The Amazon Iowan

Blog of Author Heidi Cullinan


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This is the last blog I will post while in possession of a uterus.

Many of you know about my impending surgery already, if you read this blog, but I’m also using this post as a HEADS UP for the general populace. To make it official: as of 6AM CST tomorrow, Wednesday July 23, I will be offline indefinitely. Decidedly I won’t be doing anything of any import until early next week, but I’m reserving the right to react badly to anesthesia or be very sore or high or whatever this adventure leads me to, and so for all practical purposes, I’m not really working until about August 10, and it’ll be August 15 before I get truly back up to speed in even a small fashion. This will, as it happens, be when Hero re-releases, but I think I have that all set up and ready to go. I also have helpers (thank you Jess and Dan) who are monitoring email and doing behind-the-scenes tasks. On August 5 a post will go up here, but it’s automated and will undoubtedly be much chirpier and with it than I will be in real time on that date.

I fully anticipate my email to be an unholy mess. Dan will be scanning through, and so will I, but it’s going to be serious triage for some time, so I apologize in advance if anyone feels ignored or unheard. If you need something regarding the blog tour, you want to email the “assist” email which has given or will shortly give you an updating email tonight. Dan or Jess (they’re both on that account) will funnel your query to me, or figure it out if I’m staring at the pretty ceiling patterns at that particular second.

So that’s the procedural stuff. Now for the metaphysical.

small_3074849494People have been asking me for weeks if I’m nervous or excited–honestly, I’ve been so swamped with work I didn’t have a spare second to be nervous or eager. I would say, now that I’m properly reflecting, I’m a bit of both. Largely I’m annoyed at the inconvenience, the anticipated helplessness and pain. Pain isn’t such a big deal–very accustomed to that. Oddly enough, the potential for hope sometimes catches me up the most. Oh yes, I want this to fix many things! But to allow myself to wish for that feels like it opens the possibility that I will be disappointed. So I am cautiously optimistic, looking forward to a second adolescence while also readying for a return or worsening of everything which has become part of my daily life.

I’ve thought, a great deal, about femininity, and womanhood, and what “uterus” and “ovary” mean. I’m grateful they gave me my daughter, but beyond that, I can’t say I much care. My vagina, yes, I’m terribly fond of. This I get to keep, so that works out. But the rest? Honestly, fuck it. Chuck it, burn it, make it go. It has made me sick, made me tired, made me lose so very, very much of my life. Begone. I’m gonna put a house on you.

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Not for one moment, though, have I felt like the removal of my female sexual organs will make me less of a woman. I am a woman. I feel like a woman. I look like a woman. Yes, I can pull off male drag, but I’m still a woman beneath. Being female isn’t something that comes from a uterus, or even, frankly, a vagina. A great deal of my sense of femininity comes from cultural programming, yes–but honestly, I’ve spent most of my life feeling pushed out of that programming. The number of times I was told I was too tall for a girl, too big, too loud, too everything–well, I guess thank god for the boobs, or somebody might have decided I wasn’t a girl at all. But I always wanted to be pretty. Not because I thought I’d get something extra, but because the lacy, delicate things appealed. The long hair. Everything that the world defined as girl, it worked out that was what I wanted. Of course, how much of that was true girl? Can someone be a girl without the lace? Of course.

Can someone be a girl without a uterus? Well, yes! Breasts? How dare we think otherwise.

Without a vagina? Well–why the fuck not?

photo credit: Kris Krug via photopin cc

photo credit: Kris Krug via photopin cc

I was never particularly married to gender binary before, but I must say, at this second, when getting rid of my most girlish parts is probably going to be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself–it’s looking pretty fucking stupid to say being male or female comes from any checklist. If you have to pick one thing, it’s that double X chromosome. But that’s simply chemistry. That’s not hair or makeup or lace or not. That’s computer code. That means from a biological standpoint, I came equipped to bear a kid. But those same parts that made me girl are what are killing me now.

As I jettison my girly bits, I must say I’m also chucking out the very last dregs of philosophical quandary over what makes a woman, and by extension, what makes a man. I have the answer: what makes me a woman is my belief that I am one. Simple as that. And frankly, that goes for any human. It’s not an argument, a debate, or a crisis. It’s simply the way things are, and everyone who doesn’t see it that way needs to get their head out of their ass and catch the fuck up.

And on that note, I bid you adieu. If you itch to know how my surgery went, my husband will update my twitter feed to let people know how I’m doing throughout the day and until I’m able to get on there myself. That will be the first place I go. But I”m going to tell him not to let me wander on social media until I’m not stupidly high. However entertaining that might be for you.

Heidi Cullinan, over and out.


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The Cat Who Came to Dinner

IMG_2129I haven’t mentioned Sidney lately on the blog, or much on Facebook, though if you follow me on twitter you’ve likely heard more than you ever wanted about my terminal cat in the last few days. Our four hour search for him in our huge house to no avail, his wormhole return to the kitchen, the last trip to the vet where we were told to put him down and my anxiety over whether or not this was the right time, as I didn’t see our usual vet. My attempts to feed him tuna, his treats, anything. My eventual acknowledgment that yes, this is the day to say goodbye.

