The Optimism of 9/11

Anyone who lived through 9/11 remembers where they were when they heard the news. I’m no exception. I was sleeping in after a fun weekend with my kids + 1. (Raised as an only child, I love it when there are extras.)

The phone rang.

My husband an I ran an aircraft maintenance shop. The future was bright and the days where full of children’s laughter.

The phone call was from a Civil Air Patrol member. His voice brought me instantly awake. Usually the most laid back customer, he said simply, “We need our plane in the air. Now.”

Normally I would have tried to calm him down, because you never push someone who is fixing something you intend to fly. But that tone in his voice was military. Commanding. Serious. Focused. Determined.

“I’ll call the shop. I’ll have them give you a status.”

He hung up without saying goodbye. The commander wasn’t being rude. He was simply on to the next task.

I dialed the shop and heard that determined focus echoed in my husband’s voice.

“Civil Air Patrol needs their plane,” I started.

“Tell them we’re almost done. We’ll have it ready.” And I knew he’d rushed the job even before the call.

“Why?” I asked in my last moment of innocence. “Why do they need it rushed? They have other planes.”

He was silent for a moment. “You haven’t heard,” his voice was almost a whisper. “There’s been an attack. News is still confused, but… It’s bad. Turn on the news. Stay home.”

A haze of dread seeped into my bones as I turned on the television and watched those horrific images along with the rest of the world.

I’d always been an optimist, but something broke in my heart that day. The kids struggled to understand. I heard the beeping of pass alarms in the background of the broadcast and my heart broke.

As the wife of a volunteer firefighter, I knew what that noise meant long before the media caught on. Firemen were trapped somewhere that rubble. A lot of them. I’m sure I cried, but most of that day fell into a blessed haze of shock.

It was a year later, watching a memorial of 9/11, when the clip was played where a journalist asked someone near him what that sound was, when my heart finally came to grips with the overpowering emotions. I ran from the room and threw up, crying in choking sobs. So many gone so suddenly.

We were at war. But perhaps not the one everyone associates with 9/11.

The War on Optimism

I’d just taken the kids on a trip to Canada a few days earlier. Such a simple trip would never again happen that easily, that spontaneously, that innocently. Borders closed, and security increased.

My 9/11 image, the one that struck me and lives on in my nightmares did not happen until weeks later.

You see, 9/11 shut down our airport, cutting the foundation out of our business. All around us was silence. That CAP plane stayed on the ground with all the others at our airport for months as the government decided if it was safe to allow planes in the air so close to Seattle.

I was at work in the eerie quiet that should never be heard on an airport, when a low drone began in the distance, slowly growing closer. The noise grew and what passed for work stopped. We walked out onto the ramp and looked up. The air was vibrating.

A flight of maybe a dozen military transport planes flew overhead, low and slow. It was a terrifying sight. I’ve worked on a military base, but I’d never seen more than one of those mighty aircraft at a time before that moment or since.

And I knew, we were at war.

Nothing would ever be the same.

Flash Forward

It’s been 15 years. Before 9/11, I didn’t let my boys play with guns. After 9/11, we made sure they knew how to shoot. I’ve watched one son take his oath into the military. I’ll watch another soon. I’m proud of the way they’ve grown up: serious, focused, determined.

The shop did not survive 9/11, although it took a few years for us to surrender. Like the twin towers, it took a while for the terrible reality of the structural damage to be seen.

We lost almost everything.

Before 9/11, I lived in a world of optimism. The future seemed bright. And then in an instant everything turned dark, the future hazy and ominous.

Now we live in a world of danger. People thrive on dystopian fiction. Terror attacks are common. Young people scoff at how naive we were back then.

Lately I’ve been searching for the optimism that I misplaced that day 15 years ago. I want it back.

We’ve rebuilt our lives.

Anyone who knows me knows the last few years have been particularly hard. And yet, the future begins to seem bright again. The smoke is clearing.

Finally, I find my heart being restored. I’m still serious, focused, determined. But maybe there is just a hint of optimism in the air.

World Trade Center

Bunny Poop

I love roses. It’s a bit early, but this morning I realized that it was time to fertilize. Thus began my annual stress of getting enough of just the right kinds of fertilizer for my roses. It’s an investment, but I hate wasting money on the wrong stuff. I got out my notes and reviewed what I needed.

