Words from the otherworld: marketing, duende, donuts, silence, honesty, owls and tribe.
A key aspect of my personality, like many people, is that I hate labels. Who wants to be the same as everybody else? Who wants their complex inner world summed up in a few words? Who wants what they do to suddenly be… banal? We can’t escape labels or their usefulness. But labels can be reductive, restrictive and misconstrued. They can also be dangerous if internalized without awareness and critical appraisal. If we don’t examine them, labels are essentially the outside world telling us how we are rather than finding out for ourselves. However, labels are needed. I need to be able to tell you I am a writer. I need to be able to tell you I write poetry, novellas, novels and that these fall under a certain genre. I am also a tarot reader. Why do I need to tell you these things? For two reasons, one, (let’s be honest shall we?) so that I can sell stuff, stuff that will resonate with the right people. Secondly, so I can find my tribe.
While writing and tarot are not new to me, talking about them publicly and marketing them is.
Towards the end of last year I found myself drained and bored by writing, tarot, social media and blogging. For someone who loves and needs creativity and mysticism this sudden sense of emptiness was concerning. I am also someone who classes herself an extroverted introvert, I am a hermit but I also like connection (in limited doses). For someone who is stuck at home 99% of the time social media and blogging can be a real life saver so when these became a chore I had to really look at what was happening. So, I did what I needed to do – I sought out solitude and silence. I spent time walking in nature, writing in my journals, and digging around in my own brain. (For a really great blog post on artists and the medicine of solitude click here.)
In my time away I had a few realizations. Firstly, donuts are excellent. If you have coffee and donuts together, in a dark forest, it is a religious experience. Also, although I consider what I write as romance, the typical readers and writers of romance may not see it that way (if some recent feedback and research is to be believed). To be clear, this is not a blog post concerning the limits of the romance genre, this is a blog post about my journey finding myself as a writer, where I fit in and how to communicate about and, market my work. After much consideration I decided I needed to rebrand. There are a number of reasons for this.
My writing is very much something people love or hate. I have no problem with that (I rather like it actually, grey is not my colour) but I do have a problem if my work is not communicated correctly. Communication about my work is solely my responsibility as is the marketing. I have done a lot of research and had a lot of discussions and as you can see, I am changing the way I communicate and market my work. Hopefully by doing this I will avoid disappointing people who pick up my writing expecting something else (I don’t do sweet or cute, just in case you missed the memo), and also, so I can reach the people who may enjoy my style of writing.
This rebranding will also allow greater authenticity – I wont be writing to fit in with a genre that isn’t quite me. I will just write what I write. Yes, I write about love, yes my stories are romances, but they also go beyond that. Through trying to fit into a genre I had been holding myself back. I love the romance genre and I desperately wanted to fit in. But I have let that go and it feels okay. I see it for what it is now. I can still connect with that genre but I don’t need to fit within it. It is all just a learning curve… a steep, crazy learning curve.
The above realizations were powerful and painful. Painful in that it meant there was a death, a death of an idea of who I was and who I was going to be as a writer. But these realizations were also powerful. They gave me a clear direction as to how to move forward in a far more honest way, a way that energized and excited me.
I use the word rebrand but I am not a brand. I never will be. Nor am I the kind of person to create a product and sell it in some dimension separate from myself e.g., write a book, give it to a publisher, let them market it and push it through an online bookseller whilst never connecting with my readers and other writers. I do not want to be a faceless, impersonal artist (not that this is a bad thing, it just isn’t my style). But that isn’t to say I am going to be handing out my home address (yes, I have had emails asking for that and much creepier stuff, but that is another blog post: The wilds of the Facebook “OTHER” message folder.) There are a few reasons I approach my art and my art process in this way, one of which I am sure is ego. Second of is because I am interested in connection with other like minded people, and finally because I want to try and be the kind of artist I relate to myself.
To be clear, the aim of connection or, as I like to call it, finding my creative tribe, isn’t some creepy marketing thing. Tribe isn’t about just about selling stuff (I’m not going to lie though, I would like to make money through my art if possible.) But finding my creative tribe is also about connecting and sharing. Much of what create, I give away for free because I can. I often do the same with tarot. In some ways my art is love letter to the world, especially my poetry and photography. So, I enjoy sending that energy out. But I also love discovering it. There is nothing like reading a poem that makes your heart stop, seeing a photo that changes you forever or opening the first page of a novel that you know you are going to fall in love with.
