Way back in May, OWS held a day of mass activities for May Day. It culminated in a march from Union Square down to Wall Street and a stream of people stretched down Broadway in front of my job--including the black-clad anarchist group that has been attending OWS groups and causing a ruckus. (Interestingly the newspaper reported a very balanced report, even stating that the anarchist group is not an official part of OWS.)
One of the protesters handed me a copy of "The Occupied Wall Street Journal." The paper covered a bunch of topics, the part that inspired me was the reports of what's happening across the nation. I think that without media coverage, movements seem like they're not happening or they've failed, or are impotent. The newspaper listed a number of activist victories that covered a wide range of issues from victories against predatory lending measures, the establishment of credit unions, gardening initiatives on empty lots, avoiding foreclosure preventing layoffs, reinstating health care benefits.
The ways that people are engaged in the movement and drawing on the movement are varied. Its inspiring to think that there is energy, bodies, perspectives to draw upon as people are fighting their local fights--even from a movement that looks like it "failed."
Turning that thought back onto personal life: I think we can never know the true impact of our lives. How we've touched others, or how our failed efforts may become the fodder of our next steps, or how splinters of past ideas may become the spark that ignites future success. It comes back to continuing to move forward. If blocked find another path. Keep going and know that somehow, some where, your efforts are causing a flowering.
*** BOOK REPORT ***
Per Amazon, during the week of 7/16 and 7/22, I sold zero books. First week of no sales since my sales began to climb. Of course, during that no sales week I was at the Harlem Book Fair selling 15 books by hand in the course of four hours. That highlights the challenge of getting people to know about the book so they can buy it. The interest is there. So how to connect the interested parties with the book? Time for more tap dancing!
READING, FRIDAY, JULY 27: Way back in ye olde 2000, Linda Addison and I were published in Sheree Thomas's "Dark Matter" anthology. We got to know each other during bookstore events and readings. For Linda, it was a coming out party. She had been publishing in various speculative fiction publications, but no one knew she was black. I had the opposite experience. I had been publishing my weird visions in black anthologies and literary publications, and Dark Matter introduced me to the spec fic world.
On Friday night at Bluestockings, we discussed what Dark Matter meant to and for us. We talked about synchronicities between the imagery and themes in my collection "Ancient, Ancient" and her collection "How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend." We focused on two cases of synchronicity in particular. We both have stories dealing with dirt, death, and bones. And we both have stories featuring magical young girls and older female villains. We interviewed each other asking about the horror elements in Linda's work, the earthiness and sensuality in my work, and I grilled Linda on the mind-bending heart of her zombie love story Unrequited.
Before the Q-and-A, we discussed where we were in relationship to novel writing. Linda has come full circle, delving deeply into the novel she was writing when Dark Matter was published 12 years ago. I am still on the pause button working on some other projects while I work on welcoming in the commitment to get a novel out.
Shout out to all the literary folks who were in the audience, the friends and family, as well as to the gender-queer author who writes darkly and the three young women who have a feminist, speculative fiction book club! This diverse audience asked some engaging questions, including one questioner asking if we've ever written anything that scared us. Dark matters indeed!
My first reading after the book came out was at Wiscon, the feminist spec fic conference. It was in a conference room of a hotel and it went very well. I kept my pacing consistent, I was calm, and read in a stable voice. In fact, the reading convinced a bunch of people to go to the dealer's room and buy Ancient, Ancient.
My second reading was at a local bar lounge in Brooklyn. I was wired, a handful of my friends were there. We were outdoors and I was distracted from the noise flying around. My reading was disjointed, at best. Later my friend said it seemed like I wanted to hang out more than I wanted to read. There might be some truth to that, I wanted to socialize or at least talk. But hearing her say that reminded me that if I'm having a reading, people are coming to hear me read. They want to hear my work. My work is not me. My talent is not me. They are not coming just to see or hear me do whatever.
It reminded me of two other occasions: one in a self-development workshop and another at a concert. In both cases the star of the evening rambled on, amusing themselves as part of their presentation. As an audience member I remember thinking to myself: just do the song, or just share the information you've come to share. I'm not here to sit at your feet and learn more about your personality or be part of your personal fan horde.
I realize that I was being selfish to a certain extent. If it's a reading, I should be reading. I shouldn't invite people to a reading and then just want to talk. I should be willing to subvert myself and my own mood to my work and serve my work as my work needs to be served at any given point in time.
