I was out of town this holiday weekend visiting friends in Portland and completely forgot to post this column, so I have renamed it to “Weekly Musings” so I am still in the clear. It was a fun weekend. I’ve felt rather socially isolated lately working from home, so I feel out of practice being in a group these days. It was good to get my social juices flowing.
On Sunday, we had fondue and taco night. Couldn’t decide between the two, and both sounded good. Saturday evening we made pizzas in a portable clay-fired oven. Both days we went on hikes. I even brought my computer and got some writing done.
That’s my biggest takeaway from this last week. I can’t not write every day these days. It’s become like a drug to me, and I have to have my fix. I keep thinking up new scenes for my paranormal romance and then I have to get them out of my head and pound out the words on the page. I didn’t always feel this way about writing, so I don’t know what has gotten into me.
I used to be one of those “Writing is hard, stressful and full of emotional pain” type of writers. You know, “It’s open a vein and watch it bleed” or however that saying goes. Maybe it’s just that I have found my genre and hit my groove, I don’t know. Maybe it is that I have released all attachment to the outcome of this book. I literally do not care what happens to it; I don’t care if no one else loves it as much as I do; I know I love it and that’s all that matters.
I at first was going to publish it to Kindle Vella, but then I decided to self publish it. I still question myself on my decision of course; you hear so much about querying that it’s impossible not to be influenced. But this book in particular is made for indie publishing. I can always query other novels. I don’t even care if it’s a success. I don’t even care if I only sell 5 books.
I just love writing it. I feel joy in the process again. I feel like I’m addicted to my couple and I have to know what happens next. I’m completely discovery writing this so when I look back over it I notice some continuity issues that will need to be edited. It will definitely be going through a few different versions, I’m sure, but I doubt a total rewrite will be necessary. I love it too much. Every time I read it over I love it more. I know, I know, I may have a conflict of interest in that assessment.
Next I plan to take some Udemy courses in book cover design for Photoshop. I know I can probably outsource all these things and people should do that to improve the standards in indie publishing. But then I start adding everything up. You pay $1,000 for developmental editing, you pay $200-500 for a good cover, you pay x amount for a good formatter, you buy ads, et cetera, and soon you are spending $3,000 to make $50.
I mean just take editing. Every writer needs quality editors, but editors also need to make a living and deserve to get paid. But you do the math on 25 cents a word for 90,000 words, which is hardly a living wage on an hourly basis, and it doesn’t make much sense for an indie publisher. Think too carefully about the economics of the market and it can completely ruin your desire for creativity. So I’m not thinking too much about that yet. Just trying to write the best book I can.
Even though my day job funds my writing and creative efforts and I think nothing of paying for studios and hiring models for making no money at photography, I still want to think like a business about my books. I also want to have a quality product, which will help you stand out amid a crowded field. And I know hobbies can be expensive and sometimes you just have to eat the costs, but something about that business model of hiring your own team with no guarantee of even making your investment back strikes me as too much of a risk. So my goal is to invest as little upfront as possible so I can still end up in the black.
Maybe one day when I am successful with these books and have a fanbase, I can run a Kickstarter campaign to fund those sorts of things.
I’m a photographer though and I like to think visually and have always wanted to learn book cover design, so it’s something I’m going to put some real time into studying. I’m excited about it and I have definite ideas of what I think looks good graphically.
All in all, it’s been another successful week in the writing world, even though I’ve slacked on exercise and all my other self care activities. I learned I can still get myself pumped up about writing even when I am feeling moody and exhausted. Even today I have to get this blog post done so I can get my ideas out of my head and onto the page. I now feel fairly confident that next week I’ll be able to hit 40,000 words in my paranormal romance. So this is what NanoWriMo is like when you’re actually winning at it.
I’m starting a new column on my blog called “Sunday Musings.” This is where I will share insights into my publishing and writing journey this year and these will publish every Sunday. I hope to avoid focusing in granular detail on my emotional state and my word counts and instead offer useful and engaging posts about creating with mental health issues, creativity and productivity in general, publishing, marketing and the like.
This last week I learned the importance of sleep for your creative mindset. After having an extremely productive week I guess I just needed a week of laziness. But seriously, it’s difficult to be productive when you’re tired all the time. You have to force yourself to get to the computer and the excuse of “I’m too tired” becomes all the more compelling.