I’m writing this in advance as a part of mourning, but when this posts, he will be gone, and the Cullinans will be doing another round of cat mourning. This is our fourth passing in three years. I’m hoping I don’t have to write a post like this again for double that time, minimum.

Today, though, I’m going to tell you about Sidney.

Sidney appeared in our life via the back door. We’d just finished an incredibly disastrous experiment inIMG_0099 having a dog, and young Anna was still upset about the return of her furry friend. This is example one of Sidney’s expert eye for opportunity: it was during this time of toddler angst and my weak will that he began showing up on our back deck. It was early spring, and it was cold. He’d huddle under the snow shovel against the side of the house in full view of Anna at the sliding door opposite. When he came too often, I felt for him, and I gave him some kibble.

He thought that was a pretty good deal, and started coming more often. Then one day he’d decided we’d flirted long enough, and when we opened the back door, he came in and went straight for the food dishes.

“We’ll have to call him Sidney,” Dan said, “because he came to dinner.”

“You just named him,” I replied. “You realize now it’s over.”

It was. Sidney had a name, and he was a Cullinan now.

We kept him isolated until we could get him to the vet, which was when we realized he wasn’t IMG_2464neutered, as he peed all over everything in sight to mark it. He was older, not yet a full tom but carrying enough extra hormones to aggravate the living hell out of Blair, the reluctant, neurotic alpha at the time. From that moment until the day Blair passed, Sidney delighted in sending Blair into a rage. He’d lie in wait and pounce on him, though after a few times all he had to do was look threatening, and Blair would lose his shit so fast it was better than cable. It drove us crazy, as this torment only made Blair’s fragile mental health that much more cracked, often inspiring him to pee on things in protest. We took joy, though, in watching the next black cat, Daisy, a third Blair’s size, joyfully turn the tables and drive Sidney into hiding every chance she got.

Sidney was polydactyl, and he used his thumbs to every advantage he could. He could open cupboard doors with almost no effort at all. They were usually the thing that poked at you first when he was annoyed. But Sidney wasn’t often annoyed. He relied on his cute, sweet face to get what he wanted, and he usually got it. He knew just when to appear at the dryer after a cycle so he could jump in, and he knew too I wouldn’t be likely to kick him out, not until the laundry cooled. But when I got to the folding laundry part, he appeared just as quickly, ready to nest on clean socks and underwear or towels or whatever was at hand. In fact, yesterday, when we knew it was our last evening, Anna and I warmed him some towels specifically and let him make one last snug. He didn’t have his usual relish, but he didn’t pass up the offer.IMG_2407

Though he always wanted to eat, Sidney had a deep yearning to see the outside world once again, and he took every opportunity to slip out of a door a foolish human hadn’t fully closed–the thumbs came in very handy here. A few times he was gone overnight, and the smells he brought back with him always drove the other cats crazy. He personally put several huge holes in the porch screens to abet his escape attempts, ones I admit we have yet to fix, have only sealed shut with glass.

Sidney had a fetish. For reasons we’ll never quite know, he loved, loved to be spanked on his butt while he lay sideways on the floor–spanked hard, and when you were done, he’d scoot himself forward on the carpet, then glance on his shoulder to ask for another go. He loved being petted regular too–if I was handing out pets to anyone, he’d be there in a flash, eager and hopeful I still had a spare hand. If I had a blanket on my lap, he was there in a flash, and in the last six months, he slept on my hip more than he slept anywhere else at night. I bought him a fuzzy blue throw when he was first diagnosed, but he quickly threw that over for Anna’s ultra-plush horse blanket we picked up on the way to Cedar Rapids one day. It’s been in his hospice IMG_1870room with him ever since we knew we were heading to this moment.

He was diagnosed with kidney failure, busted thyroid and enlarged heart this spring, and we got a lot more time than we probably had a right to. He’s subsisted on special kidney food and daily fluids ever since that vet visit, and for a while he almost thrived despite his deplorable blood work. His thyroid made him ravenously hungry, but I’d feed him every time he asked, and he asked a lot. I think he took a joy in knowing he could get food whenever he wanted–and no one else could. He always did like being the special boy.

It wasn’t all easy, though, nursing him through his last months. In June he developed a bladder infection and started peeing anywhere but in the litter box. He rallied after antibiotics, but he really never thought clay was better than towels after that. It would have been maddening, especially when he peed on our brand new basement carpet–except at this point his kidney failure was so bad, his urine so dilute, that it was impossible to tell his pee from plain water.

We worried what would happen when we went on our long-scheduled family vacation in early July–we had to board him at the vet, and we worried acutely he’d die while we were gone. He didn’t die, but the stress of being IMG_0855away from home combined with his already significant health crisis snowballed on Tuesday of this week, when he stopped wanting to eat. On Wednesday he started hiding–once we found him, and the second time we searched for hours, everywhere, in the craziest crannies we could find, but to no avail. When he reappeared in the kitchen, we shut him up in rooms he couldn’t escape from, first my office and then Dan’s.  My office opens to Anna’s bedroom, which meant he spent Wednesday night sleeping on her pillow. She wanted to do that again last night, but by that time it was clear he was too sick to haul around, and since we’d forced-fed him, we worried he’d vomit on her during the night…or that he would pass, and she’d find him body only by morning.

