Poetry Feed

What's the Motive? Nancy Slavin

Moorings

Today fiction author and poet Nancy Slavin talks about how she finds motive in words themselves, both their beauty and their pain. "The first step towards violence," she says, "often is words that make people, well, less than people: into objects, or animals, or body parts."

Just a quick warning: In order to illustrate this, she uses a few examples of hurtful words below.

Nancy Slavin:

The subject of today’s post is about motive--what motivates this individual writer to write a certain book. I feel the need to state and expound on the obvious: words motivate me. Sound, rhymes, sentences, metaphors, stories; all the magic that can ensue just because of twenty-six English letters. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a linguist. I’d learn more letters and languages. My favorite part of motherhood was when my child was learning to speak; my second favorite has been watching her learn to read. I’m still amazed that little dark marks on a white page can communicate whole ideas, conjure galaxies, and create the possibility of freedom and justice. 

My original writing training is in poetry; the fine tuning of words and sounds is deep in my heart. I happen to come from a family of mostly artists--a mother who paints, a photographer sister, and a father who is a graphic designer and a potter. I have a brother, too. He flies planes. For me, the artistic medium is words. So that’s the first motive, and I hope, if you’re a writer, that’s your first motive, too. Otherwise, perhaps, consider another medium, like paints or planes.

Because I love words, I am also fascinated by how poorly they get used and how often, especially in relationships (and really, all human interaction is in relationship, hello “friends” on Facebook). Poorly-used words was too often the experience in my childhood, as it is for lots of kids. The long-term witnessing of belittling, mean words, name-calling, and the silent treatment (the tense, tense absence of words), motivated me to work in the field of domestic and sexual violence. 

In my work for more than twenty years, I was a violence-prevention educator--I taught other people, mostly youth, but many adults too, how to use words to communicate feelings and needs in healthy rather than hurtful ways, words that created connection rather than division and wreckage. In my trainings, I facilitated a lot of exercises that asked people to consider their words--words that were cruel but often minimized as no big deal, and/or words that categorized another person into an “other” based on their gender, race, religion, class, sexual identification or orientation. I said some dreaded words out loud and wrote them on boards, and I discussed their origins: words like bitch, fag, nigger, and redneck. I did this work so students could learn the histories and weight of words they might casually say or hear or write on the back of a desk. Depending on if they were on the receiving or giving end, they might respond to those words with an upped ante of violence, towards another, or inwards at themselves. The first step towards violence often is words that make people, well, less than people: into objects, or animals, or body parts.

As a domestic violence worker, I heard all kinds of stories about abuse that left literal scars on people. But I tell you, many, many people also disclosed quite often how the words hurt the most--the words of being told they were no good, not worthy, deserved the abuse, that the abuse was their fault, and many versions on that theme. The words, they told me, were the hardest to shake. They kept hearing those words in their head, reverberating.

All of the above lays the foundation for the main question I explore in my creative work: how do we heal from violence? How do we stop hurtful words from reverberating in our minds? Ultimately, that question led me to create a character in my first novel, Moorings. She was a woman who’d escaped terrible domestic violence, but she’d become mean herself, even in safety. I was curious what continued healing might look like for her. And I also explore the question in my second novel, which is based on and written for many of the youth with whom I worked, who’d been told twelve ways to Sunday they were unlovable and unloved. How does a person stop hearing those words and start believing a new story about who he or she is? 

There are many novels that have explored domestic violence and the rewriting of your own story, or writing your way into a new one. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, Black and Blue by Anna Quindlan, and for youth dealing with family violence, Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison and The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy all come to mind. Although it's poetry, Maya Angelou’s book Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing, and the poem “Caged Bird” that appears in that collection and stems from her important memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was a formative poem for me. I’m also a fan of the play Trifles, by Susan Glaspell. And since I’m working on my YA novel, my next book up to read is Speak, by contemporary author, Laurie Halse Anderson, which confronts the reality of sexual assault. 

I am motivated in my personal life to be a healthier person. I have come a long way in some areas, and, in other ways, I still have a long way to go. I use words to tell myself some fascinating stuff sometimes. But listening to the words I say out loud, and then writing the words down to revise my own story, is my path toward health and healing. See? The letters “h-e-a-l” are the first four letters of “health.” How cool is that? 

