Five Good Things {No. 7}

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·My artist of the moment is Sara Falli, whose work I found Pinterest-diving for something to decorate my new editorial services page (more below). Her creepy-gorgeous gouache paintings are just lovely, and the one I’ve chosen only touches the surface.

·You can now follow my blog with Bloglovin! My new pen pal Polly’s blog, The Forest Mermaid, is the first one I followed, and I’m already enjoying all the seamless procrastinating I can do there.

·I’ve started offering editorial & mentoring services for writers, so you can hire me to review your manuscript or guide you on the scary journey to publication. Click the link for details. <3

·Ever since I learned about Cheryl Strayed’s tenure as Dear Sugar, I’ve lowkey dreamed of writing an advice column of my very own, and my latest hero of the genre is Bitter Butch. Her post on the importance of being out when bi, femme, and married to a cis dude is what drew me to her column, but this one about subtly undermining religious fanaticism is delightful and on point as helllll.

·Richie and I met on the Aran Islands three years ago this week, and our second wedding anniversary is coming up on the 24th. Awww.

Five Good Things {No. 6}

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·I am really loving Cory Godbey‘s moody, ethereal, fairytalesque artwork right now. I first found his work on Pinterest, and I couldn’t pick just one piece to show here!

·Daniel José Older‘s essay “Writing Begins With Forgiveness,” maybe the most important thing I read this week, shoots down that haunting guilt-making myth that to be a writer you must write every day.

Here’s what stops more people from writing than anything else: shame. That creeping, nagging sense of ‘should be,’ ‘should have been,’ and ‘if only I had…’ Shame lives in the body, it clenches our muscles when we sit at the keyboard, takes up valuable mental space with useless, repetitive conversations. Shame, and the resulting paralysis, are what happen when the whole world drills into you that you should be writing every day and you’re not.

Please, fellow self-hating writers, read the whole thing.

·OK, so I am always kind of obsessed with Nicki Minaj, but about once a year I go on a bender. This song may be one of her tamer ones, but it’s been really good for me lately.

·Since writing my first post on PTSD, I’ve heard from so many friends and strangers who have dealt with similar issues. It’s always breathtaking and sobering to see just how many people have trauma in their pasts, but that’s exactly why we all need to talk about it, to make ourselves part of representation. The rarer these things seem to be, the less likely it is that other people who come forward in the future will be believed. With that in mind, it was really comforting for me to read this list of seven well-known people with PTSD.

·The hedges in Galway are starting to turn for fall. We’re hoping to harvest some wild hazelnuts next week. In the meantime, I eat a blackberry breakfast on each morning walk.

Hedges turning purple. #galway #myireland

A photo posted by Betsy Cornwell (@betsycornwell) on

MECHANICA Street Team Signups

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Pub day is only a month from now. Even though I’ve been writing Mechanica since the summer of 2009, when I was living in a tiny garage apartment and working as a nanny before my senior year of college, that seems surreal. It can’t possibly be done now, right?

Well, no, it’s not quite done. This last month before my steampunk Cinderella baby is officially born will be one of the busiest and craziest of them all, with book signings and launch parties, blog tours, this teaching job that’s kept me from blogging all summer, and a trans-Atlantic flight for good measure.

So I need your help. I’ve put together a ‘street team’ of readers and friends to promote the book up to the official release day on August 25th. I’m rewarding my street teamers with all sorts of prizes, from signed book copies to my homemade goat’s milk soap and caramel (hey, I know what the people really want!).

There are still several spots open, and I would love to have you on board! Just fill out the quick form below to get involved. You can read details about all the goodies here, too. The team is designed so you only spend as much or as little time as you’d like helping out, so don’t feel like you have to go for a big prize. Every street team member will get a special gift from me right after pub day to show my appreciation. I could seriously use all the help I can get.

We’re going to really get going on August 1st, so try to sign up by then, but you’re welcome to join afterward too!

August 25th, here we come!

Street Team Details & Prizes:
 

Prize A: Signed, personalized copies of Tides and Mechanica, PLUS copies of two of my favorite books, I Capture the Castle and The Bloody Chamber. To win this, earn 50 points.

Prize B: An annotated hardcover of Mechanica. I’ll go through it with little comments about the scenes, my process, and how much I love/hate/cried over this or that. To win this, earn 40 points.

Price C: A critique of a full manuscript (for writers) To win this, earn 35 points.