He didn’t pass, and today I got to nap with him in Dan’s office, snuggled in the chair under blankets as we’ve done so many times. All day I’ve gone to visit him, second-guessing myself, worrying I should have put him down sooner when he flags, worrying I’m acting too quickly IMG_2067when he has a moment of rally. The fact that last night for the first time ever he didn’t fight his fluids says this is the right call, as is the fact all he’s ingested all week is three bites of tuna and a syringe of watered-down Wellness Core. Even when he’s somewhat lucid, he’s not really there, though. He’s still the cat we know and love, but he’s so clearly not okay. He doesn’t want dinner anymore. He needs to go to bed one last time.

Of course, I still don’t like it. As Anna said, we could have five hundred more years and it wouldn’t be enough. Today is the day everything I see makes me sad–I go into the cramped bathroom where I’ve grumbled about the need for a litter box under the sink, making me step in spilled litter every time I wash my face–now there’s no box, and I weep for what its loss means. As I went to bed last night and no one sat on my hip, I felt empty. As I napped with him this afternoon and could barely feel his starved, ravaged body’s weight on my leg, I wept again.

I feel him a little more acutely than I felt the other cats we’ve lost–it’s not the gut despair of my first cat, Gulliver, whom I lost while pregnant (and who incidentally looks a lot like Sidney), but it’s still a more aching cut than Mia or Blair of Bingley. Bingley I never really mourned as I should–one day six months later I found a wad of his fur and sobbed until I fell to the floor, but that was it. Sometime during all the cat death and my escalating health issues, I walled myself off inside. In therapy last year I remarked how I’ve gotten into a creepy habit of non-reaction–people can tell me sad things, horrible things, and I can sometimes catch myself actively walling off. MyIMG_2582 therapist told me that’s because there’s been way too much going on, and I’m simply coping. That makes sense, but my lack of feeling bothered me. It didn’t feel like living, not like I wanted. That wall broke a bit when my grandfather passed last year, but I quickly put the familiar bricks back in place once the memorial was past. Still too much going on. Still too weary to feel the way I felt I should.

This week, I can say I have definitely felt. Sidney’s death comes at a moment already fraught with heaviness: while I know my upcoming surgery is routine, not even a little life-threatening, it feels like a mountain I am approaching, and the uncertainty of the valley beyond unnerves me. Weirdly, the worst part is that the valley might be wonderful. On my vacation my father in law explained in a way I hadn’t previously been able to wrap my head around how my hysterectomy and removal of endometrial cysts might reverse some if not all of my autoimmune issues, and I am able now, in a way I haven’t dared to in a long time, imagine a world without pain. Truly without it–no more living at 3 or 4, getting so used to it what would send most people home to bed feeling like a pretty good day. Maybe eating a few things I couldn’t again, or not getting sick from a day of cleaning. Maybe taking a long walk without my legs feeling like they’re breaking in half. Maybe feeling as good as I’ve felt on my intermediary drugs–or better–without any medications at all.

Or it might not be much different. Or only sort of different. Or something else I can’t see.

IMG_2330Control, you see, is the issue–the lack of it, both for Sidney and for me. I cannot stop him passing. I was willing to do everything necessary to help him, but his dueling illnesses made it impossible, left me only with palliative care. I could not leave him at home while we were gone–I could not stop the stress that caused him. Even if I’d stayed home, though, eventually this disease would have caught him anyway. In truth, even without this disease, something else would have taken him eventually.

And so this week has been a crazy flurry of dying cat, a pile of work to turn in before my surgery, and prepping for surgery. Of walking around realizing all the things I won’t be able to do for weeks and weeks post-op, of acknowledging how nuts that will make me. Of knowing I’m signing up for some delightful pain and that weird, not nearly as fun as it should be time-gap that is general anesthesia. I always think maybe I’ll get to see gods or at least talk to Randy Jansen in person for a few minutes, but I don’t ever so much as dream. It’s simply one moment me on the bed with the big light, then me under a different light, my body full of pain and wracked by shakes.

This week has been me trying to finish a partial and find the headspace to read the initial notes from betas, including my now former therapist’s. This week has been me sitting quietly with the fact that our notes over Carry the Ocean will be our last exchange, that because she’s retired and because of the ethics of social worker rules, we won’t ever speak again.IMG_2055

I think only a third of the tears I’ve shed over Sidney in the past twenty-four hours have been for him. Oh, I will miss him, terribly, and that hurts, but more than anything, I think his passing and my upcoming procedure and my therapist’s retirement and so many other million things have snarled into a small, hard pellet which has managed to shatter a huge section of that feeling wall. I can’t control a lot right now. I can’t stop the wheels from turning. I can’t stop change. I can’t stay death, not forever. Not even for that sweet face.

