31 Dec 2015 – The Year I Quit.
This year felt incredibly long for me. It also seemed clearly marked into two different ‘years’.
First, was the 2015 of milestones and achievements as an author and publisher, a year of hard work, book tours and some successes…
* I wrote and published two novels, my first foray into writing Women’s Lit/Contemporary Romance. The second, Scarlet Secrets, debuted on the Australian Amazon bestseller list – the first time one of my books has cracked the overall Top 100. It was also number one on the Hot New Releases Listing. In terms of my writing, Scarlet’s story marks a significant step for me in my personal author journey, as its the bravest thing I’ve written thus far and the work that’s demanded the most from me. The books are far from perfect and I still want to get a third and fourth editorial workover done…one day! But in the meantime, Im proud of both books and grateful to all the readers who have embraced them.
* I worked with a consultant who organized my records and book accounts, helped me write (the beginnings of) a business plan and generally make some sense of the wild mess that I’ve been writing and publishing books in. This was sorely needed. Whenever people ask me how many books I’ve sold and I tell them ‘I dont know’ – Im not being evasive. I really don’t know. (I still dont know but I CAN tell you how many books I sold last month!) Thank you Glenda Stanley.
* I went to America for writer stuff. I was a guest of the Salt Lake Community College and hosted by several Pacific Islander community initiatives on an author tour to Utah, my first such trip in the mainland USA. During my ten day visit, I gave a guest lecture at SLCC for Womens History Month, was the keynote speaker at the P.I High School students academic achievement conference, spoke to a Lit class at the University of Utah that are studying my book Telesa, visited two high schools to speak about writing and education, and was a guest speaker at the community focused Talanoa Session. The Utah tour was an opportunity for me to meet in person, many of my readers who have been such a great support and encouragement to me from the beginning of both my blog and my Telesa Series. I also got to travel with my big sister for the first time, Dr Tanya Wendt Samu, who came to meet with other educators who are working on similar initiatives as she is at Auckland University in NZ. Thank you to Michelle T and all those who worked tirelessly to make my Utah visit a success.
* I launched my Scarlet Series in Australia. Since Alice Burgess and Daphne Reupena first invited me to launch Telesa in their home town – Brisbane has been a shamahzing supporter of my books and this year was no exception. Thanks to Glenda Stanley and the combined effort of the P.I student groups from three different universities, the Scarlet Series was launched at the Queensland Univ of Technology. I love Brisbane readers – you always make me feel so welcome!
* I went on book tour to American Samoa for the launch of the new series. Chrissy Lutu Sanchez and Lalelei Samoa hosted me (and my super fab assistant…my daughter) on a three day trip that included a book signing and speaking at four high schools, one community college and one library. American Samoa readers are like none other in the world – their enthusiasm for both the Telesa and Scarlet Series is unparalleled. It blew me away just how many people are reading my books there and how dedicated they are to the characters. A special shoutout to the Barstow Library – theyre incredibly passionate about books and promoting literacy in the community.
* Telesa was optioned for film by a small production company in NZ who were awarded development funding to help take Telesa to the screen. An exciting few months ensued in early 2015 as the possibilities seemed to be a huge step closer to reality.
* It wasnt just a year of writing fiction. I was a guest contributor to several religious feminist blogs including Feminist Mormon Housewives and FEMWOC (Feminist Women Of Color). One of my articles was included in the Anthology of Mormon Feminism, edited by Joanna Brooks and published in September. I also started up again with being a guest columnist for the Samoa Observer.
*Aaaaand I kept blogging and 100,000+ people visited Sleepless in Samoa, keeping me company on the blog journey of ups and downs.
Then there was the OTHER 2015… The year of struggle, loss, grief, sickness and burnout. In no apparent order –
* I didnt publish the third book in the Scarlet Series like I was scheduled to. Because of several things.
* My mother Peka got very sick and passed away. We kept her company while she took just over a week to die. It doesnt matter how elderly or ill someone is, how much you are expecting or planning for their passing, when they do die – you arent prepared. You can never be ‘prepared’. I dont want Peka to be gone. Im typing this and Im crying all over again.
* I continued to struggle with horrible health issues that had me out of commission for at least ten days of every month and exhausted for the other twenty. I finally got a diagnosis and some helpful medication midway thru the year.
* I had a miscarriage / messy something happen with all kinds of associated emotional mess to muddle through.
* Our eldest daughter went away to school in NZ and we missed her heaps. She embraced all the new learning experiences wholeheartedly and was awarded two scholarships for university in 2016. But midway thru this year, she got sick and needed extra attention (and worry) to get her thru to graduation. Im grateful to my sister Tanya and her family for taking good care of our daughter.