Sleep and the creative mindset: Check. I need to be better about having an evening routine and winding down electronics before bed. I am experimenting with writing for an hour after dinner in the evenings; sometimes it can be overstimulating, as I go to bed with my mind racing with ideas for my stories.
Meditation and reading essays, short stories and poems would help with that.
I turned things around and wrote this weekend, mainly focusing on a story I am serializing to Patreon before releasing it on Kindle Vella in my grand experiment in web publishing for 2022. It’s the tale of a werewolf reporter who moves back home to help his pack investigate a series of murders, only to find himself falling for the local homicide detective. Added about 3,000 words yesterday and 1,566 today, meaning I was able to schedule posts out for three episodes, significantly reducing the pressure.
I actually am really enjoying this web publishing game; I find it’s not really that much pressure, in fact. I’m having loads of fun with it. I’m still editing myself and giving it my best, of course; but it’s different than publishing a book. Got its own special magic. It’s part of my efforts at building a platform this year and attracting new audiences for my writing.
Speaking of platforms, I also need to think some more about reinventing my newsletter. Everyone says email marketing is where it’s at, but I’ve found more success with my blog than with my newsletter. People just don’t subscribe. I skipped doing a January update because I’m dreaming up some changes for more engaging content. I just read Mary Oliver’s essay collection Upstream and I’m considering doing something like that. Creative nonfiction expounding on the creative life and nature sounds interesting to me.
I’m feeling good about the week ahead on this Sunday, now that I have written all weekend. My goal is to keep working on my horror novel, which I have ignored far too long, and finally hit 50,000 words. I have an idea for the ending at last so that’s not what’s stopping me. Guess I just get distracted by all these shiny other projects and ideas. Curse of the writer, eh?
Bloganuary Day 20 prompt: What is your favorite photo you’ve ever taken?
I don’t think it’s possible to pick one single favorite of the literally 10s of 1000s of photos I’ve taken over the last 10 years or so. I first ventured into photography with my first DSLR, a Nikon D5100, in 2014 or thereabouts. Prior to that I was a journalist and took photos on assignment with my work camera for small-town newspapers. My partner thought I had an eye and encouraged me to get a camera of my own, to finally abandon automatic mode and truly learn the inner workings of a proper DSLR.
At first I shot nature, landscapes and that sort of thing; then I decided I wanted to make it a side hustle, so I wanted to shoot portraits, and I needed a portfolio.
But I couldn’t get anyone to pose for me. One friend did a shoot with me that turned out great. I next turned to the Internet, to Facebook groups and later Instagram, to find models. My first foray into model photography was a Facebook post about a shoot workshop at Eugene photographer Allan Erickson’s home studio. This was a fantastic south-facing older home with wonderful natural light. I worked with a pro model and I wasn’t sure how I felt at first about art nude photography but soon I was hooked. I went back there many times in later years for future shoots.
Landscapes of the body.
Finally I was able to find more local collaborators, amateur models who did trade-for-photo arrangements (They provide modeling services, I provide shooting services and photos). This was for portfolios – some of them wanted to make it as professional models; others turned to sex work to make money and did boudoir or portraiture for the creative passion of it. Photographers usually made their money off commercial work like weddings and collaborated with models for their creative outlet. I ended up using freelance journalism to fund my photography habit, since I didn’t have it in me to hustle as a commercial photographer after all.
It was a fun scene for awhile. Thanks to an old group called ISOConnection and a now-defunct art nude site called Zivity, I was able to meet lots of models and photographers. The fun scene had a dark side, of course, as all these sorts of tight-knit communities do. Photographers taking advantage of models, and vice versa; unprofessional behavior; down to the flat out abusive kind of conduct, not just the wait six months to return any photos kind.
Did that for awhile and got burnt out on the scene, wound down my hustling and only did the occasional shoot when I felt really inspired, back in 2019. The pandemic hit in 2020, of course, and I stopped working with models for awhile but it was a long time coming. I needed a break. I thought I had quit for good; I had grown bitter about the community.
But still, I missed it. It was still a social outlet with fun, creative people, and I was feeling an itch to be creative visually again; so between outbreaks, I hired a pro art nude model and did another shoot this fall, which was great. Unfortunately, Omicron has meant I’ve suspended my portraiture work for the time being, but I’m keen to get back to it as soon as it’s safe again. I miss the light side of the culture. These are driven, creative people who love art and beauty – and often, cannabis.
