The Importance of Gratitude by Sarah Madison

I’m recycling an old post here today because I think it’s very timely.

I wrote this a few years ago when I was going through a bad patch. I think even though it may be harder than ever to practice in a world that seems to be going down in flames, it may be more important than ever to try this little exercise.

“I’m so glad to have this opportunity to speak about gratitude here today because I’ve been conducting a little exercise lately, and I would very much like to share the results with you.

See, I’m a bit of a Human Eeyore. I have a tendency to see the worst case scenarios. I don’t consider this pessimism—instead it feels more like realism to me. In fact, that’s part of why I like writing romances. I believe in happy endings, even though I think few of us get them. Not only does writing make my day a bit brighter, but if a single story makes it easier for someone to get through a bad day, then I feel like I’ve done my job as a writer. That’s what I call success.

You know that scene in Jupiter Rising? The one where the main character wakes up each morning and recites, “I hate my life.” Yeah, that could be me. I’ve been struggling with depression, job burnout, and caregiver burnout for a while now.

Recently I became inspired by several people I follow who have been posting daily about the things they are grateful for in their lives. This prompted me to attempt to do the same, though to be honest, I found it easier some days than others. Still, I was determined to give it my best shot. Every day for an entire year, I would post three things I was grateful for or three things that made me smile.

I haven’t managed to do it every single day, but I’ve been doing it for nearly two months now, and I’m starting to see some changes in my life. First of all, it is seldom the Big Things that make me feel a sense of gratitude. Big Things don’t come into our lives every day. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference in our lives. Taming the feral cat hanging around the house. Getting mentioned on a “Best of” list. Having someone leave an awesome review for one of my stories. Getting a surprise gift in the mail. Hearing from a friend that I’d lost touch with. Rain on the roof at night. The ghostly vision of a full moon just after dawn. The intensity of the constellations in a winter’s sky.

I found myself waking, not with the thought of how much I hated my life, but wondering what three things I was going to find to post about that day. Even if the morning started off rocky, I’d remind myself I still had to come up with three things—and that very thought changed my entire attitude toward the day. Little by little, my first thoughts turned to what would I find to make me smile that day, and let me tell you, that’s a powerful thing.

I’ve never been a big fan of ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ because if I don’t believe something, I can’t fake my way into it. But this exercise has taught me that the mindset of gratitude is contagious—and the more you immerse yourself in it, the easier it becomes to see the good things that you have in your life. And when you see your life as one of plenty instead of one of wanting, then good things seem to find their way into your life. Sounds like voodoo, I know, but I challenge you to give it a try. If you can’t commit to an entire year, at least 30 days. Spend 30 days finding just three things each day that make you smile. You’ll be glad you did.”

So. Here’s the thing. That exercise was easier to practice when I was ‘only’ depressed. Before the added burdens of profound anxiety and a feeling of hopelessness that 2017 has wrought. When everything is going to hell in a handbasket, practicing gratitude isn’t the easiest task to give yourself. There are times when we need to be outraged. When we should be upset. When we should march. Raise our voices in protest. Persist. Reclaim our time.

But I saw a valuable piece of advice someone shared on Twitter recently in which they said their therapist told them it was important to practice self-care because we as human beings weren’t designed to handle a constant stream of trauma and anxiety. Sometimes we must disconnect. Recharge. Soothe.

It’s the only way we can stay in the battle long-term.

So with that, consider practicing gratitude in your own fashion on whatever scale you can manage. These days, I try to take a photo of something that makes me happy and post it. I’m also reading—a LOT. Stories that make me happy. Stories that make a crappy day a little bit more bearable. I’ve said all along that was my intent in writing and sharing my own stories, so it only seems right that I find peace in the works of others.

If you enjoy audiobooks, Fool’s Gold is now available on Audible. Fool’s Gold was voted best M/M romance by the 2016 PRG’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards, and is narrated by the talented Gary Furlong. Do check it out!

If you’re a reviewer with a website and would like to review Fool’s Gold, feel free to contact me (link below). Until I run out, I have a few codes available to share.

Bio: Sarah Madison is a writer with a big dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. She is a terrible cook, and concedes that her life would be easier if Purina made People Chow. She writes because it is cheaper than therapy.

Sarah Madison was a finalist in the 2013 Rainbow Awards and is the winner of Best M/M Romance in the 2013 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards for The Boys of Summer. The Sixth Sense series was awarded 2nd place for Best M/M Mystery Series in the 2014 PRG’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards.