As the day wore on, I went to clean out the bunny cage. See my cute bunny? bunnyShe’s actually an evil creature with a wicked bite. I got her as a trainer fiber bunny. (Not much fiber, easier than an angora, and yes her fur spins up luscious when mixed with wool and alpaca.) As I was cleaning the cage, I remembered a friend talking about the wonders of bunny poop as fertilizer. It was one of those half-heard conversations that take a while for my brain to process.

I certainly had enough bunny poop to fertilize all the roses. (I’m a bad bunny mommy and the cage needed cleaning badly.) A bit of research and I discovered that bunny fertilizer would be delightful for those roses. No skimping this year!

While I was dancing happily around the rose garden spreading pellets of goodness, it occurred to me that there is probably a metaphor here. How many times in my life have I been shoveling out the manure dropped on me while struggling to make ends meet in another area?

Bunny poop. May be my new catch phrase for life.

We’ll see how the roses like it.


Watch out for the Edge.
author Joseph Lallo

Joseph Lallo Returns!

Back in 2012, I interviewed an indie author who had really impressed me, Joseph Lallo. Today, I’m happy to present a follow up to that interview.

D: I’ve been a fan of yours for years. One of my favorite blog posts of all time is the one in which you announce that you are now a full-time writer. That was…amazing. Can you tell me more about how that felt?

JL: It was surreal. For days I felt like at any moment they were going to call me up and say, “No, really, you can’t quit. Come back here and be a grownup.”

I’d debated and deliberated on it for so long, though, that I felt more relief than anything else. Of course, the way it actually went down sort of derailed me a bit. I gave them five weeks notice, and then they decide, at 3PM on the day before I was supposed to leave that I shouldn’t come back the next day. I went from “Wow, you know, it’s finally happening. It’ll be so strange to walk in here tomorrow and know it is my last day” to “Wait, what? You fired me the day before my resignation kicked in? Wha… I… Can you do that?”

Wistful to confused in three seconds flat.

D: How do you feel about being an indie, now?

JL: I’m still glad, and proud, to be an indie. Overall I feel it was the best choice for me. I like the freedom that comes from making all of my own decisions, and the flexibility of not being tied down with too many contracts. There are plenty of times that a marketing team or a staff editor would have been really helpful, but I’ve heard that even the big publishers are starting to put the onus onto the authors to do most of the marketing and editing, so the value of traditional isn’t very clear anymore. It would be awesome to see one’s books in the local bookstore, but these days people carry their local bookstore in their pockets!

D: Are your challenges changing as your career progresses?

JL: Well, the ebook gold rush is over. Sales are leveling out now that the early adopters have adopted, but the number of authors is still increasing exponentially. That means the slices of the pie are getting thinner and finding ways to stand out are getting more difficult. Funny enough, the problem isn’t that there is an endless supply of bad books flooding the market–though there IS no shortage of them. The thing that really makes it more difficult these days is the endless supply of GOOD books. It isn’t hard to stand out in a sea of drek. People will pick a good book over a bad book ten times out of ten. But if the choice is which good book out of a list of fifteen good books? Then the odds are with the reader. It’s a GREAT time to be a reader. For an author, it means you have to keep stepping up your game. But there’s nothing wrong with being driven to improve.

I’m also finding that as my series get longer and I produce more series in general, keeping the fans happy is tricky. I can only write so many words a day. So do I write two books in a row in the Book of Deacon series to try to build momentum? Or do I alternate back and forth in order to keep both sets of fans happy? So far I haven’t had any troubles coming up with ideas, so that’s at least not an issue… yet.

D: You have more printed books available now than when I interviewed you before. How is that process going? Any recommendations?

JL: You know, paperbacks are not big money makers for most of the year, but during the holiday season they enjoy a big spike. Plus, they give you something to autograph for fans. It is really useful to have them, and I’m working on generating them for my entire backlist. The process is tricky though, because I try to have the covers professionally made. That means I have to do the interior in order to get a page count, then use that to calculate the spine width for the artist to use for the cover art, then circle back and add the image. It takes time and effort, and I always feel like it would be better to be writing.