For an important talk on the power of words in relationship to violence, I recommend Jackson Katz’s TED talk on domestic violence and words and language.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Check out which communities near you have planned to raise awareness through the National Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

Review on Goodreads and Amazon.

Follow Nancy Slavin on Twitter.

  Nancy Slavin

Nancy Slavin has been a longtime English literature and writing instructor for a community college as well as a violence-prevention educator. She’s authored a collection of poems, Oregon Pacific (2015), and a novel, Moorings, (2013). More of her work can be found in Rain MagazineBarrelhousehip mama, Literary Mama, and Oregon Humanities Magazine. Her website is www.nancyslavin.com

Looking for other "What's the Motive?" articles? Here you are.

 


One Hot Little Reading

Lisa_and_julia

On Sunday I hoofed it down to Gladstone, OR, to take part in The Other Side Reading Series, hosted by Nancy Slavin, a past guest poet on the blog. I had the pleasure of sharing the mic with Julia Laxer, whose poems have appeared in So to Speak: a feminist journal of language and art, Small Po[r]tions and The Nervous Breakdown. The theme was "heat," and Julia and I sizzled... literally. We were outside, the sun blazed down, and the mercury rose to around 90 degrees.

Reading

To further prove my in-synch-ness with the theme, I had my pick of tie-ins, from the opening fire scene in Framed and Burning, to the blaze of anger Mick Travers exhibits in that book, to the heat of passion in a couple of love poems tucked into Broom of Anger.

Julia

The talented Julia Laxer read about the seedy, lusty world of strip clubs, as well as traipsing through San Francisco in hot pursuit of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. She has a gift for the telling detail, and I can't wait to see what she does next. Her first book is sure to be a scorcher.

Shoes

Organizer Nancy Slavin lusted after my hot shoes.

All thanks to Nancy Slavin for putting the heat on, Happy Rock Coffee for hosting, and to the Clackamas Review for this great event write-up. Gladstone's just a stone's throw from Portland, so if you're in the area for the next reading in the series on September 11, stop on by. You'll be glad. 

Happyrocksign

Photos by Nancy Slavin, Julia Laxer, and me.

 


Something Mysterious: August Reading Roundup

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Here are a few of the books on my to-read list this summer, and I hope to bring you some of these writers as guests on the blog in the coming months, too. 

But first, a quick PSA. Reviews are a writer's life blood - and they're an easy gift to give. Just pick a star rating and write one or two sentences to provide other readers a quick impression, or feel free to write more if you like. I've provided links below so you can follow these folks and review their books.

In the Clearing by Robert Dugoni

In the Clearing

Detective Tracy Crosswhite has a skill, and a soft spot, for tackling unsolved crimes. Having lost her own sister to murder at a young age, Tracy has dedicated her career to bringing justice and closure to the families and friends of victims of crime.

So when Jenny, a former police academy classmate and protégé, asks Tracy to help solve a cold case that involves the suspicious suicide of a Native American high school girl forty years earlier, Tracy agrees. Following up on evidence Jenny’s detective father collected when he was the investigating deputy, Tracy probes one small town’s memory and finds dark, well-concealed secrets hidden within the community’s fabric. Can Tracy uphold the promise she’s made to the dead girl’s family and deliver the truth of what happened to their daughter? Or will she become the next victim?

Review on Goodreads and Amazon.

Follow Robert Dugoni on Facebook and Twitter.  

Damascus House by Corrina Wycoff

Damascus House

Amy Rotolo's announcement to her family that she is a lesbian sets off a series of events that threaten to unravel the tight-knit members of Pastor Lou Bianchi's fundamentalist Christian church in Riverview, New Jersey. The resulting drama escalates to irrevocably affect Amy's parents, her "perfect" childhood friend Rachel, Rachel's husband Alan, Rachel's high school boyfriend Paul, and his wife, Lee.

Damascus House is a psychological novel written from the perspective of six different characters. Wycoff told the Puyallup Post, "It's not an indictment against the religious community. It asks how we make sense of faith and circumstance. What does it mean to figure out what to believe when you’ve been told what to believe all of your life?"