Contact links:
Website
On Amazon
On Facebook (Author page)
On Twitter
On Dreamspinner

Email: akasarahmadison@gmail.com

A Lou Sylvre post: The ideal reader-author relationship? A round dozen author replies

Lou Sylvre Gay Romance Happy Endings Hello readers and fellow writers. I’ve switched my monthly date here at Authors Speak to the first. This month I’m going to do something a little different, but first a word as to why. Lately, I’ve been all about the politics, and I feel that’s as it should be. The most inclusive definition of the word “politics” is well-stated in Merriam Websters free online dictionary as the last (5th) meaning:

the total complex of relations between people living in society

So, it’s not about votes and executive orders and petitions and protests. It’s about people. Persons. Individuals in relation to the world of individuals. What does this have to do with my blog post? Hang on, I’m getting there.

Not quite five years ago I had one of my big ideas. Ruh-roh, right? This particular idea was for a project on my author blog, sylvre.com. I decided to have a whole passel of M/M romance authors answer the same set of questions. One of my favorites was specifically about politics—in other words, human relations—from a writer’s perspective. Here’s the question followed by a dozen of the answers from authors. I’d absolutely welcome comments answering the same question from a reader’s viewpoint, or anything from the same authors if their thoughts on the subject has changed, or anything else you’ve got to say—anyone.

Describe the ideal relationship between author and readers.

Andrea Speed: “Friendly, cordial. But not so friendly restraining orders are involved.”

Ellen Holiday: “I don’t know that I can speak to an ideal, but I can certainly say that I’m so delighted when readers take the time to leave a review or a rating or drop me a line or a tweet (@ellen_holiday!). I’m always so glad to hear from folks and have had some wonderful conversations with readers. There was a gentleman from England who emailed me, saying he wished he could vote for a politician like Davis Hudson (the protagonist of “Inside the Beltway”) – that was a great compliment! So readers, if you like what an author has to say, don’t hesitate to drop them a line. They may not all respond — they might be too busy writing the next book you’ll love — but it will give them great validation and motivation to keep writing.”

Anne Barwell: “An open relationship, where the author is free to be true to what she/he wants to write, and where readers feel free to give honest constructive reviews. Emphasis on constructive. It saddens me that as writers, if a reader reviews a story (which often sounds nothing like what we’ve actually written) an author often doesn’t feel as though she/he can reply to it. Tactful honesty should be a two-way street. As a reader I love to be able to chat to authors about what they’ve written, and the same is true in reverse.”

Vastine Bondurant: “Oh, wow. What a cool question. I suppose the ideal is for the readers to feel as if they know the author. For them to be comfortable, to feel free to do as the question above stated—to feel free to suggest what they’d like to see in my stories. But, above all—respect, both ways.”

Chris T. Kat: “It should be based on mutual respect. I like to connect with the people who read my stories, to know what they liked and what not. As a reader I’m mostly shy but if I found an author whose books I like I’m very loyal.”

Cornelia Grey: “I never really stopped to think about this! I guess an ideal relationship would be one where I behave and write all the requested sequels instead of chasing after the latest sparkly toy that strikes my fancy. Then obviously the readers would unconditionally love every word I ever penned, including grocery lists, drunken texts and the like, monarchs and presidents would offer conspicuous sums of money and private kingdoms for me to write their biographies, and my notebook from first grade with my early short stories would be framed and exhibited at the National Library with the Magna Charta. Well… you did say ideal ;)!”

Elizabeth Noble: “One of my favorite things to do has become the chats where I can interact in some way with readers. Some people seem to be intimidated and hesitant to email or participate in a chat and I wish they wouldn’t be. I may always be a writer, but I wouldn’t be an author without readers. I love the sorts of sites that allow and encourage interchanges between the authors and readers.”

Lisa Marie Davis: “Writing (for me, at least) is a very emotional experience and I tend to become quite attached to my characters. They are real for me. I want to write them, share their story, in a way that makes them real for the reader as well. I want the reader to care about each character as much as I do, to feel for them, root for them, maybe even miss them when the story comes to an end.
Jacob Flores:“The ideal relationship would be that the readers loved everything the author wrote. LOL! But I know that’s not going to be the case. You can’t please everyone, but I hope that the readers would be invested enough in my book to understand the choices the characters made. On the same token, authors wouldn’t be successful without our wonderful readers. The relationship needs to be symbiotic, a successful joining of creative minds traveling together on a wonderful journey.”