Prize D: A cotton Mechanica tote bag full of my handmade goat’s milk soap and caramel. To win this, earn 35 points.

Prize E: Having a character named after you in my next book. To win, earn 30 points.

Prize F: A special early sneak peek of Compass, the sequel to TidesTo win, earn 15 points.

All street team members will receive a special thank-you gift after publication.

To get these prizes, earn points. Some of you have already done these things, and those count! You can choose your prize, or split your points among several prizes.

Here’s how to earn those points:
Social Media:
 

1 point: Like my author page on Facebook and subscribe to notifications: https://www.facebook.com/betsycornwellauthor

1 point: Follow my blog: http://betsycornwell.com/

1 point: Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/betsy_cornwell
1 Point: Follow me on Instagram: https://instagram.com/betsycornwell/
Spread the word, online and in person:

2 points: Add/mark as “read” on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22749698-mechanica

3 points each (9 points total): leave a review (same review is fine) on Goodreads, Amazon, & Barnes & Noble. This is a significant help so it’s worth 3 times as much.

3 points: Tweet or post to FB (or both for 6 points) a buy link (any store you like that carries Mechanica) and a quick comment about why people should read it.

3 points: confirm with your local library that they ordered the book and will be stocking it.

3 points: Tell your friends. In any way you want. If you read and enjoyed the book, tell someone why. Word-of-mouth is the biggest marketing tool authors have, and you can reach your friends far better than I can!

5 points: Follow along on my blog tour (I’m tweeting the stops each day, and posting a round-up each week) and help share those posts. I don’t want you to spam anyone, so I’m leaving this open-ended. Find the posts that you think your followers/friends would find to be good content, and share them throughout the next 3 weeks. The tour is hosted by Rock Star Book Tours, and you can find more info here: http://www.rockstarbooktours.com/

5 points: Buy the book (always a great way to support an author) if you want to, and tweet/post on FB a picture of you with it! Be sure to tag my author page, Betsy Cornwell (rather than my personal page, Betsy Lyons).
Release Parties:
5 points: Attend a release party! So far I have launch parties planned in Baltimore, NYC, and Boston, and there should be a few more coming your way. You can find the details on my Facebook page or my website. The schedule so far is: Baltimore August 2, NYC/Brooklyn August 8th, and Boston August 9th.
3 points: blog about a release party (I’ll send you more details if you let me know)
1 point: tweet about it
1 point: post to FB about it

3 points: Bring a friend with you (Yes, that’s 3 points per friend!)

3 points: on August 18th (one week from release day), change your Twitter profile photo to the cover of Mechanica  for the week.

3 points: change your Facebook profile photo to the cover of Mechanica from August 25th-September 2nd.
Blogging, Book Clubs, and Beyond:
3 points: Blog about the book any time from August 1st-25th. Any kind of post you can think up, from a review to a Mechanica-themed recipe, is great!

5 points: Make fan art! Draw Jules and the insects, Nick’s ball gown, Fin and Caro in their Market stall, or anything else that inspires you. Fan art is pretty much my favorite thing ever, so this is worth a couple extra points!

5 points: any awesome project you can think of. Get your library or school to read it for a book club. Buy it for holiday gifts. Host your own giveaway. Cosplay as your favorite character. Anything you want–pitch me something cool!
[Thank you to Alison Doherty and Kate Brauning for the inspiration and prize list!]

Not the Best: Ambition vs. Peace of Mind

Tallmadge DoyleI rewrote the title of this post a good few times, and I still don’t love it. For a while it was “Goat’s Milk Caramel and Imperfection,” but I decided that was too twee . . . even though I’m a children’s book writer who spends much of my time making goat’s milk caramel in a cute little cottage in the west of Ireland, and there’s a fairly high Inherent Twee Index in that scenario.

I’ve been planning to write the post itself for days–weeks, now?–too. And yet.

It’s so easy not to get around to something, not to start, when if you leave it in the future it can still be perfect. Anything you haven’t done yet can still exist in a state of Platonic idealism.

Once you start, though, you see limits. You watch yourself fail, or at least not incandescently succeed. At the same time, you’re annoyed with yourself for even thinking you could ever do something perfect in the first place. I mean, who do you think you are?

And yet. And yet.