I’m grateful, though, for that feeling, and I totally credit Sidney. He wasn’t exactly a wise soul, but he was a good one, and the life lessons he offered were instructive. Play. Love. Snuggle. Seek heat and pleasure and comfort. Be a little naughty. Fly your freak flag. Never miss a meal. Live hard and long as you can, but when the time comes to say goodbye, go gracefully, easily into the next phase.

Thank you, Sidney, for choosing us to stay with for a while. I hope you found the level of treats and laundry acceptable, though I’m not sorry I never let you go back outside. Enjoy the fresh air now as much as you want. I’ll see you on the other side.


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Authors: There’s a Thief in Your House, and Here’s How To Narc on Them.

Huge, mammoth hat tip to Bree and Donna for teaching me the magic that is Whois. And for translating it because I still don’t understand. Now, let me tell you a scary story, then hand you a machete.

ETA: The links in the next paragraph trip a lot of people’s antivirus, and a lot of evidence is pointing now to these sites being not pirate sites at all, that they aren’t giving any books, only mining credit cards. Which is actually a little worse if anyone stumbling into that site genuinely mistakes them for a legit seller.  A lot of authors and pubs are sending take-down requests, but it’s still a serious issue.

This site is selling works without permission. So is this one, but Devin on twitter says they have similar stuff in the guts or something computer-ish that I don’t understand, which boils down to they’re probably the same joint. Except they seem to have different hosts, so maybe they’re twin assholes.

If you’re a reader and you’re going HEY CHEAP BOOKS, please know this is worse than piracy. This is someone illegally selling works they have no rights to. For that measly $1.90, I will receive nothing, ever, nor will my publisher, and thieving jerks will receive everything. These people will also have all your contact information, and your credit card. They have all this language about how they won’t sell it or anything, but since they’re STEALING EVERYTHING ON THEIR SITE, I’m sure you can totally trust them. You might want to give them all your passwords and maybe mail them a house key too. They seem like great people.

Anyway, if you’re not in the mood to shop, let’s bury these fuckers. Start here for RomancePDF, and here for the other one. If you’re an author, threaten their ass with lawyers. Because it wouldn’t take ten minutes to get three thousand of us, and I have a lawyer on retainer, and we could cream these people into the ground every time this happens. Though they’re probably meth heads with ingrown penises, so we can’t get much and we’d be better served writing more books. But yell at them. Be creative! You’re a writer. This is the page where you yell at them.

But don’t stop there! For RomancePDF, we know their host! ETA: Singlehop says they aren’t the host, except people have screenshots proving they are. This is the phone number for their service provider:  +1-2013775952. Be somewhat civil here, as these guys are just a host. But be clear they’re aiding and abetting people selling thousands of titles illegally and that the entire internet is paying attention and getting pissed. You can tell them we’re blogging too. Whatever you like.

You can also email them at abuse-contact@publicdomainregistry.com and abuse@singlehop.com. Here’s what I’m emailing them. Feel free to copy/edit as you like. And if you’re a reader and you want to yell with us, come on in. The outrage’s fine.

***

To whom it may concern:

It has come to my attention that your domain is hosting http://www.romancepdf.com/, a site which is illegally selling several of my books from various publishers, collecting money and in no way paying royalties to me or my publishers. I’ve notified my publishers and the site, who has standard DMCA language about takedown notices, but this doesn’t really apply as they’re outright selling licensed, stolen work and collecting money. This information has been shared with several thousand authors, and their publishers, and now it has been shared with you.

We ask you to not host this site, as they’re essentially using you as their getaway car and bank vault. I’m not entirely sure what you’re legally liable for, but I’d prefer none of us ever had to find out. In any event, we’re hoping you’re a good company made of decent people and that you too wouldn’t like it if your creative work was being sold out from under you and the person’s house it was happening in didn’t do anything to stop it. You will probably be hearing from a lot of us. Authors are well connected, and contrary to popular opinion, few of us live in any kind of glamor. The money from our work is our living wage, which buys food and Internet and the domain hosts for our websites.

Thanks for listening, and hopefully acting.

Sincerely,

Heidi Cullinan


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And Now For Something Completely Different: What Happens When Heidi Remodels a Basement

I know. The Internet was full of nonsense again, but I’m not going to comment on it. I’d love to, but it’s a morass and mostly it’s Mercury in Retrograde, and there’s nowhere safe to stand because the Internet isn’t discourse, it’s an outrage machine. Instead, I’m going to show what I did the past few weeks to my basement.

Picture 010Backstory: our house is huge. Not in a McMansion kind of way, but in a hobbit house/rabbit warren kind of way. Once upon a time in the 1930s, it was a cute little bungalow, but then in the 1970s someone doubled the size of the house with an addition, including a fully finished basement. I bet even through the mid-eighties it was something to see. You can tell in the way they did the original building and in a few remodels that the place was smoking. I know former owners had many, many children, and I bet some great teenage times were had in our lowest story. But over time this space has lost its luster, and other homeowners declined to update the space and a few unfortunate water events wrecked carpet. Our contribution came from a cat who was sick and pissed and decided to use the basement bedroom for a litterbox, and in the way only cats can, the others decided to join him. The paneling in the hallway was dark and IMG_3223awful. The space was depressing, and while we managed to use the space initially, eventually became where we put stuff we didn’t know what to do with.