This last spring I finally was able to upgrade my camera to my long-coveted full-frame. I now shoot with a Nikon D750. Photography is an expensive hobby, and the gear is only part of the expense – one of the things I burnt out on. Renting studios, traveling to Portland all the time. I loved many aspects of it but did I love it enough to spend what was essentially a decent side hustle income on it, precluding opportunities to travel or do other things with my time?
I digress; back to the photo. Gear is only secondary compared to what you do with it, how you use it, the composition you select. This was one of my favorite shoots from my intense years. I don’t want to get as intense as I had been in it; these days I just want to do a few shoots a year and only work with the same people, forming relationships to tell a series of portraiture work over time.
The model here is Devi, an Indian model from the Bay Area who goes by the moniker “Googlymonstor” on Instagram. I think this shot perfectly captures what I love about the art of body landscapes viewed with the female gaze. It’s probably one of my top five favorites from that whole five-year period; plus Devi herself was a wonderful person and a fun model to work with. This is why I plan to hire models a couple times a year, and collaborate with a few people the rest of the time. Shoots like this inspire me. Shoots like this remind me that a community is made up of people; some will bring you down, and some will inspire you to be the best artist you can be.
A collaboration with a model and photographer who are of similar abilities, vision and sensibilities is one of the purest artistic mediums out there. It won’t pay the rent, of the studio or your house. But sometimes capitalism alone cannot feed the soul. We need more than to just pay the bills. We need to survive, and then we need to live.
All natural light. Just shadows and curves. Nothing more to say.
Bloganuary Day 10 Prompt: What are five things you are grateful for today?
One: Exercise. I go lap swimming at my local city pool in the morning a couple times a week, I’m signed up for another beginning tennis class that starts tonight, I do yoga at home a couple times a week and I’ve been trying to get back into running and weight lifting, but haven’t been super consistent with that last one. I miss going to the gym but I don’t feel safe there just yet, but those other physical fitness activities are within my comfort zone. It gets me out of the house, helps my mental health as well as my physical health, and it gives me a social element.
Two: My health. My mental health has been pretty up and down the last couple years but hasn’t everybody’s? My physical health, however, is pretty good. I am grateful I’ve never had covid and am protected through vaccination and masking up when I go out indoors. I’m still fairly careful because I don’t want to get it or spread it to anyone else. I’m not afraid necessarily of getting it myself but I’d feel awful if I knew I had transmitted it to someone else. Aside from the usual aches, pains and insomnia, I’m pretty healthy and that’s something to be thankful for.
Three: My partner. Jim and I have been together for 14 years and I wouldn’t want to weather pandemic isolation with anyone else. He is my rock, goofy, a good listener, gives great advice and he is a wonderful cook.
Four: My house. I moved from a tiny, cramped apartment to a duplex with a yard just before the pandemic and I’m so happy we did. I have my own office and can shut the door, and we have a vegetable garden in the summer.
Five: My creativity. Staying home through the pandemic has made me realize what’s really important to me. Writing, playing music, doing crafts, are all things that make me happy, give me a creative outlet, intellectual stimulation, and help me escape to other worlds.
I’ve published a weird gothic short story on my Ko-fi: The Vicious Sky This one’s free but tips are appreciated.
I’ve also published Episode Six of CRY WOLF, my werewolf crime drama with a dash of queer romance (with a love triangle forthcoming!) exclusively for $3 a month Patreon supporters. In another month or two I hope to start releasing it on Kindle Vella.
What I like the most about my writing is two things actually – my character development and my way with language.
I’ve really taken it to heart that characters need to be flawed, complex, whole people who face problems and conflict, then go through changes and transformations. I get a lot of inspiration from the various work and travel experiences I’ve had throughout my life for the people in my stories. I’m an avid people watcher and I like to study their quirks and tics. I am drawn like a moth to a flame to interesting people.
To be interesting to me doesn’t mean you have money, fame, or a certain kind of career, or any other kind of status or prestige. Interesting people have diverse interests and backgrounds. They see the world differently than most people. I think people are defined by the choices they make; their choices add up to form their character. Exploring someone’s character is why I find the craft of fiction a rich and enthralling experience.