Jamie Fessenden: “Ideally, readers will provide useful feedback for an author about what does and does not work for them, and the author will be responsive to that, taking into account things that pushed a lot of readers’ buttons, for instance, and learning to work with that. I’ve also had readers nudge me to get back to work on my cyberpunk story and I think that’s great! I love knowing that there are people out their interested in knowing how the story will work out.”

J. L. O’Faolain: “An ideal relationship between an author and said readers is probably best compared to a dysfunctional family unit, except the screaming takes place over the internet rather than via phone calls and Thanksgiving dinners.”

Kim Fielding: “Ideally, what I love to write is what readers will love to read. Also ideally, my stories can entertain, can stir emotions, and can maybe make people think about things in new ways. If my stories inspire people, even better. And of course readers are really important to me, because otherwise I’m just writing for my own amusement.”

KZ Snow: “Interactive, in a way marked by mutual respect and appreciation. A sense of humor doesn’t hurt, either.”
Zahra Owens: “Very selfishly I’d like a reader to love or trust me enough to buy anything I bring out, even if, at first glance, it isn’t their cup of tea. As a reader, I have a few authors like that (not naming names, because these people know me!). Also, I’d like to get some feedback from them. Just honest, tactful, right off the cuff feedback.”

If perchance you’d like to see one or all of the complete interviews (which are all accompanied by bios, blurbs, covers, and excerpts), you can find them on sylvre.com by checking the list of archived months in the righthand side bar, and looking in October through December 2012. If one of the authors I’ve mentioned is new to you and you’d like to know more, as far as I’m aware they are all still in the M/M writing game and a Google search should yield results.

A tiny update about my current writerly antics: I’ve asked for the rights to A Shot of J&B in order to keep the series it truly belongs to together. They’re mine again as of April 10th. I admit to sadness, especially because I will no longer be able to use the absolutely beautiful cover by Reese Dante, pictured here. If you’d like a copy of the book with that cover now is the time, available at Dreamspinner, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all the usual places until that date. On a brighter note, I’m currently enjoying the rare chance to go back and make a story I loved writing, and which got some strong reviews, even better with a re-edit—a little new material, along with some refinement on the old. As an author, these two main characters are a joy to spend time with. Not quite as sassy, say, as a Luki Vasquez, but responsive, surprising, and pushy enough to keep me on my toes. Make it fun!

Finally, look for another Authors speak big giveaway coming up very soon! (Stay tuned. Really.)

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you around—the sooner the better!

The Harm in Staying Silent

Back in July, I wrote an article here on the value of giving your opinion. I talked about how it can impact (often negatively) sales and readership when an author insists on pushing their own political views. Back then, I was thinking about candidates and parties, about the basic differences of opinions.

Now? Well, Now I have to go back on that, to a point.

Sure, if it’s just promotion for a particular candidate, it’s probably best to keep it to yourself. Issues not involving human rights are probably best left alone. And fiscal issues, even among folks who are generally of the same end of the political spectrum, can have wildly varying views.

But the things we’ve seen since the election (and inauguration) have boggled the mind and beg us to not be silent.

I still have trouble accepting the fact that a man who made fun of a disabled reporter on camera (but now denies it), made it into the White House. But he did. This same man has all but declared the free press as enemies of the state, calling most non-conservative, mainstream news outlets “fake” and even barring several from White House press briefings.

He’s appointed the most unqualified people to head the departments of state. He’s signed executive orders that are both illegal and immoral (at best). He rescinded protection for transgender youth. He banned an inordinate amount of US citizens because of (and let’s face it, that’s what this comes down to) their skin color and/or religion, in order to “protect us from terrorists.” Yet the largest number of terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks came from three of the countries exempted—Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates—“coincidentally” three countries Trump does business in.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other things that he’s signed through executive order (that I admit I don’t understand entirely) but that I do know are a nightmare for most US citizens. And even things he hasn’t signed through an EO, he’s “suggested” via memo or other communication that have started (I live in a state where they want to do the immigration raids). While he hasn’t (yet) targeted the LGBT community, I am dead positive we’re on the chopping block somewhere.

And I don’t believe for one minute we’re seeing everything that’s going on.

This is all aside from the entirely horrid international relationship he’s got with our allies—and enemies—and the fallout from those.

With everything going on, I have to go back on what I said back in July. This is when we, as authors, have to speak out. We have a (somewhat limited, yes) platform which we should use when something so wrong is happening. We have a duty to our readers, to the people we write about, to the rest of the country—and the world—to make our voices heard.