Those playing along at home: that was a large den, a hallway with small annex, a bedroom, and two and a half rooms in the traditional concrete block basement, all full of stuff we didn’t even want, just hadn’t bothered to shove out the door. That’s a lot of stuff.

For years I’ve said, “We should refurnish the basement.” I hated the wasted space. It’s large enough for an incredible one-bedroom apartment, with its own private entrance, and I have, often, told total strangers they should come live in my basement mostly because it made me nuts to have a small house full of junk instead of life. (Total strangers are smarter and saner than me, because nobody ever took me up on it, and anyway, Dan would have said hell no.) I always knew exactly what it needed: a coat of primer-sealer, paint, new carpet, new floor in the bathroom. Oh, a new sink/toilet would be great, the sauna gone and a mini kitchen put in its place would be brilliant, but that was icing on the cake. $1500 would give the space an entirely new life.

IMG_3218$1500 and a WHOLE lot of work. Even when we had the $1500, there was no way I was doing that much painting with my body. I did Anna’s room a few years ago and it was The Little Mermaid Paints a Bedroom: every step was a knife, every swath of a brush sent rivers of pain down my arm. I did it anyway, but that was one room, one week. This was two LARGE rooms, a LONG hallway, a bathroom, a stairwell. This was moving all the junk out first. This was figuring out several interlaced color schemes. This was lots and lots and lots of fussy detail work. This was the sort of thing I would have done in a breeze ten years ago, the kind of challenge I would have eaten for breakfast, but my body has been through the wringer since then.

Except…for the past two months, I’ve been on the magic, wonderful drug that is Lupron. And the bitch…she is back.

Dan said, “I know you’re better because Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend we were talking about maybe doing a remodel, and by Sunday night we had all the rooms clear and a coat of primer on the bedroom walls.” This was true, and ten days from that Sunday, the whole thing was done.

There was a beautiful Zen quality to reclaiming that basement. On the one hand, it does something IMG_3252serious to the psyche to transform a space from garbage site to guest bedroom and family bonding area, but for me there were the additional layers of simply being able to work like this again and remembering I used to be able to approach life with the same kind of crazed, focused zeal I can wreak on a manuscript. In fact, at this particular second I’m having so much fun being able to use my body, I have to make myself sit down at a computer and dive into my head. I cannot express to you how radical this is for me.

It was nothing short of magic to take a dark, stinky, depressing space and make it shine. It was cool to see the transformation, but it was a head rush and a half to be the ones doing the work. To know that brilliantly painted wall is there because we did it. That the subtle details of the lightswitch and the knobs of the reclaimed dresser are because you chose them. This was a space we all avoided. No one wanted to go down to the basement for so much as a screwdriver. It was a walk through the broken, discarded bits of our past, an albatross of should that wore at the soul.

Not anymore.

Two specific things prompted this renovation. One, we were wanting a better area to watch TV and movies together in, since this is a big bonding time for us. Two, we wanted a better space for company who stayed overnight, and we had my sister coming mid-June, maybe people during my surgery recovery. It’s hard on Dan to have the spare bed be in his office, which due to space in our bedroom closet is also where his clothes are. Plus he always misses his office, his private retreat.

IMG_3254So we made a guest suite and a movie room. We did it together. I did a lot of it, waking early in the morning with a sore arm, but since I was up I might as well go get more painting done. We shopped carpet and sectionals and bedspreads. We sorted through old things and made runs to Goodwill and made a pile for Craigslist. We had help form Dan’s incredible parents, who came multiple times to help haul, move, lay parts of the carpet, take off doors, build new light fixture bases. We problem solved issues. We made plans for fine tuning.

And now it’s done. My sister has come and gone, and they loved their guest space. They and their two kids had space and privacy and comfort, and Nathan got to watch a ridiculously huge TV while his kids settled down for bed.

I loved doing this work. I loved doing it with my family, for my family. I can’t wait to have another houseguest. I want to have all my loved ones over for a movie marathon. I want to keep adding decorative touches and details. More than anything I can’t stop hanging out in the basement now, and I invent excuses to go down.

Throughout this post I’ve shown before and during pictures. The following are the finished products.

Bedroom (as modeled by Walter):

IMG_2399IMG_2401IMG_2402

The above were taken before we finished the shelf. Lighting not as pretty here, but the shelf is done. Also you get a great shot of the LED light.

photo 2

 

Hallway and bathroom (I don’t have a picture of the old way, but every light surface was dark brown.):

IMG_2403 photo 1

And last but very not least, the movie room. I don’t have any of the stairs, but they’re not that exciting. Just soft. Sidney is the model here, lost in the blankets, feeling yucky because of a bladder infection.

IMG_2405 IMG_2406

 

In that cabinet under the TV is an electric fireplace, which is very fortuitous as that room will get chilly in the winter. Cool part is we can have  a “fire” anytime we want, without heat. I thought it would be cheesy, but actually it’s pretty cool.

