How I Learned to Stop Worrying

…And Love the Bomb

This is a post about fear. I’m going to mention a lot things I don’t tend to write about publicly because I don’t want negativity to dampen my own experience or anyone else’s, but I had a breakthrough yesterday and I feel the need to put something into words. And it doesn’t make sense if I don’t explain how this evolution came about.

“How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” is the phrase that I adopted before my second book, The Dragon and the Pearl, came out. To me, it’s the embodiment of both a cynical, yet freeing laugh that rings in my head when I start worrying about things that are out of my control. But I do that. Worry about things that are out of my control. I know I try to seem Zen sometimes, but I’m human. I’m an author. I worry.

Between Butterfly Swords and Dragon, Borders closed shop. You see Harlequin Historical isn’t carried at all places that carry Harlequin category books. HH is on that “second rack”. In that realm where booksellers pick and choose and they don’t choose us a lot. Borders reliably carried my line. B&N does not. And B&Ns were closing too.I just knew that this would chop my sales in half and there was nothing I could do about it.

And my books are only on bookshelves for a month anyway. A lot of the sales are through what are called “direct to consumer”. Subscriptions to Harlequin. Those were down too.

See, I know these things. So I said, Jeannie, STOP WORRYING. You know, accept what you cannot change and move on in Zen like fashion, hmm? Your sales will suck. So what?

I did move on. I kept on writing. I finished My Fair Concubine. I finished several shorts including “Capturing the Silken Thief”. On bad days, I think of that little short and it makes me happy. You can do stuff like this, I tell myself. And you get to put it out for readers to enjoy. Stop worrying.

Then I was in the hospital, pregnant with my twins. Getting hit with magnesium sulfate (an eeevil drug) so I wouldn’t go into preterm labor. After the worst was over, I was still in the hospital. Needing to write my next book. Not feeling it. Getting my royalty statement that was “0” dollars earned. Seeing how few copies my stories really sold. See, fear?

The Dragon and the Pearl had just released so it wasn’t on the statement, but I just knew. I knew it would be ugly. I couldn’t promote it — not that my promotion efforts would even help. But I canceled signings and appearances and only did a minimal amount of online promotion while laying in bed.

So this fourth book: The Sword Dancer. I came up with a two line premise that apparently Harlequin just ate up. They wanted it. I have to write it because this is what I wanted to be, a writer. I’m trying to figure out what happens next and IT’S JUST NOT COMING. I was laying in bed in the hospital with my hands on the keyboard and typing anyway. I course corrected so many times. I typed and I threw stuff away.

The thought that kept going through my mind was that this was a business. Numbers do mean something and there’s no way anyone’s going to keep buying my books with the way I sell.

I didn’t stop worrying. I took my fear to the ultimate place it could go. This is probably bad, but I thought, you are not going to be able to write any more books Jeannie. Your sales suck and your brain is mush and you’re going to have little babies soon.

So I put everything I loved into this book. Who cares if it starts sounding like “everything, but the kitchen sink”? If it has every beloved romance and wuxia trope there is out there. This is probably going to be your last book anyway (I’ll probably kill you in the morning Wesley).

It took me a LONG time to finish that book. A lot of editing. A lot of beautiful critique partners who pulled me off of the ledge. A wonderful editor who guided me through how to try to fix it.

At the end of The Sword Dancer, I looked at it an thought — this is what I was afraid to do in Butterfly Swords. In Butterfly Swords, I was afraid of being too Asian. That romance readers wouldn’t accept it. I was afraid I didn’t know how to write. I was afraid people would hate it for being too white. (I told you, I would admit ugly things in this post).

Oh, The Sword Dancer may still tank. Readers may hate it. I didn’t write it without fear. I wrote it with so much fear in me that I stopped being afraid…if that makes sense.

Now, I’ve read many a post like this – about how traditional sales were tanking and publishers turned down stories, but the intrepid author turned around and indie published and is now making bank. This is not one of those stories. More fear: My stories won’t make it in self-publishing any better than they do in traditional publishing. Of course I think of it, no author doesn’t at least think of it nowadays.

So into this dark swirling pit with teeth, I started writing the next book. And after the triumph of finishing The Sword Dancer, IT’S STILL NOT WORKING.



I limited myself to only saying that twice here, but I could say it a hundred times to try to convey how I feel every day while I put my hands on the keyboard.

But I had a breakthrough yesterday while I was revising “Moonlight”. I’m not finished with the rough draft even. I just had to start revising from the beginning to see if I would start feeling the story maybe. It’s supposed to be my first single title book and I’m writing a mystery along with the romance plot. I’m also trying to go to some places I’ve been afraid to go in the past. Issues about human slavery and concubinage and just really messy things about love in the Tang Dynasty.

But I thought, this is probably the last book I’m going to write. I can’t say I tried to bring the Tang Dynasty and historical China to the romance world and never address some of these things.

And then I hit on something very close to home for me. An issue that I only barely touched on in My Fair Concubine and I was crying because I think I’ve been hitting against this one issue over and over in my books, but I’ve just been too afraid to try to explore it.

I think I’d much rather like to report growing sales and great success. But for me, at some point, I think it took this fear of the bomb hanging over me and the knowledge that my sales suck and the thought of being pushed against the wall to push me out of my comfort zone.

Or maybe, hopefully, some of my optimism is still in there through this deadline hell? My need to find the silver lining in all things?

As Sun-tzu says, “On death ground, fight.” I feel like I’ve been writing on death ground for the last three stories now. But I think I know how I can finish this book.

That’s something, isn’t it?

Inspiration for the day

Hubby must have been in a particularly warm and fuzzy mood this morning:

Hubby: How’s the book going? *rubs my back affectionately as I stare at the computer*
Jeannie: I’m 50,000 words in and it’s crappy.
Hubby: Well, don’t hesitate to start over from the beginning.
Jeannie: *casts evil eye*

This is the same guy who tells our ten month old twins that, “It’s going to hurt like that every time until you learn how to control that head” when they knock their baby noggins against something.

So I’m taking a bit of inspiration from two kick-butt ladies today.

First, Nora Roberts, who when asked what she does if a story doesn’t work out answered, “That never happens. I make it work.”

And Shannon Butcher. At a panel for our local chapter, someone asked her what she does when characters get unruly and don’t behave as she wants them to. As someone who doesn’t believe in characters who talk to me, I loved her answer: “My characters are my bitches.”

There you go. Picking up my big wobbly head from the desk and setting off to make it work, no matter what.