I definitely feel that you should get them done, though. Print On Demand is best unless your merchandising mojo is particularly strong. CreateSpace is what I use, but Ingram Spark and Lulu are good too. Just do as much of the work yourself as you can. Getting an artist to do a cover costs much less and has better results than using their cover service, and interior formatting takes some trial and error in a word processor to get it done, but once you’ve got the process down it’s not that difficult.

D: Are you still working with Smashwords? Any thoughts?

JL: I’m indeed still doing all of my non-Amazon distribution through Smashwords, and it has been working out great. Because I’ve had a fairly strong track record, Mark Coker (the guy in charge) has worked directly with me on more than one occasion to help set up promos and guide my release strategies. I’ve even met him at a convention to chat face to face.

In theory I could earn more money by submitting directly to the various sales outlets, but Smashwords handles all of my updates, price changes, and format conversions, plus gives me access to stores that don’t have direct submission methods, to the time and effort saved is more than worth the percentage they take.

D: You’ve done two Nano novels. Has doing Nano influenced your over-all writing process?

JL: Actually, I’ve now done three! This past November was a success, so I’ve got Free-Wrench, The Other Eight, and the (now in Beta) sequel to Free-Wrench called Skykeep. That’ll be out in March, maybe.

NaNo has definitely helped me to streamline my writing process, coaxing me into doing better outlines and sticking to my word count goals. It also gives me a chance to work on stories outside my main series and develop new ideas quickly, although if things keep going the way they’re going the NaNo books will just become additional series.

D: What is your “process” these days?

JL: Right around when I’m finishing a given book, I’ll start talking to the fans about what they’d like to see next from me. Usually it boils down to me alternating my main series, so if I’m just wrapping up a sci-fi book, it’ll usually mean a Book of Deacon novel.

From there I’ll look at the gaps in the series. Will it be a prequel, will it be a sequel? Which threads should I pick up on? Which ones should I tie up? Once I have the slot in the timeline I’ll start tracing out a beginning, a middle, and an end. If I’m feeling particularly dedicated I’ll do a chapter by chapter outline, but more often than not after I get the first two or three chapters thumbnailed I’ll just start writing and make it up as I go. Incidentally, I’m a recent convert to Scrivener as a writing tool and it is really growing on me Skykeep is the first full novel I’ve written in it, and my next Book of Deacon novel is about 1/3rd of the way through in it as well.

If I start to weave around and get off the original plan for the plot, I’ll usually go with the flow unless it starts to clash with the intended direction of the series or wouldn’t work with prior events. That circles forward until it’s complete. I try to do at least 3000 words a day right now, and I’m hoping next year to bulk that up to 5-7k.

D: What is your editing process? Has this changed?

JL: My editing process has remained fairly consistent. I don’t do any serious editing until I’m entirely finished writing the plot. As I write, I make notes to myself with “***” on either side. Once I hit the last page, it’s in alpha. Sometimes I’ll send this out to some friends and fans, but usually I wait until Beta for that. I circle back to the start and do a search for all of the notes and work my way through a second time, applying the changes, combing out some of the grammar snags, and fixing the flow.

At this point I consider it Beta and send it out to the readers. While they’re working on it, I’ll start another small project. After a few readers finish I’ll see if there’s any feedback that needs to be applied as changes, and type them up. At this point I may or may not do another read through just to see if there are glaring problems that anyone missed, then it is off to the editor to be proofread and corrected. Once I get it back I’ll apply edits as needed and address any notes the editor left behind, then format it up for release.

D: If you could go back in time to the moment you first thought of self-publishing, and offer a word of advice to yourself (and others like you) what would it be?

JL: I’d definitely urge myself to take the leap to full-time author a little earlier. I’d warn myself that it won’t always be easy, and that I need to be thinking about marketing at every step of the process. If 2010 me had known to get a newsletter set up, I’d be in a much better position right now, that’s for sure.

D: Anything else you’d like to say?

JL: I’d just like to thank you once again for talking to me! It is always great to share what knowledge I have, and it is enlightening to take a moment and think about my own process.

D: Thank you! And thank you for all of the hours of delightful entertainment that you’ve given me.

Artificial Evolution CoverJoseph Lallo’s latest book, Artificial Evolution, hits the virtual shelves TODAY!

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