We Cullinans do good work.

 

 


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The Struggle That Makes the Art

photo credit: antonychammond via photopin cc

photo credit: antonychammond via photopin cc

If there’s a frequently asked question I get which isn’t a variation on “How can a girl write boy sex?” it’s a riff on “How can I be successful as a writer?” I think I get the question a lot because I’m clearly mid-list, doing well but not even in the same zip code as people whose signing lines wrap around the building. I have the career a lot of people want, because everybody knows those megawatt stars are rare. But I’m making well more than a living wage as an author, and that seems an attainable dream. It’s just that nobody can figure out how to do it. How did I? How can others emulate me?

I can answer the question, but I’ll warn you right now a lot of people won’t like the answer, and even more won’t even hear it. Because how I did it is that I worked hard. I mean, I worked. Like a dog. Like a crazy person. Like a desperate freak. I struggled like I’ve struggled for nothing else, and I haven’t stopped. I stripped myself down and made myself understand who I was and what I could do, and then I did what I could to expand my limitations. I believe my struggle and pain, both personal and professional, define and make my art. I believe anyone, everyone, can do this too. Yet the short version of why so many people don’t make it even to a comfortable middle ground has nothing to do with the difficulties of publishing or whether or not we should all toss off publishers entirely, or the quality of the art, or whether or not Amazon is an asshole for bullying Hachette. Most people’s art doesn’t earn them a living because they cannot let go of the fantasy that all they have to do is show up with a product and the world will hand them cash. Most people cannot accept the truth that the work required to get money from art is so onerous it changes the nature of the art itself.

Art is not guaranteed to be successful. This is the part where I could go on about our entitlement culture being to blame, but I actually don’t mind the entitlement, because the confidence breeds hope, and confidence can take you a long way. I think where most people go wrong is the entitlement breeds with healthy self-doubt, and when insta-success doesn’t occur, it becomes evidence for why we suck and other people don’t. The truth is every single successful person either worked hard for what they have, or they got lucky—and in the case of the latter, that self-doubt often gets them shortly after the success becomes too great.

I think it’s hardest right now because it’s both never been easier to produce and share art and never been harder to be noticed. The death of the arbiters of culture means the gatekeepers are gone too, which is good in the abstract and hellish in the specific. While those gates were keeping your amazing work out, it was also keeping all the garbage out too. And sadly, the truth is your work, and mine, is garbage to a lot of people. The gatekeepers will come back eventually, somehow, because humans hate chaos. But right now that entitlement and disappointment are creating a shattering, terrible beauty of a sorrow. Because all you need is ten minutes to whip something up, the Internet to share it…and you too can discover that you’re not as inherently talented as your mother told you.

Success is what you decide it is. I cannot stress this enough–in fact, I say it to myself every day. Once upon a time you knew you were successful when you hit the New York Times Bestseller list or got a million dollar advance for a three book deal, or were sent on a book tour to Europe. No more. Every list can be rigged, and most are. Every deal can be unjustified, and once again, most are. No one goes on book tours but the megawatts. The pyramid of success has narrowed to the thinnest arrowhead point with a base of the triangle wide enough to include 70% of the creative populace.

Yet this doesn’t mean people shouldn’t write, shouldn’t paint, shouldn’t create. My daughter is twelve and obsesses about her subscribers on her YouTube channel, then gets angry when I say if she produced more content and took more time she’d probably get a better audience. She’s annoyed that I say it will take work to achieve her goals of YouTube fame, because while she’s somewhat interested in art, mostly she’s an adolescent and would like a hit of reassurance from the universe that she matters. We’re animals, and we want validation from our peers that we matter, that what we made and do and say is part of the human narrative.

Do not go to art for validation. Ever. You’re going to do it anyway, but when you’re sobbing and empty, remember I told you it was a bad idea.

You decide, forever and always, when your work is right and good. It’s perfectly okay, no matter what our celebrity-obsessed culture says, to create art for yourself and a few friends and family. My daughter’s art projects on my fridge are more precious to me than anything in a museum. I’d rescue my daughter’s work from a fire, but I’d simply feel sad for the Mona Lisa. Beauty and value are relative, and so is success. My love for my daughter’s work is success enough–her love of her work is success enough. If all you want is to see your name in print, then you can make that happen. If all you desire is to say you made a movie, this world is a wonderful place where you can do that with your phone. Creation is always beautiful and wonderful and should always be celebrated, and you alone get to decide when you’ve done well.

That said…

Creating art for public consumption is an art form all its own. This is the part of publication or any sharing of art everyone overlooks, and it’s where people’s hearts get broken. It is one thing to create a work, and it’s another level of emotional Tetris to ask for money and allow people to say whether or not they thought you did a good job. We read all the time about famous artists who asked for their work to be burned at their death or who stuck all their scribbles in a drawer to be published posthumously, and this wasn’t because they were shy. It was because they didn’t have media culture promising them they too could get a reality TV show because they filmed themselves having sex, didn’t have YouTube ads making it look like all it takes to be a hit Internet cooking show is a nice hairdo and a smile. It was because they knew the pain of rejection can and will color every aspect of art, and sometimes it’s not worth it.