I reviewed Wycoff's short story collection O Street on the blog previously. She is a friend and former colleague of mine from Pierce College.

Review on Amazon and buy directly from the small press publisher.

Check out Corrina Wycoff's Wikipedia page.

Poems of Inspector Chen by Qiu Xiaolong 

Inspector Chen poems

Fans of Inspector Chen--the poet in inspector's clothing--will love this compilation of his poetry.

The poems in the present collection are compiled chronologically. Some of them have appeared—either entirely or partially—in the Chen novels, but with his writing in a hurry under the stress of the job, he usually takes time later to revise them, so the poems here may show difference, sometimes substantial, from the original versions. And some of them, either written in his pre-inspector days, or conceived in fragments only in his mind, now appear for the first time in the collection here. 

I reviewed Xiaolong's novels Shanghai Redemption and A Case of Two Cities on the blog previously. He is a friend and former colleague of mine from St. Louis Community College.

Review on Amazon and Goodreads. Visit Qui Xiaolong's web site for more information.

 In the Dark by Chris Patchell

IntheDark

Marissa Rooney stands in her daughter’s empty dorm room, a half-used vial of insulin clutched in her trembling hand. Brooke has been missing for days. Her roommate hasn’t seen her since that night in the bar. And if Marissa has Brooke’s insulin, it means that Brooke does not.

But Marissa isn’t alone in her terror. A phantom from her past is lurking in the shadows, waiting in the night, and holding her family captive…

In the dark.

Review on Amazon and Goodreads

Follow Chris Patchell on Facebook and Twitter.

More from MWA

As I wrote this roundup, an email from the Mystery Writers of America hit my inbox, so here's a whole other list to peruse, all the new books by members for August. You're welcome. 

 


Upcoming Event: The Other Side Reading Salon

TheOtherSideReading

Next month, I'll be featured with several other writers at a reading salon near Portland, OR. The theme is "heat." So of course I'll be reading from Framed and Burning. Or maybe I'll share some in-progress bits from Dreamslippers Book Three, offering a different kind of heat altogether!

It's at Happyrock Coffee Roasting Co. in Gladstone. I've never been before, but I'm told it's a lovely place, and one should make a day of it and have lunch first in Oregon City overlooking the river. Our host is Nancy Slavin, author of the poetry collection Oregon Pacific and a past guest here on the blog.

For more details and to RSVP, see the event's Facebook page


Measures of Success: Where I Am in This Publishing Experiment

  Woodtype-846088_1280

Lately I've heard from people who assume I'm earning piles of money from my books. They tell me I make the whole publishing thing look easy, and that it makes them want to jump in.

This is a really good example of why I try never to make assumptions. 

It's funny, because I've been pretty up-front about the whole thing from the beginning, as you can read in this post on my decision to self-publish as well as this post about what it took to hit the bestseller spot in two categories on Amazon. If you don't want to read those two posts, here they are in a nutshell: 1) My decision to self-publish was borne from a cold-eyed practicality that showed me getting an agent and a solid traditional publishing contract would be as likely as winning the lottery and 2) Hitting the bestseller lists on Amazon came after 25 years of toil, and I still had to make the book free.

But I guess my previous posts weren't enough. People see "bestseller" and the fact that I'm up for a couple of major awards, and they automatically assume I'm making piles of money. And maybe it's my own fault for trumpeting the bestseller achievement, which is a big win, don't get me wrong. But because publishing today is totally broken, it doesn't mean I'm making piles of money, or even enough to call this my new day job, neither of which I have actually claimed, but people seem to assume. There's a lot of hope and fantasy-making when it comes to the life of a writer. We still want to believe we can all be J.K. Rowling, and that getting there is easy. 

Here it is for the record: My husband/business partner and I are still in the red on these books. 