I'm grateful to my friend for commenting. She didn't say much, but it doesn't take much to read between the lines. I will be more aware at my upcoming appearances about who or what should be in the spotlight. As always, it's not about me, it's about the work. I am here to serve my work and when I do, I'm in the flow and something larger than me can come through and connect with my listeners. If I just serve myself, my reach is limited. Head down, surrender, and do what the work/my voice asks me to do.
Vol. 80, Readercon in Boston and Miko Kuro's Midnight Tea in NYC
THE PROMOTIONS HUSTLE
So two months after the book has been published, I have a much clearer understanding that achieving something big simply means that you have more work to do (of course it means more than that, but...) My free time is now spent sending out emails, looking for opportunities for public appearances, putting together promotional items. It's great, but it stretches an already full life to the breaking point. I have committed to giving this book the attention and energy it deserves, so quitting is not an options. I have had to learn to surrender (even more than I had already been surrendering) to the chaos of having multiple irons on the fire. This past weekend was a humongous example of surrendering to the opportunities that present themselves.
My original plan was to leave my job at 5:00 p.m. and drive to Boston alone after work. I thought most of the 4-hour drive time was in the dark. Thankfully because my friend witnessed a mini-breakdown I had in the beginning of the week, she decided she would be accompanying me to Boston. I left work at ten to seven because I have a new account and tons of work to do for all my existing accounts. I called the rental car to let them know I was on my way and they said, we close at 7:00! Despite this, the agent said he'd wait for me. My friend and I speed-walked to the rental car company and arrived ten minutes after it closed. We arrived to Boston in the middle of the night, finally getting to Burlington where the conference was and checking in to the hotel at 2:00 a.m. In the morning I had to put in a few hours for work, run my friend to Boston, and drive back up to Burlington for the conference. I attended a few panels, napped, dragged myself out to the meet-the-pros party, met editors and reviewers, kept up with social media, and even called clients (because my work email was full and would not send out emails). Before hitting the road, I connected with another writer from my publishing company, then drove through the evening into the night to get back to New York City for the Midnight Tea--a performance art event.
Incredibly, with all that activity I had an amazingly reflective weekend and still managed to reach a state of peace. There was no home or little person to be responsible for. With the exception of my Friday morning push and my Friday evening phone calls, there were no work worries. I spent the weekend receiving insight and input from writers, reviewers, readers, and other artists. It turned out to be quite an uplifting weekend.
I registered for Readercon early, but was not clued in enough to sign up for panels and readings. To a certain extent it was a wasted opportunity because the way that people learn about you at conferences (unless you already have a name) is through your participating in the programing. When I showed up at the Meet the Pros party, all the professional writers had these sheets with labels. Prior to the conference, the pros had provided the conference organizers with quotes from their work. Readers each had a sheet of wax paper and collected quotes from the pros. It was a cool activity because the label sheets identified the pros and the readers had something they could use to interact with the pros around. It was also something of a conversation starter. I remember reading one pro quote and having an immediate response to it. The writer and I had quite an extended conversation about the project the quote came from and the process the writer is/was using to complete it. A few people asked me where my labels were. I was not in the know and had not signed up to participate. But I had my flyers on hand and I passed them out as I wandered the room mingling and meeting people.
I ran into Ellen Datlow, the editor who was our mentor at Clarion West in 2001. Ellen has been incredibly supportive and openly answers any question I have about the field. I hung out with her for quite some time. The next day, I delved deeper into Readercon. The feeling of Readercon was a bit more cerebral than Wiscon. Wiscon felt a bit like a festival of creativity, politics, and feminisms, with people spilling out from panels, gatherings, and hotel rooms. A lot of high energy. Readercon seemed a bit more sober and controlled. I think I attended the same amount amount of panels at Readercon that I attended at Wiscon, though I was only at Readercon for half the amount of time.
Two Readercon panels in particular sparked self-reflection. A panel on first person and a panel on the books authors don't publish (the panel never got to that topic). The first person panel brought me back to the moment when I finished my draft of my second novel and my advisor wanted to know why I had written it in present tense. When I tried putting it in past tense it created a need in me for a brand-new present tense in which the characters were older. I started a new plotline and when that plotline ran out I stopped working on the novel. One of the writers on the first person panel said that some works only work in a certain person (or a certain tense). That the interest in it and the tension that draws in the writer only exists in a certain form, and when you shift that tension, the impetus to create it dies. I did a lot reflecting on my decision to change it. It's interesting, my relationship to the story has shifted as well and as I know I want to complete a novel, I've been wandering round and round this question of do I start anew, do I go back in and work with what I have? Reflecting.
