Monday, May 29, 2017

The Bracelet I Wore

This Memorial Day has a particular poignancy for me. I have not, personally, lost someone in battle who was serving in the armed forces, but my best friend has - her brother - in the first Gulf War. He was as dear to her as my brother is to me, so I felt her loss of him very keenly. Every Memorial Day, I remember him. I also remember someone else, though there is another date on which I honor him too: May 18th. That is the day Lt. Cdr. Vincent D. Monroe was lost in Vietnam, and remained Missing in Action until 1978. I wore his POW bracelet, as many others did, from about 1972 until that day in 1978 that I read in the paper that his remains were identified and sent home to be buried at Arlington. I sent my bracelet to his family, but don't remember getting a response from them, which is fine.

Yesterday, the day before Memorial Day, I was watching CBS Sunday Morning and there was a segment on about a troop of soldiers called The Lost Platoon. On May 18th, 1967, they were ambushed, and most of them were massacred. Some saved their own lives by playing dead for 15 hours, many gravely wounded. When I saw this segment, I burst into tears. I figured Vincent D. Monroe had to be among those who died that day, given the date, but I had gotten the year wrong. Googling his name, I was reminded that he actually went missing on May 18, 1968 - exactly a year later. His plane was shot down and he and his co-pilot parachuted to the ground. That was the last that was seen of them. It was assumed that they were taken prisoner, and that Vincent died sometime after.

Knowing these details about him made me feel closer to him. I always did feel close - when I first visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., I sought out his name there, and of course, there was the remembrance of him every May 18th and Memorial Day. Today, though, I'm shedding fresh tears for him.

I found a sight where you could post memorials to lost soldiers, and I posted one on his page, along with several others, this one from his grandson:

Dear Grandfather,
I wish there would have been a chance to have met you. I've always seen photos, medals, awards, visited the wall, and visited your have in Arlington Cemetery. 
Grandmother, Suzanne B. Monroe always told me about you and always mentioned how good of a man you we're!
Uncle, James Monroe,
Mom, Anne (Monroe)King,
Aunt, Claire (Monroe)Baratelli,
They all told me about when they were kids how you were all ways there for them and loved them.
One day I will be able to ascend to heaven and finally meet you my Grandfather! CDR. Vincent D. Monroe 
I'm honored to be able to have Your Name VINCENT a part of my name! I even gave my son your name VINCENT as well.
Thank you for your bravery and courage,
Love your First born Grandson!

I am glad he is so honored. Rest in peace, Vincent. I will never forget you.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Sometimes, the Muse Has to Wait.

Writing has its ups and downs. One month your book sales are soaring, the next they're crashing; sometimes people are clamoring for your writing, the next day you're sifting through rejection letters, and it's difficult to always know why. Lately, I've been on a hot streak (knock on wood!). My new Pride and Prejudice variation, Darcy's Awakening, is flying off the virtual shelves, and I've just been hired as a freelance feature writer for the Oregonian newspaper, the number one newspaper in Oregon.

A year ago, I couldn't sell a book to save my life. Rather, I should say, I seemed to have exhausted the audience, or at least my ability to reach it, for my time travel novels, which had sold well at the time of the release of each of the (so far) four books in the series. And though I had just been taken on to write a monthly column for a small local rag, it didn't pay. A writer friend of mine was having a lot of success with the Austen variation genre, basically a very popular form of fanfiction, and she suggested I try my hand at it. We agreed that it would be a natural fit for me, especially if my stories were set in the Regency era (the time in which Austen wrote her books) because I have always been a real Austen buff, and my first time travel novel, The Time Baroness, was set in that time, so I already had a ton of research under my belt. Well, it definitely turned out to be the right move for me, because my first series of variations, Elizabeth, Darcy, and Me, A Battle of Wills, and A Maiden's Honor, sold remarkably well.
I was on a roll. Then I published Darcy's Awakening, and the roll turned into a landslide. In the meantime, the sales of my time travel books picked up a bit because fans found them through links in my Austen variation books - a win-win all around.  Another positive occurrence was that the county library system here in Portland accepted The Time Baroness into their e-book collection, and for the first time, one of my books could be borrowed from the library!

However, sometimes I struggle with the realities of being a writer, as opposed to the "dream." We all wish we could write the thing we're most passionate about, in my case, time travel, have our books become best sellers and live off the royalties for the rest of our lives. But what more often occurs, even among very famous writers, is that we find a genre that sells, learn to be passionate about it, and hopefully have some success there. Rare is the writer who puts their heart and soul into writing The Great American Novel, has it scooped up by a huge publisher, and finds it sitting at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list for 20 weeks. Because, when you think about the writers that sell like crazy, J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King, P.D. James, Dan Brown...etc., etc., you can see they have one thing in common: super popular genres.

So what is the solution for we not so famous (yet) writers? I think it's clear. Find a genre that sells, which you also enjoy writing, and write to that market. Then, when you feel you have the financial freedom to write your passion, do it. As one writer friend expressed, "You have to earn the right to feed your muse." I think it's a good philosophy - kind of like paying your dues. I think about John Grisham who churned out one legal thriller after another, and then gave us the gorgeous, out-of-genre masterpiece, A Painted House. I'm not saying he didn't love writing his thrillers, but you could tell his heart was in A Painted House in a very special way - he was feeding his muse.

In the end, even though writing to a market may feel like selling out, really, it's building a fan base, and paying the bills while doing what you love.  No one can argue with that.