Even when you are writing about dragons and orcs, fiction is the act of telling the truth. Not the facts or reality per se, as it is seen in scientific terms. Not post-modernism, where the facts are only how you perceive them and opinions are facts. But capital “T” Truth. Spiritual Truth. Art explores who we are as humans and how we interface with the world. Fiction is how we impart our consciousness to others. It’s the legacy we leave of our souls, even when we are writing a character that is vastly different from us.
In that sense, fiction is writing what you know. But it’s not your skills or talents. You absolutely should do research to make sure you are representing a character accurately and understanding culture and history that is different from yours. But writing what you know is writing what you understand about the world.
In addition to character development, I really like my writing style and language ability. I think I am good at phrasing things in a lyrical, flowing manner and imparting my voice through my words. This has come from writing for years, almost since I was six years old, with breaks in between. Nowadays I have an authoritative tone to my writing that comes from my journalism background; I’m trying to tone that down a bit, though, and focus more on showing and not telling.
Anyway, that’s what I like about my writing. Do you agree? Interested to know what you like about my writing.
This was a story that got rejected, but I didn’t feel like looking at it again so I’m self publishing it on my blog. Enjoy!
By Denise Ruttan
Suzi did not think of herself as a strong woman.
When people talked about strong women, she didn’t know what they meant. Was that like calling a woman bossy, or feisty, because she expressed an opinion? Suzi didn’t express her opinions often, unless it was to say that she found it gloomy when it rained. She didn’t like confrontation. She hated to argue. She was, in fact, what they used to call “mousy,” back in the old days. She thought of herself as a pushover. Maybe she really was “petite” and “feminine.” That was what her mother called her. Those words did not sound strong.
She had, in fact, just left her house, and she was going for a walk to let off some steam. It was dark out, but not quite pitch black; it was that time of twilight when the light almost seemed blue and fragile. The clouds amassed in the sky, and it smelled like it was going to rain. Her husband, Brad, was a mean drunk. He had just wrapped up his latest tirade, crunching his fifth can of Natty Ice in his fist and glaring at her. “You’ll never be a registered nurse,” he said, his eyes glowering. “You’re not even smart. You never graduated high school. What are you doing up late studying, when you should be cleaning the house? Look at what a mess this place is. I don’t have the time to do it. I’m the one who should be providing for our family.”
She didn’t have the heart to tell him, “But you’re not.” She would have done so, if she was a strong woman, maybe. She would have told him that he couldn’t hold down a job because of his drinking problem. She would have told him about the bills that kept piling up on the kitchen table. She would have told him that they could have more than beans and rice, if he could stay sober at work. She would have told him that she would gladly stay home and clean, if he could hold down a job. But all those things would have really made him mad, so she held her tongue. She said, “You’re right, Brad. I was stupid to ever think about it.”
“That’s right, woman,” he’d said, and that’s when she’d grabbed her coat and hat and umbrella, and stormed out the door, slamming it behind her as he hollered after her to get him more beer. She ignored him. But strong women would not just go for a walk to escape the fight. Strong women would leave a man like Brad.
Suzi didn’t know how she was feeling. She thought she was angry, but she was too tired for rage. Anger was for strong women. She didn’t have the strength to keep it simmering. Anger ate her from the inside out, hollowed out her core, frayed her edges. She was, in truth, exhausted. Her bones were tired. She didn’t know what she was doing either, going back to school to become a registered nurse. She first had to get her GED, so that was why she was studying. Then she would have to go to college for four years. She was 40. She worked as a janitor, cleaning the hallways of the hospital where she dreamed bigger dreams than making the floor gleam. She watched the nurses doing their work, rushing from patient to patient with purpose and light in their eyes, drawing blood. She wanted to do that. She wanted to help people.
But maybe it was too late. Maybe it was too late for someone like her. Maybe she wasn’t smart enough.
She sighed, and kept walking. They lived in an apartment complex in a suburb, and in the dim light she saw everyone’s manicured lawns and their houses painted to HOA specifications and heard the sprinklers running. She thought of the families who lived there whom she’d never meet. Maybe the husband was a doctor and the wife was a lawyer and because they were both busy people they made sure to sit down with their two children every night for supper. She wondered what it was like to fulfill your dreams.