This is where I should tell you about marketing and networking and researching your medium, except as soon as I start anyone who hasn’t done that research will think all they need to do is read this paragraph and they’ve got that base covered. No. You must do your own work. You must make your own contacts. You must read your own articles. You must join your own organizations, and you should get involved. If you join RWA or RRW or simply a local writing group and no confetti drops out of the sky, you should look into renting a party cannon for them and make the magic happen yourself. If you go to a convention and agents and editors and readers don’t swarm you, get off your ass and make yourself indispensable in whatever way suits you best.

Our swag display at RT14

Our swag display at RT14

The best example of this is how Damon Suede and I behave at Romantic Times Book Convention, and truth, at cons in general. When we go together, we have battle plans, and I’m not kidding. We will talk for at least thirty hours on the phone, send countless emails, and launch enough campaigns to take Waterloo by lunch. We plan parties, design swag displays, plot giveaways and conversations with everyone from our favorite readers to the head of a publishing company.

And yet I absolutely do not behave the same way as he does at a con, nor do I ever want to. He bounces around like a deranged BB, and I prefer to move like a knife through the crowd, taking in input, drinking in the moment and finding the right conversation, the right new contact. This year I made a point of decorating the hotel bar as much as I could, of lunching with people I hadn’t met before (hello, Isobel Carr) and hugging people who I’ve been flirting with on twitter (Donna and Bree and Vivian, I’m looking at you!). I was feeling good for the first time in five years, so I carefully plotted my outfits, making how I dressed and accessorized part of my con persona.

IMG_2264And I got to do a signing selfie with Victoria Dahl and Tessa Dare, which was probably my most favorite moment of the entire convention. Because I have heroes too, y’all.

Damon and I make a good convention team because we are so different. We can help each other, but neither one of us is dead weight. We understand we have different experiences, different realities. I’ve seen his crazy fan base, and I don’t want it. Ironically a lot of our fans overlap, but how they present to me and to him is entirely different—and that’s good. I think we work together well also because I so adamantly don’t want that kind of attention, and he doesn’t want to be me, either.

This lesson is something all artists need to internalize. I can’t be Damon. I can’t be Tessa Dare or Victoria Dahl, and I should not be. Can you imagine if I was? I assume many of you are reading this post because you love my work. What if I stopped being me and tried to be one of those three people instead? I can’t write their work any more than they can write mine. I can’t have their career any more than they can have mine.

Everyone can have a place at the table, but you don’t just have to fight for it, you often have to carve the table out of stone after you drag the rock down from the mountain. Ten years ago there was barely any LGBT romance in the mainstream market at all. Now it is everywhere. I was a part of that. I’m still a part of that. And no, I didn’t just write down some nice stories, send them out and cross my fingers. My family will tell you how many hours I have worked (usually more than 70 a week), how much money I’ve spent getting myself to the right place at the right time, often to find I’d guessed wrong and all I got was a tax deduction and a lousy T-shirt. Before I was published I put in ten solid years of trying, learning, being frustrated. If you dig back through the archive of this blog you can see how frustrated and dejected I was. There’s a post about making a party in a treehouse that no one came to. That was how I felt for a long, long time.

photo credit: ashley rose, via photopin cc

photo credit: ashley rose, via photopin cc

I don’t feel that way now. I’m not settling in with a flag and calling my midlist seat my stopping point, but I am slowing down to watch movies with my family and enjoy my success. I’m making purchases and taking trips which are largely in part to tell myself how well I’ve done, to make myself see.

Make no mistake, though, that this place I’ve arrived at was won by blood and sweat and many, many tears. This is not a success I was entitled to or destined for. This is triumph I have earned. And cliche it may sound, but I treasure what I have made so much more because I made the success as much as I made the art. I did my homework. I did my time. I used my brain, made myself smarter. I made my mistakes and said my foolish things. I suffered and struggled, and I the story of my progress is an art as beautiful as the tales I sell for others to read. My path to this moment is a private tale, the pages of which only I can see.

Outside of my daughter, the story of my success will always be my most treasured thing I have made.


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Talk of Iowa Talks About Romance, Books Out, Books for Preorder, Books Recommended, and Other Things Happening Right Now

Tomorrow morning at 10AM I’ll be live on Iowa Public Radio’s Talk of Iowa program talking about romance novels. You can listen live here, or wait and when I have a link, I’ll post it for you. It’ll be on that main page above. They’re doing a bit about Dorothy Parker first, which I’m totally psyched about. I never thought I’d have this small a degree of separation from her.

MilesMagicFlute_cvrI’ve had a book come out: a re-release, Miles and the Magic Flute, from Wilde City Press. It has JUST gone up for sale on Amazon, and I’m sure everything else will be along shortly. There’s a blog tour going on right now, where you can read guest posts, excerpts, and maybe win a copy. Print books will be coming along soon, and I’ll let you know when all of that happens. This book is romance, but it’s also paranormal, almost fantasy. “Kinky Narnia” is how I usually describe it, but it’s also an exploration of disappointment and sorrow. But with a happy ending, of course.