Share on Facebook. Blog about it. While we may, to a point, be preaching to the choir, it’s entirely possible that someone might pick up on a new argument that they might be able to use to convince someone else to listen. Maybe it’ll just be enough to show others they aren’t alone. That your neighbor knows you’ve got their back when immigration comes through or that your friend who’s stuck outside the country knows they can call you.

So, allow me to apologize and retract my earlier statement. Speak. Do. And make your voice heard.

We all need it.

 

**Please note the views expressed in this post belong only to Grace and does not necessarily reflect the rest of the authors here at Authors Speak.**

Lou Sylvre on Dickens, Fiction, and Politics (Or when is an author like a bird? Tweet-tweet.)

Lou Sylvre Gay Romance Happy Endings Hi, Lou Sylvre here, switching places with Lou Hoffmann for my February blog post on Authors Speak. I apologize to readers and fellow bloggers for being absent from this blog for a while. I’ve taken to combing the news and spreading the word via twitter and facebook about how the USA and the world are in acute danger, worsening every day. To do that, I’ve let the writing and promoting of books—including blog posts where I usually talk about books, either mine or someone else’s—fall woefully behind schedule.

The reason I’m doing this isn’t that I don’t think my books can make a political difference. They can, especially if someone reads them who is not already “on the same page” politically.

This is true even though I write genre fiction, not the “literary” stuff, as it’s generally classified. In a New York Times (NYT) “Bookends” discussion from February 17, 2015, Karen Prose quoted a 2013 NYT “study” as showing that “after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence.” I didn’t read the NYT study conclusions or methodology and therefore can’t comment on it. However, Prose then goes on to opine that “Though the novels of Charles Dickens failed to radically improve the lot of poor children in Victorian England, they did raise public awareness of the Oliver Twists and Little Dorrits whom readers might otherwise have ignored.” Indeed, that seems accurate as far as it goes, though I believe there may be more to be said about the overall impact of Dickens on the world of his day, and it of course says almost nothing about his impact on readers ever since. My point, however, is that using Dickens to illustrate the difference of impact between so-called “literary” fiction as opposed to “popular” fiction is in itself questionable.


By all reports Dickens work was wildly popular during the nineteenth century. Many of his novels were serialized, which would suggest it was intended for the masses (at least those who could read and had sufficient leisure to purse the pastime), and he is said to be one of the earliest novelists to produce work with mass market appeal. Popular fiction? Now—now—his works are “classics of literature,” but they wouldn’t have seemed so then, I think. Of course, the pedantic distinction between popular and literary fiction is not about how many people want to read it. Research it a bit and you’ll find two ideas:

First: literary fiction focuses on reflecting society to itself, so that society can figure out the world, whereas popular fiction only seeks to entertain.

Second: literary fiction focuses on character and is character driven, while popular fiction hinges strongly on plot.

To the first, I say pshaw! Read quality genre fiction and you will come away with the feeling that you know yourself, your world, and humankind better. And guess what? Entertainment is engagement, and engagement improves learning.

To the second, because I already used “pshaw,” I’ll begin by raising the ghost of Aristotle, the creator of the seemingly sanctified arc in fiction. To the great Mr. A., fiction and its arc was about plot, though we have learned to apply it to various things like character and relationships as well. So, for starters, if Aristotle liked plot-driven fiction, who are you literary pundits to walk on his grave? Another thing, though certainly Dickens (our man of literary fiction) wrote character foremost and best, his plots were well-planned, twisty, purposeful, and very present. But more importantly perhaps, plenty genre fiction is character-driven, and the fact that genre writers are also good at giving those characters a compelling story, as well as the fact that genre readers prefer fabulous characters to do something, doesn’t mean the writer hasn’t succeeded in doing what all quality fiction does well—reflect society back upon itself!

So why, then, am I neglecting my books to promote awareness of the current political catastrophe? First, I write male/male romance, which means that my readers are by and large people who are already aware and in general agreement with my political outlook. Twitter ad Facebook provide the possibility of reaching outward from that base. Second, and more significant, the progression of political disaster in the Unites States is unfolding rapidly and accelerating every day. Yes, my books address (though I hope not in soapbox fashion because that’s boring) political realities. No, they can’t make people aware of what donald trump and his tribe of white supremacists, plutarchists, science-deniers, and people with poor grammar did an hour ago.