The second panel that sparked reflection had a moment when the moderator asked the writers if they were miserable. And all of them said no, they weren't miserable and they talked about how delighted they were to wrestle with their craft. One writer even talked about how amazing it felt to get up and go to his computer as his job. It reminded me of my long-term goal and affirmed why I am willing to run around like a chicken with my head cut off for this book--it is because I have a larger goal in mind, a destination ahead. A destination that is reachable if I keep pedaling forward.
MIKO KURO'S MIDNIGHT TEA
I did not attend Readercon on the final day because I had been invited to participate in Miko Kuro's Midnight Tea on Saturday night. There were four featured artists, and each of those artists invited special guests, of which I was one. I left Burlington at 5:30 with the goal of getting to the tea at 11:30. I got back to Brooklyn just in time to drop my bags off at home, change my clothes, bring my travel buddy home, and high-tail it to DUMBO. When I arrived to the event, my friend L. Natasha Diggs was arriving, exhausted from her own day as a working artist. We caught up and chatted as we were escorted up to the space where the tea took place. When we arrived we signed releases to allow our images and voices to be recorded and used. After the featured artists took our bags, we special guests were told to have a seat. We didn't get informed as to what would happen inside.
After about ten minutes, we were blindfolded with black netting, so that seeing was difficult but not impossible. We were told to hold hands and were led into the area with the audience. We were led to stand in a circle still holding hands. I felt like we were pledging. We were performers but we were experiencing surprise and wondering as we had no idea what was next. We stood there for a VERY long time. People were fanning us, taking our shoes, turning us to face in other directions, putting things in the waistband or top elastic of our dresses. As we were standing there for so long I decided to meditate. I don't meditate often but it's really good for me so I went spent the time connecting myself with the earth's core and the sun and sending light and earth's dark energy through my body. I enjoyed it, though I wondered what the audience thought of us just standing there. Was anything else going on while we stood there?
Then I was told to turn around, sit on the floor and remove my blindfolds. I did saw and saw that the seats were full. To my immediate right, there was a table with tea service set up and a young afro-ed man sitting there, apparently prepared to serve tea. To the right of him, the the far left of him, and behind him were three tents draped in red fabric. The tents represented bleeding huts. In each tent one of the featured artists had created their own experiences. I couldn't see the tent to the far left, but I saw the performer afterward and saw that she was pinned with labels that represented the physical impact of the emotional fracturing that happens after a love affair. I'm not sure what her performance was in her tent. In the hut to the right of the tea master, one of the featured artist rocked a baby with soothing, semi-eerie audio playing in the tent. Whenever someone entered the tent she rocked them too.
Soon after I had gotten my bearings, I was guided to enter the third hut. A featured artist was waiting inside. There were balled up pieces of paper on the floor of the hut. I crawled in enjoying the feeling of being enclosed in the hut. Although I'm not a performer, I love the idea of performance art. It intrigues me and I'm constantly thinking up of performances. I looked at the featured artist, excitedly waited to hear what was going to happen. The featured artist asked me when was the first time I hid. I had to really think for that one. I answered. And she asked me what was I hiding now. And I told her I wasn't using my full voice. She asked me what my voice would say to me now and what my voice would say to me if it died. Then she made lyrics out of my answers and invited me to sing with her. Singing and acting are the two skills I have not a lick of talent at--but I was open to engaging in whatever unfolded as I knew this was a going to be a totally new experience.
We sang together and then the woman with the mask who was directing the night's festivities came to the tent, shuffled through some papers, ripped a sheet of paper into pieces, and threw the pieces into the tent. Then she handed me a sheet paper. It had my directions on it. I was to find the order in chaos: that was my role for the night. It was up to me to interpret what that meant. I was to leave the tent and divine for the tea master. (The performance I had chosen to do--which I communicated to the organizers before the tea--was divining from my book.) So I left the tent and set up my divining space. Everyone was silent, watching me. So I thought--Oh, it's time for SHOW.