I have also been reading, and while I wanted to give this book a better review, I’m going to have to settle for a lightning round. I read Stuff by Josephine Myles,  the sequel to Junk, and I found it utterly charming. I do love a good bisexual hero, and Perry is definitely that. He’s also a slightly distracted, socially awkward hero. I had a hard time following Mas’s narrative at times, as he was such a ping pong ball in every scene he controlled, but watching the two of them fumble into their happily ever after was so much fun I started reading it again as soon as I finished the first round. If you’re looking for a quirky, quaint, feel-good read—with a healthy dose of British charm—this is a book to pick up.

I’ve been offline this past week as I remodeled our basement, turning the dead zone for things we were too lazy to throw away/pack up into a beautiful guest suite and movie room. This involved clearing out a lot of crap, ripping up old moldy carpet, and sealing and painting miles and miles of wood paneling. The space looks amazing now and we don’t even have the flooring in yet. When I’m all done, I’ll post pictures.

Fever Pitch cover Heidi CullinanI’m working on Carry the Ocean right now, as well as Love Lessons #3, though I’m still floundering a bit on that one. HOWEVER, Love Lessons #2, Fever Pitch, is available for preorder right now on Amazon, which means the others aren’t far behind.

And that about sums things up for me here. Now I have to go finish painting my steps before the carpeting comes tomorrow and finish crash-studying for my radio interview. Stay tuned.


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New Orleans and Romantic Times, Here I Come. Also, cover for Sleigh Ride

On Saturday I leave for the long, slow drive to New Orleans and the Romantic Times book convention. I had this crazy idea I would get writing done this week—that’s so funny. No. No writing is happening. Nothing is happening but RT prep.

photoThere is great concern over whether or not all my shit will fit in my car. The picture here shows just one pile of crap: does not include my HUGE suitcase, or my little suitcase, or three other boxes still in the house. Or the plug-in cooler I’m bringing as my faux fridge for the week. Or me. I’m thinking Jesus may have to come bless this stuff in order for it to fit in my car, like an un-feeding of the five thousand. I have no idea what happens if it doesn’t fit. I’m mostly planning on making it fit, one way or another.

Why do I have so much stuff? Because party, baby! Here’s all the stuff I’m doing at RT.

  • Cinema Craptastique: Bad movies with Damon Suede and company. I have all the candy and popcorn, and many of the prizes. Yes, prizes! Books, mugs, bags, swags, and more. Come join us Tuesday, May 13, 2014 – 5:30pm to 8:00pm in Salon E (Mardi Gras Ballroom).
  • On the Samhain float at the Mardi Gras World Carnivale: I’ll be tossing beads and such at your head during the parade! Wednesday, May 14, 2014 – 7:15pm to Thursday, May 15, 2014 – 12:00am at Mardi Gras World (offsite)
  • Hosting a table at Samhain’s Saint’s and Sinner’s Party: Come find me with the sinners on Thursday night–first ten people to arrive at my table get gift bags and a front row seat for my naughty jewelry. Thursday, May 15, 2014 – 9:00pm to 11:55pm, Carondelet – (Grand Ballroom)
  • Spinning the wheel at Romance Pride: Wheel of Fortune: Win fabulous prizes, including a picnic with Walter and Kelly, play Romance Against Humanity, and try for our grand prize gift certificate. Friday, May 16, 2014 – 10:00am to 11:00am, Studio 9 – (Preservation Hall)
  • Public Booksigning: I’ll be signing Family Man and A Private Gentleman and anything you get stamped and bring in yourself, as well as flats of all my books. Saturday, May 17, 2014 – 11:00am to 2:00pm, Grand Ballroom & Mardi Gras Ballroom

Also, you never know what kind of fun and games we’ll get up to. You know we’re going to end up at Oz at some point, and Cal’s fans have been PMing him enticement to show up. I’ll arrive in town Monday and stay until Sunday. I’m sure we can come up with a lot of trouble during that time.

In the meantime, for those of you staying at home, I have some pretty artwork for you to enjoy while you wait.

SleighRide300

Minnesota Christmas, Book 2

Arthur Anderson doesn’t want anything to do with love and romance, and he certainly doesn’t want to play Santa in his mother’s library fundraising scheme. He knows full well what she really wants is to hook him up with the town’s lanky, prissy librarian.

It’s clear Gabriel Higgins doesn’t want him, either—as a Santa, as a boyfriend, as anyone at all. But when Arthur’s efforts to wiggle out of the fundraiser lead to getting to know the man behind the storytime idol, he can’t help but be charmed. The least he can do is be neighborly and help Gabriel find a few local friends.

As their fiery arguments strike hotter sparks, two men who insist they don’t date wind up doing an awful lot of dating. And it looks like the sleigh they both tried not to board could send them jingling all the way to happily ever after.

Warning: Contains a feisty librarian, a boorish bear, small town politics, deer sausage, and a boy who wants a doll.

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