* My social anxiety about leaving the house, going to new places and interacting with new people – got worse. To the point Im getting hives whenever Im trying to psych myself up to go to a place/event outside my comfort zone. I started turning down invites to go some places and found innovative ways to ensure I didnt need to go out of house or my car (like send my kids in the store to do the grocery shopping, call the cafe to place my order and then when I pull up they bring it to my car, have my patient friends come for dinner at my house…)
* My church did some things that broke my churchgoing heart. A heart that admittedly was already pretty fragile. Grieving for one’s religion is a very real thing. Or so I found out in 2015.
* The film option went up in smoke. It turned out that the producer and I had very different ideas about the project. After lots of excellent advice from lawyers and experienced industry professionals, I turned down the option. Which was disappointing for many excited Telesa fans but I knew it was the right choice. Still, there were days afterward when I felt like a loser…dismal failure.
* My willingness to balance my anxiety with my author PR work took a hit when a random man was extra touchy-feely at a book signing. It wasnt anything I could scream at him about (or throat punch him for) but it was enough to trigger all kinds of panicked yuck feelings. Then he wanted to put his arm around me and take a photo with me and I didnt feel I could say no. Not when we were surrounded by people and lots of them had already taken pics with me…That feeling of being trapped by one’s author persona, that I HAD TO BE NICE when I didnt want to, when all I wanted to do was bolt from the room and never return – was awful. I came away from that event shaken and sick inside, thinking I dont want to do this anymore…
* A lot of people got upset with me about my stance on certain ‘controversial issues’. They wrote to tell me how disappointed they were in me, their once favorite author. They chastened me on social media for misleading them with my blogs and books. People who had brought their kids to meet me “a great Pasifika role model”, now told me I was hanging out with Satan. As always, I was diplomatic and courteous in my responses because its my job to Be Nice to my readers. (Even when theyre not nice to me lol). But what I really wanted to say? Screw you. Just because you downloaded my book, doesnt mean you own me. Just because you read my blog or follow me on Facebook, doesnt make us best friends. You dont know me and Im sure as hell glad I dont know your racist/bigoted/homophobic self. Fk off.
* One day it all combined to hit me at once, I dont like being an author. Im sick of doing PR work. I hate being nice to people when theyre being shitty to me. Im not happy doing this. And besides, my 2nd mother is dead and we could all die at any minute. I dont want to waste any more time doing things I dont want to do and being nice to people I dont want to be nice to.
*I stopped writing fiction, quit my job as a fulltime author/publisher and applied for a real job as a Communications Manager out in the real world. My children freaked because ‘You know you cant wear your pyjamas to a real job outside?! What are you going to wear?’ I got the job but by then I had figured out that writing spin for other people if I didnt 100% support their agenda – was going to be something that would really bite. I turned it down and instead compromised with a part-time job as Darren’s Office Manager. Which means Im still the Boss of my time but Im doing a ‘proper job’ for half the day.
Which brings me to this moment, here in 2016. Looking back over my ‘two’ years of 2015, grateful for the blessings and hoping for the strength and wisdom to get thru that which continues to cause sorrow, strife, stress (and anxiety hives!!)
The good news on the book front – I’ve started writing again. Little pockets of enjoyment here and there rather than deadline-driven words. I long for a return to when writing was my treat for myself, my reward after a long day of work/kids/training. Thats what Im hoping for in this new year.
My 2015 experiences have forced me to ask –
Why did I start writing in the first place? Who was I writing for? How has it changed?
The answers are easy.
I wrote Telesa for me. Because its the book I wanted to read. Same goes for Scarlet Lies. But increasingly, the promotional work for my books and my brand (both online and in real life) has taken precedence. Too much time and worry has been spent on readers (and on deadlines, word counts, reviews, and sales numbers…)
Yes its rewarding when others read my books and even more of a thrill when they love them and connect with the characters. Thank you!
But it doesnt change the essential truth of why I write – because there’s stories I want to tell and journeys I want to explore.
The other stuff is ephemeral.
Yes, I speak for free at schools and for youth groups and community organizations because its my small way of giving back and paying it forward. I remember with gratitude, those Pasifika writers and artists who inspired, motivated and mentored me, sometimes without even knowing they were being an inspiration. Its my hope I can be that for someone else.
But that aspect of this #WriterThing should never take over. And my writing should never be driven by readers and what they want or expect.
What does this mean for me and my writing in 2016?
A whole lot more honesty on social media and in real life. A whole lot less diplomatic niceness. Saying NO to author events. (And definitely NO putting up with creepy people who pretend to be readers just so they can invade your personal space!)
Writing wont be ‘My Job’ anymore. It will be what I look forward to, my reward, my tired fierce joy after #work is done. I’m giving myself permission to write a book (or two) that probably nobody will want to read – but me.
And thats okay.
Because I cant wait to read it.