It was interesting (and perfect) that I had just done an activity in the tent about my voice. I felt that the audience was possibly adrift in all the activity going on, not having been directly addressed, so I started speaking. I led the audience in a mediation. This is hilarious because I don't meditate on a regular basis, but I surrendered to the moment and followed what my voice wanted to say rather than thinking of what my brain wanted to do. I talked about how all answers are within us and encouraged them to listen throughout the night and be open to hearing the answer to questions they may have in their lives. It was completely spur of the moment and unplanned. Then I divined for the tea master aloud. He asked a very esoteric question and got an abstract answer from the pages of my book. Then he served me tea. As I was drinking a scream yelled out. Was this the fourth featured artist? I saw her motion to a person's feet, gut, chest, and throat--which looked like she was indicating how deeply this person should draw from to scream. Then she embraced the person and directed them to scream. She continued this scream therapy for various people throughout the night. Others special guests were invited to enter tents. A woman began moving slowly and a special guest and a chorus member mirrored her actions. One by one, the other special guests, were given their sheet of paper with directions and were signaled to begin their share. All the other guests were poets--come to think of it, I think all the featured artists were poets too--a prose writer in a poet's world! Stories and lines from poems were ringing out around me, there was intermittent screams, singing coming from the tent I had entered, the hypnotic music playing while someone was being rocked in the other tent. There were a lot of layers of performance swirling around me.
I was not told that I should or should not continue divining so I invited a performer who was not performing to sit on my cushions so I could divine for her. From that point, every questioner picked a page that mirrored the question they were asking. Someone asked about life after death and selected a page number on which a character had just learned about mortality and was speculating on what happened after death. Over and over there was this interesting pairing between the question and the page they selected for the divining.
I spent the rest of the night selecting people from the audience and from the stage to divine for them. It was noisy, so I did it all in silence by having the questioner write down a question, then write a page number--then I divined an answer from the page, or when it seemed relevant, handed them the whole page to read. I was drawing energy from all the activity around me and I had actually found order in my little space in the middle of chaos. I was energized and felt like I could divine for the whole room. I think I may have done 8 to 10 divinations. When the performance was over, I did two more, but it didn't feel the same without the drama swirling around me. I was tired and was ready to go. I actually drew energy from the madness.
I think sometimes we resist madness and mad activity, but it was instructive to me that I could draw on it and--because I couldn't use my voice--I used another way to connect and communicate that was equally as effective as using my voice. I got a lot out of the experience from the voice activity, to leading the room in a meditation to the divining. It was a wonderful component of my weekend of reflection. Thank you, Khadijah Queen, for inviting me to participate.
2. I have TWO reviews! I sent out about 60 emails looking for reviews, and I finally have two! I also met two people who write reviews at Readercon and immediately sent them review copies as soon as I got back home. So hopefully I'll have at least two more reviews.
The difference between the two reviews is quite clear.
3. My sales are limping along: From the early weeks of selling 13-16, to the middle weeks of selling 6, to the current rate of 3-4, my ratings are hanging out at the bottom. I figure as long as I am in the game I'm still winning! I have a few more promotions up my sleeve and I'm interested to see if all my conversations with readers at the Harlem Book Fair this past weekendwill bear fruit in terms of sales. In terms of ratings, I had been hanging out in the 600,000s–800,000s, and today the rating in the 300,000. That can only mean one thing, book sales!! But I have to wait until Friday when the reporting is done to find out.
I have been running to the gym for my morning workouts. If you know me, then you know "Kiini" and "running" do not belong in the same sentence ("Kiini" and "gym" don't really go together either, but they do now!) I am able to run to the gym because I did the Couch to 5K program where they build you up to running longer and longer distances. Although I stopped the program after the runs increased to ten minutes, I learned that my body could handle it.
So yesterday morning when I started running I just wasn't into it, during the first block, I said to myself, I'm not going to make it this morning. Then I said, hey just get around the corner to the next block, by the time I did that, I said I may as well keep going. By the time I was in the third block, I knew there was no excuse not to continue. Why? Because I had run it before and I knew I was supremely capable. Running to the gym is not a physical challenge, it's a mental challenge. The floppy parts of me that just want to quit all come crawling out for their moment in the sun, and so far I have denied them dominance in my decision making process.
This all leads back to where I am with my book promotions. This morning I'm feeling a little floppy--not so much fatigued as overwhelmed. My to-do list is long with five or six events to work toward. I promised myself I'd do right by my book and that is proving to take commitment, focus, and stamina. My apartment is a mess because when I'd usually be picking up after myself, I'm sending out emails looking for radio shows and reviews.