Writers have some skills that come in very handy when it comes to promoting awareness. The job of “Fiction Writer” in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles is rated as requiring an education and skill level of “8.” This is a high value—only advanced scientists, medical doctors, and similar have a higher rating. The level doesn’t mean writers have to all be super-smart, but it means they have to achieved proficiency in skills requiring education (self-education counts!) and lots of practice before they are perfected, and the skill set is broad. One such skill could be described as the ability to assess information, assimilate it, extract or synthesize underlying concepts, and express them in ways that are understandable, meaningful, and impactful.

That’s the skill I strive to use when I write that tweet or Facebook post. I don’t always get it right, but after many years, I still feel I’m learning my craft. If I come close—if I convey my outrage and urgency along with accurate fact, if something I write might make someone more aware of the thin ice they are perched upon, I feel I’ve done some small bit of good. Tweeting and Facebook posting certainly isn’t all I’m doing to resist the disaster that is a trump presidency, but I will keep doing it. I am also returning my attention to my fiction—what writer can keep from writing stories?

But if my time on social media is spent on politics rather than promotion, and if that means I sell fewer books… well, I hope that won’t happen. But if it does, so be it.

Those are my thoughts, for today. Thank you for reading them! Also thank you if you keep reading my books despite everything. My characters will get very lonely without you.

The value of giving your opinion

So, right now, the United States is in a huge uproar. Our political system—which I will admit needs to be fixed—is getting worse by the day. This election cycle has been the most poisonous pile of vitriol I think I have ever witnessed in all the years I’ve been old enough to vote (and that’s not a few years!).

It’s very tempting to wade into the conversation and start throwing the
unfollow same verbal punches everyone else is. There is so much misogyny, racism, classism, and more going around that it at times makes me physically ill. I have unfriended and unfollowed more people during this election cycle than I can begin to comprehend.

And believe me, there are plenty of times I want to start yelling from the rooftops about my views. They are important. They are a part of me. However, that way just leads to disaster.

J. Scott Coatsworth wrote about this a little while back. He made good points that I can’t argue. We don’t like to see some of our favorite authors/artists/actors/whatever turn out to be douches because they’ve let their political views out and they’re exactly the opposite of ours (or worse, they call for violence against a group).
unfriendWe are as human as they rest of the world. We have views, ideals, needs and worries just like the rest of the population. In the M/M genre, we can feel safe about speaking about some things—gay rights, marriage equality—because if someone is patently against them, they probably don’t want to read my books, anyway. And that’s cool. We all remember that no book is universally liked (a fact I like to remind myself of when things get bad).

However, for the same reasons my readers don’t want to know the gory details of a surgery I need or how my body reacted to the lunch I had the postoptions

other day, they also don’t need to know every detail of my political stances. Even if they’re on the same general end of the political line as me, there are so many little things we can disagree on that it’s likely that one tiny detail I wouldn’t think is important might be the biggest thing ever to someone else.

The problem is, as an author, it’s not just that one reader I have to worry about. For the same reason we want readers to review, to tell their friends about our books, we have to be careful how we approach controversial topics. That one reader can just as easily talk to their friends about this too.

And let’s face it. The vast majority of us don’t make so much money that we don’t have to worry about that. Sure, Mel Gibson can be an anti-Semitic asshole. But he can afford to be. Me? A two-digit change in the number of books I sell can mean the difference between buying a medication or not.

635768801212005091-EPA-AUSTRALIA-MEL-GIBSON
“Hmm. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that… oops?” **

Now, not everyone is as politic (see what I did there?) as Scott was. Sometimes you get a fairly new author that (I might be generous here) might not realize just how much a ranty post can cost them—whether it’s about US (the current election) or UK (Brexit) politics or a more localized community concern—like pseudonyms and profile pictures. And rather than approaching it with the preface that, yes, it could cost me readers but it’s necessary, they just go off.

My advice? At the very least, until you have a pretty decent following –or don’t care how many books you sell—don’t bring politics onto your Facebook page, Twitter feed, blog, etc. If you have a private Facebook profile, that’s where you should put your opinions and views. Keep it to family, offline friends, etc. It’s not easy, I get that. Because of it, I’ve hovered over unfollow so much it isn’t funny. I’ve wanted to punch lights out, scream until I’m blue in the face, shake people. But the current political clime is going to do one of two things: fall apart completely (in which case, what my political opinions are won’t matter worth a damn) or the heat will cool off and we’ll all go back to discussing hot man-on-man sex.

So, before you share that post or write your rant, ask yourself this question:

Is it worth it?

Probably not.

**Photo credit: Paul Miller, EPA