and over with a friend, doubled up with giggles at the pure hilarity of life. He would take on the heaviness soon enough; let him have his fun now.

The man came, at last, neither fast nor slow. He asked about her day, he admired the dark greenness of the weed she’d found and the tiny sweet fish. He did all the right things, but her smile stuck in her throat. See me! she wanted to say. See me! Not the things I did, but the mermaid I am. See all the things I’m not doing because… because I can’t, because it’s too late or too far or too hard or because you won’t let me. He would be baffled. He would crease his forehead and ask what exactly he was stopping her from doing. He would ask how he could help, but she knew the fault wasn’t in him, it was somewhere else.

She ate the food. She listened to his story of work on the river delta. When he asked where the boy was, she motioned to the child tumbling happily in the warmer waters a little way off. They watched his lithe body, strong and fast, well proportioned and growing apace. They were pleased with him, in this moment.

She picked up one of the shiny pieces of metal the boy had collected. She knew it was sharp on one edge, because it had hurt his hand and they’d put it away in the cleft of a rock, carefully. She used it sometimes to cut seaweed, if they needed tough seaweed to bind something. She turned it this way and that, marveling at the rippling, ever-changing picture on the flat side that was some sort of a reflection of herself.

“Cut my hair,” she said suddenly to the man. She gathered her locks together at the nape of her neck, catching them with two hands spanned and then circling them securely in one thumb and forefinger, and gave him the knife. Do this thing for me, she thought, to show that you know who I am.

He took the blade and looked into her eyes. She nodded. “Do it. I want to be new.”

So he did.

IMG_9535

Story not story

I was trying to write something, but I wrote this instead.

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This is a story about a boy
Who finds a shiny thing
And it changes him.

This is a story about a girl
Who fights something
But it turns out to be herself.

This is a story about a man
Who wants to run away
But he can’t escape from himself.

This is a story about a woman
Who sublimates her rage into cooking food for her family every night
But eventually she cracks. (Like an egg.)

This is a story about a place
Where the people are free
Or maybe they just think they are.

This is a story.

This is a story about a time
When nobody had love
But time passed and things got better.

This is a story about the sea
Because I like the sea.