After the high of the book release, I hit a wall. Tired of emailing and requesting and asking. Conversations with my community reminded me that there is nothing that *has* to be done. Even if and when you are on a mission there is no *one* thing that has to be done. There is always another angle, another approach, a different tactic. There need not be force. When the desire is gone, switch it up. Know that you have done what you needed to do and will continue on doing what you need to do. One of my keys to sanity is allowing myself to choose. What is the next thing on my to-do list that I *feel* like doing. It's like that saying "You ain't got to go home, but you got to get the h*** out of here." "You ain't got to do the thing you don't feel like doing, but you gotta do something."
Promoting yourself, your work, your dreams: it's a lifestyle. It's a "I don't feel like it, but I'll just go to the next block, turn the next corner, push a little while longer" type of thing. No matter what level you're on (just learning to write, working on a novel, sending your work out for publication, self publishing your work, have a finished book and need to get it out there), you have to keep pushing forward. And in surging forward, hopefully there will be magic.
Like this morning, when I was not feeling well, but also was tired of being tired, I dragged my under-the-weather self to the farmer's market. After dropping off clothes for recycling and picking up a bunch of fresh produce, I ran into a woman selling lovely bags. Chatting with her about her bags led to a realization that we'd both be at the Harlem Book Fair and to her revealing that she's part of a nationwide book club that has a hard time finding black spec fic to read: they like to read black books across the genres. I shared my book info with her and if my book becomes a book club pic that will be stellar and magical! It is potent reminder that there isn’t just one way to promote your work. There is always someone to share your vision with, spread the news to, or join with to grow your visibility. My to-do list is long, but I'm still moving through it. Today, I'll run one more block and trust that the wind, inertia, and/or magic will help to usher me along.
July 12 and 13 I’m attending Readercon in Boston.
I’m participating in Miko Kuro’s Midnight Tea on July 14
New York Foundation for the Arts
20 Jay Street, 7th Floor
Harlem Book Fair
on 135th Street in Harlem, New York
I’ll be sharing a table with exittheapple and their fun “reading is sexy” shirts.
I’ll be having a writers’ conversation with Linda Addison at the Bluestockings Bookstore from 7 to 9 p.m.
172 Allen Street, NY
I’ll also be recording an episode of the Reading Life, a New Orleans radio show in July in anticipation of my August visit to New Orleans.
**** BOOK REPORT ****
On June 22, I reached my highest rank ever! For a few sweet hours, I was ranked number 31,558 out of 700,000 books! The ratings fluctuate wildly and the inability to sustain a ranking means you’re an inconsistent seller. But it was fun to see that number.
Last week I also dropped to my lowest ranking leading me to believe I hadn’t sold any books. I had, I’d sold 6, which thrills me. But htat was half of what I had been selling weekly so the rankings were not impressed with me.
REVIEW REQUEST: If you bought the book on Amazon and you liked the book, please post a supportive sentence or two. I’m up to four reviews, and I’d like to get that up to ten. With ten reviews Amazon will put me higher when people are doing random searches. So please, if you like the book, leave a kind word. A sentence or two is al it takes.
KIINI IBURA SALAAM is a writer, painter, and traveler from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her book--"Ancient, Ancient," a collection of speculative tales that revolve around the dark, the sensual, and the magical--was named one of the Best Fantasy and Science Fiction Collections of 2012 by editor Jeff VanderMeer. http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-Fiction-Kiini-Ibura-Salaam/dp/1933500964
Kiini's work is rooted in in eroticism, speculative events, and women's perspectives. Her fiction has been anthologized in such collections as Dark Matter, Mojo: Conjure Stories, and Dark Eros. Her nonfiction has been published in Ms. magazine, Essence magazine, and Utne Reader. Her KIS.list e-report chronicles the ups and downs of the writing life and is currently being serialized in the e-book format. The first volume is titled On the Psychology of Writing: Notes from the Trenches. http://www.amazon.com/Psychology-Writing-Notes-Trenches-ebook/dp/B009NNHTOU/ref=la_B007YU4GWC_1_16?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1355940255&sr=1-16
Stay in touch with her activities by clicking "Like" on her Facebook author page at www.facebook.com/kiiniibura