I wrote the first draft of Tides for NaNoWriMo 2008. I called my discombobulated monster manuscript The Undershoal Journals and I’m pretty sure it was terrible, but I could never even bring myself to look at it again after I finished writing it. I was embarrassed that I’d written something that I was convinced was so bad. I was supposed to be a brilliant writer; hadn’t I been put in the gifted classes ever since I could remember? How dare I dash all those parents’ and teachers’ hopes by writing something less than perfect?

Tallmadge DoyleSeven years later, I’m close to finishing Compass. It’s been harder for me to write this book than either Tides or Mechanica, partly because of all kinds of upheaval in my personal life in the last two years . . . but just as much, I think, because it’s the first book I’m actually writing under contract. If it’s terrible (as I’m often convinced it is) I can’t just banish it to a forgotten corner of my hard drive the way I did with The Undershoal Journals or any number of short stories from my MFA program, never to be seen again.

No. I’ve already been paid for Compass, and that money has long since gone into such luxuries as rent and electricity. There’s no going back on this one, baby. I have to turn in my manuscript very, very soon (I’m already behind on my deadline), no matter how bad it is. That’s terrifying.

It’s terrifying because that book is proof that I’m not the Actual Best Writer The World Has Ever Seen. That Compass isn’t the Great American Novel.

For fuck’s sake, of course it’s not. How arrogant could I be? But part of me is. Part of me is so arrogant that I can’t even bear to write blog posts very often, because they’re not perfect, either. I don’t want to write anything that isn’t total, pure genius.

Tallmadge DoyleIt’s embarrassing even to write that! But the thing is, I’ve learned from teaching that most writers feel the same way. And when I see that balking in my students, that perfectionism masquerading as procrastination (commonly called writer’s block), I can view it a little more kindly. I can say: the issue is how much you care. You love great writing (and reading great writing) so much that you can’t stand making anything less. Your great love pins you to an impossible standard, one that’s been reinforced by every class you’ve taken, every word of early praise or censure you’ve received. I don’t think that’s arrogance; I don’t even think it’s necessarily bad.

But it can still debilitate. It can still keep you from writing at all.There’s the bad.

So where does the twee caramel come into this?

I write nearly every day, and I milk the goats and make caramel (or soap, or cheese) at least as often. I’m ambitious for my goats and their milk; I’d like them to be a significant part of how I make my living someday soon. And yet I don’t have any aspirations–not even secret, arrogant ones–of being The Greatest Caramel Maker The World Has Ever Known. In my heart of hearts, my highest goat-related ambitions involve a small herd and a few jars of my caramel sauce in local gourmet shops, and maybe selling my soap on Etsy. Small potatoes indeed compared to the “Shakespeare can eat my dust” dreams that I know, I know, most writers secretly share.

So the question I want to ask is: why do we want that in the first place? Why are we all so desperate to be the best that we’re terrified of anything lesser? After all, not a single one of us will ever reach that dream. No matter how good we are, we’re setting ourselves up to fail. We’re never going to be as good as we want to be, because that level of perfection (any level of perfection) doesn’t exist.

I know it doesn’t exist for me. But the only time I enjoy writing is when I let go of the hope for perfection, when I let myself be bad. I would hate making caramel or soap if I needed it to be perfect every time. I botch batches every week, adding flavors or scents or other ingredients that don’t work, fudging my measurements. Experimenting. Imperfection, failure, is ultimately the only thing that’s fun about creativity; and ironically, it’s often what a reader will latch onto in a piece of writing, as well.

I love–loveJessica Williams’ response to claims that she suffers from an inferiority complex because she declined to take over the Daily Show. I love this analysis from newwavefeminism on Tumblr just as much:

There’s a specific arrogance and entitlement with white patriarchy that says you must prove that you’re the best at everything.

Like so many young feminists, I’m sick of individualistic, lean-in feminism that says empowerment is about being the best (and, by extension, better than everyone else). I’m sick of a feminism that’s all about me, my journey, my empowerment. My feminism, or at least the feminism that I strive toward, is about building a better world, about fixing our structural, institutional illnesses at every level. Feminism shouldn’t be about climbing the ladder, but about dismantling the damn thing in the first place.

That philosophy trickles into my writing and my teaching like this: I am trying to unlearn the need to be perfect. I am trying to help my students unlearn that need, too. It’s hard, especially with my gifted students. We’re taught to value ourselves based on how good we are–meaning how intellectually or creatively elite we are–because that’s how we see other people valuing us. Parents, teachers, even friends; even ourselves.

What a blessing it would be if we could let it go.

(Art credits: Tallmadge Doyle)