She kept walking. There was nobody on the road. It was strangely quiet. She could not even hear birds or the wind. The sky did look threatening, though. And she really did not like rain. But she did not want to go back to Brad yet. The thought filled her with dread. She couldn’t, either, just walk away, go to a shelter, like some women did. She couldn’t do that. She needed money. She relied on Brad. He really wasn’t that bad of a guy, actually. He never hit her. He was not violent. He was just an alcoholic with no ambition who put her down all the time. That was what guys were like, wasn’t it? That was what her father was like.
Lost in thought, she crossed the street at a crosswalk. She didn’t even look both ways. She didn’t see the car coming. Suddenly, she heard the whine of insects buzzing. Her eyes filmed over with mist and midnight. She held her hand in front of her face and it became a stranger’s hand, translucent in the crepuscular light.
The car kept going. It never stopped. Maybe the driver was drunk. Maybe the driver just didn’t care.
No one emerged from their beautiful middle-class houses to help Suzi. But she stood up. Her bones and the sinews of her muscles stretched with heat. She wiggled her fingers and toes. She was not hurt. Miraculously, she was not hurt, other than a shot of pain in her neck.
She curled her hand into a fist. Her heart pumped blood through her veins. Iron blood. Her eyes blazed fire. She straightened her shoulders and stood up tall. Her skin felt hard. No longer soft flesh, feminine curves.
Not in the same way that you used to think about death, as if it were an existential threat. Those times that you do not tell anyone about when you would sit in traffic waiting for the red light to change to green and you think about what it would be like to be involved in a car accident and you want, for a brief moment of absolute and startling clarity, to die. You blink. You have never thought this before. (Maybe you should see a counselor, you consider in a moment of panic.) You wonder if you would feel pain. You wonder which of your friends and family would come to your funeral. You wonder which songs your family would choose to play at your funeral and who would provide the eulogy; if they would organize a religious service, or a secular one.
You’ve never been particularly religious, but you like to think of yourself as a spiritual person. Sometimes, however, you think God is dead and magic is just for fairy stories. You wonder if you would go to heaven. You wonder if there is an afterlife. You think that you would still keep going day after day even if there is no afterlife, because the alternative is ashes and rot and dust motes swirling in the sun. Then the light changes to green, and someone honks at you from the car behind, and you step on the gas and the car lurches forward and you forget about the moment when you wanted to die. What a silly thought. You like your life.
Those were the Times Before. The times when you could brush against someone in a public space and not feel your heart climb into your throat and squeeze like someone had their fingers wrapped around your larynx.
Now you think about death in a different way.
You think about your mother. If your mother is not alive you think about her when she was alive. If you are estranged from your mother you think about someone else who plays that role in your life. You think about your mother on a ventilator and nurses in their scrubs and their sheer plastic visors and their hodgepodge makeshift masks like something out of a sci-fi movie. You think about your mother dying alone. You wonder if your mother picked up COVID-19 when she was out on a walk in her neighborhood and she says she stayed six feet away from everyone but maybe she touched the button to go across a crosswalk because she didn’t want to jaywalk but that button has been pushed by hundreds of people and the virus can live on surfaces for 72 hours.
The virus is like a living, breathing thing, an alien, an invasion, a menace, a parasite. Are they bacteria? You don’t think so. You don’t think the yeast in the sourdough culture you are starting because you are bored is bacteria, either, but you can’t be sure. You didn’t pay that close attention to that part of biology class in high school. All you know is that viruses spread. You think about death and sourdough bread in the same thought because that is what your brain does when you are alone for a period of time.
You don’t want to think about your mother dying. You don’t want to think about anyone dying. So you tell yourself it is just like the flu. Only a 3 percent death rate. Nothing, really. Only high-risk groups need to worry about it. Why do you need to stay inside, cooped up like a prisoner, afraid of your own shadow? You want a haircut. You want a hot meal at a restaurant and you want an iced tea on a summers’ day and you want to make small talk with a server even if you can’t stand small talk. You want to talk about the weather with someone you don’t know. “Hey, man, what are you up to today?” they would say, back in the Times Before.