Connection with other artists of my ilk is important because art is a lonely process at the best of times. I also have the extra hurdle of disability. The poetry readings I attend are online. The book launches I attend are on Facebook. My writing classes are on Skype or via books. Most new musicians I love I end up watching on YouTube. There is the odd occasion my pain lets up enough and I can go on adventures into the city or forest. But these adventures are few and far between. I know there are other artists out there like me in terms of art and life circumstance. So, it seems only prudent to see if I can find or, form a stimulating online community that not only inspires art but also can help stave off situational depression.
Finally, I am the kind of art consumer that if I love a piece of work I want to know more about the artist and their influences. That way, I can keep mapping the feelings and ideas I connected to in the original work. This does not mean I cannot divorce the artist from their work. I actually think it is very important to do this, to an extent. But I do like to know that artist, not a slick brand. So, as I move forward in this new direction I am keeping myself as consumer and artist in mind.
(I am leaving the conversation of artist versus brand out of this blog entry. But yes, I am well aware that you could argue the artist, such as Amanda Palmer or P J Harvey IS the brand.)
There were other pains caused by some of the artistic realizations discussed above. One of the biggies was that a lot of people I had connected with did not see romance the same way as I did. In a way I already knew this, but I thought I was ready to take on the challenge and push the genre. I wasn’t. Maybe in the future, but not now. So rather than following the well trodden path of the romance genre, I am going to have to find my own way. (I can hear my best friend laughing now, saying “Did you really ever think it was going to be any other way for you? You little rebel.”)
I have a very broad and complex definition of romance and love. Discussions of these topics often collapse in to existential debates (just ask my editor). This is because I can see a love story in just about anything, from horror to non-fiction films and books. I admit, I may be projecting my own love for the work INTO the work… but I am not one for letting the truth get in the way of a good love story. For me, being able to see love and romance everywhere is a strength.
Some of my favorite love stories off the top of my head are Twin Peaks, Buffy, Supernatural, Broachchurch, The Fall, GoT, Top of the Lake, Hannibal, A Royal Affair, The Time Traveller’s Wife, Shame, Batman, Wings of Desire, Labyrinth, Under the Skin, Badlands, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Requiem for a Dream, I Origin, Anything by Terrence Malick and Lars von Trier. Wuthering Heights, Anna Karenina, Jude the Obscure, Lolita, The divine comedy, Women who run with the wolves, A year with swollen appendices, Rebecca, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, A Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Odyssey, Snowdrops, anything by Murakami. Just about everything by this vastly incomplete list of poets: Auden, Pinter, Lorca, Carson, Mandelshtam, Plath, Frost, Baudelaire… By now I am sure you can see my pattern: none. In my eyes the horror and greatness of love is everywhere.
Although I was doomed to document the darkness of love from the moment I drew breath, my genre does not seem to recognize my shade of love. Well not yet anyway. I’ve searched high and low. There are writers that come close to what I write but they do not fit under the romance genre either, this is despite their stories being dominated by romance and depicting a love story. But this is okay. It simply is what it is. I just need to find my tribe. I will not compromise my art and my view of love. The world needs all shades of affection and passion recorded and communicated. And this is my truth of love. Love is not monotone. Love is a constant series of breakages and repairs with an inevitable end that we fight against with sex and memory.
I think the quote below eloquently explains what I am bumbling around trying to communicate.
“All love songs must contain duende. For the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love without having within in their lines an ache or a sigh are not love songs at all but rather Hate Songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted. These songs deny us our humanness and our God-given right to be sad and the air-waves are littered with them. The love song must resonate with the susurration of sorrow, the tintinnabulation of grief. The writer who refuses to explore the darker regions of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, the magic and the joy of love for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil – the enduring metaphor of Christ crucified between two criminals comes to mind here – so within the fabric of the love song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering.” N. Cave.
I have rested. I have rebranded. I am still editing Rain and a new series of poems that were born during my retreat. I have to say a big thank you to one of my best friends and soul-sister who gave me the courage to finally return to ‘public life’ (I consider blogging, social media, etc., public life for a writer/hermit). It was her sage advice that reminded me, its okay to fuck up, to grow, and to be brilliant. It is all a package deal, especially if you are a person who wants their art to evolve. But more than anything it is okay, no, imperative, that you be yourself and be as honest as you can as you create. Why? Because what other way is there? What is the other option?
So, in short, I have been away. I have had a think. My approach to writing, communicating and marketing has evolved. I have let go labels that didn’t quite fit and were holding me back. I hope through doing this I will find you, tribe and I will find more of myself.