And here's why:

  1. Discoverability. By at least one estimate, there's a new book posted to Amazon every five minutes. Simply getting eyes on your product remains the biggest obstacle in all of entertainment. At the video-game company were I used to work, it was of chief consideration. We did the best when we had our own portal to funnel new games to players who'd played our previous games, but the Apple store made this more of a challenge. So if I could design a Lisa Brunette portal within Amazon that sent my book promos to readers who'd purchased my books before, or similar books, I'd be in business. But that's not possible.
  2. Have you bought my books? If you did, thank you. I hope you enjoyed them. But was it the print or audiobook version (which earn me just a few cents to a few dollars in royalties), the ebook version (which earns me even fewer cents to a couple of dollars in royalties), or the free version (which earns me next to nothing in royalties)?
  3. Sales of Cat in the Flock to-date are clocking in at just under 5,000 copies, most of those free, and sales of Framed and Burning are lower because it's been $3.99 since launch with no promos and no KDP enrollment (what this is). As for my other books, there's a reason I continually refer to poetry as a "labor of love." Ditto short stories.
  4. Most of the people who downloaded the free copy during the promotion that catapulted Cat in the Flock to bestseller status haven't yet read the book, which affects my royalties via Amazon's "normalized pages read" count, and they did not buy the second book in the series. This is a well-known result for bestsellers on Amazon these days, so writers and marketers generally hope the lift will boost sales a few times as others see the book in the ranking, which did happen for a time...or I don't know what else, and neither do they.
  5. I am no pro at promotion. It's funny because I keep getting notes of admiration/offers to hire me from other authors who think I do it well, and I tell them I'm just bumbling around here, but since authors on the whole tend to be really terrible at this, I guess I look good by comparison. I am still learning how to do the book sales and promo thing, so stay tuned. Hopefully I'll get even better!
  6. Most of the friends and family to whom I've given free copies of my books haven't read them. I try not to get too tripped up about this, as it seems to be a writer phenomenon: Those closest to us tend to be the least likely to read and discuss the book (with the exclusion of my husband/business partner, who's my biggest fan; he also has a stake in the game). But it's probably because reading the words of someone you know very well can be jarring. As my sister (who is actually very supportive) said, "I hear your voice in my head as I'm reading, and it's weird." This recently happened to me with an old friend who wrote a thriller set in a fundamentalist religious sect after she blurbed my thriller set in a fundamentalist religious sect. I freaked out reading the first chapter and haven't been able to pick it up since. It wasn't just the voice; it was the inevitable comparison in subject matter. People you know look for themselves in your books; they can't help it.
  7. I've been very fortunate to have amazing supporters and fans who share my content, but I haven't had the time to grow my list the way I should. It's a business that is definitely more-than-full-time, like a start-up or your new local restaurant, but I have not yet had the luxury to focus on it 24/7 because I have to attend to my other sources of income. We spent this entire last weekend working on republishing both Dreamslippers books, for example, so we feel like we now need a weekend to recover from our working weekend.

We're not yet in the black, but we partners of Sky Harbor LLC invested more into the business than most indie authors, so we have more to make back. We saw this as a long-term strategy, and it's way too early to call since I've only published two books so far. The models I have for how this works didn't begin to make a living until they were into books three or four, and this goes for both the indies and the traditionally published authors. One traditional author tells me the only way he lives off his writing is through his foreign sales. His foreign publishers are also the ones who pay for his few book tours, as his U.S. publisher won't pay for any.

My approach is to be much more diversified, too. I'm currently working as a game writer, speaker, and journalist in addition to the fiction I write. I believe this is a healthier mix for these volatile economic times. But that means I'm trying to keep up with four different industry spaces, growing my contacts and experience in all of them at once. Some days, it feels like managing four different start-ups.

Overall, I'm flattered that people think I'm making a living at this, and I am thrilled with the success I've had with my fiction. With just two books under my belt, I've won one book award and am a finalist for two others. My first book hit the no. 1 spot not in some quirky niche but in two major categories on Amazon: paranormal mystery and private investigators, which, if you think about a book being published every five minutes, is a huge achievement. It's trending at 4.5 stars on 52 reviews, and the second book is close behind. I've been approached by a Hollywood director about TV rights (but don't get too excited--Hollywood is notoriously fickle). Enough readers and influencers have given their independent, non-paid praise of the books such that I know if I can surmount the hefty obstacles, I will begin to see some financial success. I've proved I am a serious career author with the speaking, marketing, and most of all, writing chops to go the distance. It's only a matter of time before the right people--and/or an army of readers--take notice. 

And if they never do, I will at least know that I gave it my all, heart and soul. Plus, look at the enviable experience I'll have to offer in my next day job...