Before, you would mumble something nonsensical to get out of the conversation and mold your face into the impassive look of someone who does not want to talk. Or you would be chatty and tell them a lie. Just like when people would ask you “How are you?” And you would say you were fine but not really mean it. No one wants to hear that you are anything but happy every day of your life. Now you want to be fine. You want to be fine so badly it feels like when you were 12 and wanted a puppy, a real live one, with all your heart, and your parents got you a stuffed dog instead and you were so disappointed you put it in your closet and didn’t look at it for a year.
Now it is a 6 percent death rate, or is it? You can’t keep track anymore. But you thought about your mom dying alone and you feel bad so you want to see her for Mother’s Day because you haven’t seen her in two months and you stand six feet apart from her and you think this is okay, you’re doing okay, you’re keeping each other safe. You wash your hands and you wear your mask even though you can’t breathe but you just really wanted to see her.
You watch the President on TV. Maybe you voted for him and you will vote for him again no matter what anyone says about him. Maybe you think he looks like a Cheeto-head and the image of him on your TV screen makes you want to vomit in your mouth. Maybe you wonder if our country will always be so divided. Maybe you blame other people, like the President. Maybe you remember marching in the Women’s March in a small town and everybody was crying and angry and there were Pussy Hats and you wanted so badly to believe then that things would get better, that things would be okay, that things couldn’t possibly get any worse. You watch him struggle with empathy, incapable of it even, and never mention death or the dying or dead people because it will make him look bad and you think maybe, maybe I can give him a little empathy, he is so in love with his own image and his ego that he cannot bring himself to grieve for the dead, and maybe there is a part of you filled with rage and grief that wants him to get it too, that wants him to know what it is like to suffer. Part of you is not ashamed for feeling that way because he is not ashamed. He never admits responsibility, never confesses his mistakes, he is never wrong. You do not want a president who is never wrong. People die when a leader is never wrong.
Then you wonder will the people who voted for him and the people who hate him ever see eye to eye on anything? They are breathing the same air to which the virus clings and the virus does not care about one’s politics or about how one feels about masks or who anyone voted for. The virus is a parasite. It just wants a host.
You wonder how many people have to die for people to take this seriously.
You wonder if perhaps people are overreacting and it’s not really so bad and you just really want to see a movie again and you miss concerts and the gym and popping over to the store when you wanted M&M’s. You miss touching things without wiping them down.
You wonder, maybe death just comes to us all and death is a part of life and we have to sacrifice a few for the many so the economy can reopen. It can’t be like this forever. People losing their jobs and their homes and the long lines snaking around streets leading to the food bank and the cloying desperation and the sad piano music in the TV commercials. You saw a TV commercial the other day in which people hugged and nobody was wearing masks and the music was peppy and they were talking about supporting small businesses. It was so bizarre to you that you felt sick. To see people hugging. You want to support small businesses but you don’t want to die. It is the uncertainty that clings to your skin like water droplets after you emerge from the pool from a long swim. You remember swimming pools. You miss swimming.
You want to go out but every time you go to the store, much less often now, there is always someone who doesn’t care, someone not wearing a mask, someone oblivious to spatial awareness who brushes against you as if with sheer belligerence in their denial of reality. It is just like H1N1, they say, were you affected by the swine flu personally? Freedom is an uncertain thing, the shape of feathers and dust, full of responsibility and thrift and also carefree joy, a small Japanese car racing in the street with its engine sounding like a rocket. You imagine most people would waste it, take it for granted. It is those people who make your heart thump in your chest hotly and angry sweat run down your armpits. It is those people you think about when you lie awake in bed at night when it is hot and muggy outside and the fan is clacking away and the neighbors next door are playing a video game and their children are yelling and you think about those people who don’t care about your mother dying alone. “Excuse me, I just needed the milk.” You try to have empathy for them because all you can control is your thoughts but you think your reserves for empathy are running so low these days. So low. Kindness shouldn’t be so difficult. You remember when kindness was easy, like relieving a stranger of the burden of how you’re really feeling when they want to know how you’re doing.
But you go on because you have to. You go on because you care about someone’s mother whom you don’t even know. You go on and on even though it feels like you can’t any more and your heart is crushing you and is that shortness of breath anxiety or COVID-19? You bake cakes and sourdough bread and drink too much alcohol at noon and you try out sobriety and you do yoga and you Zoom with your friends and you feel an overwhelming sense of despair but you keep going moment by moment because you have to.
Not because you are thinking about that moment at the stop light when you once thought about what it would be like to die.