Lake Kivu sunset

A Brief but Necessary Update

Warning: This post may be insufficient for some readers.

Rwanda hills
Women on the road into western Rwanda

I’ve been back from Rwanda for a week now and “real life” is starting to feel normal again. However, I’m still, tragically, at a loss for words when it comes to letting my friends and readers know “how it went.” I guess we who go on service trips to places so astronomically different from our home countries expect that either A) people won’t care about or understand the things we cared about or found important, or B) they’ll reject our experiences outright and claim they didn’t happen or that they signified something other — and less — than what they did in our lives.

Clear as mud?

Admittedly, expectation B is probably fairly irrational and maybe a little bit unfair to our friends and family. As a writer though, I wonder if it’s even more difficult to embark and return from such a journey — some people might assume (and I’m fairly certain they do) that 10 days in a tiny African country must yield great creative work, or at least the inspiration for one that you will undoubtedly produce after a few days of “sittin’ time.”

But maybe I put too much pressure on myself.

In any case, life goes on, in many ways for the better. Red Sweater Press is finally getting off the ground, thanks to my angel investor (hi Dad), and soon you will be able to purchase copies of all my books under the imprint. ALSO (*drum roll* please), I will be releasing my latest book of poetry, “Stakes,” this coming week!

excited Minions
Feel free to be THIS excited

Most of these poems were written, once again, during Camp NaNoWriMo (April this time), and however quick a turnaround you may perceive this to be, I have to say — I’m pretty frickin’ proud of these poems.

And, as a matter of fact, there is at least one poem about Rwanda in this collection, which I wrote while reading this book. (If you don’t know about the Rwanda genocide that happened 25 years ago, go educate yo’self.)

Once all the books have been published or re-published and ordered, I will be scheduling signings and readings around town for late July/early August, so stay tuned for that.

Finally, I will also be working on edits for The Blame Game, which I would LOVE to publish next year, but we’ll see. It should be doable given the “extra” time I expect to have this fall (though when is “extra time” even a thing?)…

More on that later.




So…self publishing

This week, I self-published four books: Songs from the UndergroundEver Unknown, Ever MisunderstoodUneven Lanes; and Wabi-Sabi World: An Artist’s Search.

The first three are available as eBooks on Smashwords, and the last is available on Blurb in softcover and hardback.

But that’s not what this post is about (really).

I hadn’t intended to self publish. I admit to being one of those people who turned up their nose at such an endeavor — not because I knock the process, exactly, but because I’ve seen too many self-published books that weren’t really ready for publication. They needed more editing or a better cover artist or just a lot more time to stew in their juices, as it were, to become the best they could be.

I almost went that route once before, with my first novel. I was riding that NaNoWriMo high of achievement, and I thought I was ready. Halfway through — after I’d spent about $30 and was about to spend $300 more — I realized I was wrong. I wasn’t ready. God Only Knows wasn’t ready. The Blame Game wasn’t ready. And I wasn’t about to “blow my career” on a “bad” first novel.

Now, maybe this is somewhat errant thinking. Maybe you can come back from a poor debut. I don’t know. But you can guess what I think based on the fact that I haven’t actually published a novel yet…

My philosophy on self-published poetry, however, is different. To me, poetry doesn’t need much sitting time. You write it in the moment, and usually it’s done (there’s a famous poet who agrees with me, but I can’t recall who…very inconvenient, I know). This makes the most sense when you’re writing in free verse, I think; for form poetry you might want to do some actual revision, unless you’re super familiar with the form, to the point where it comes naturally. I am not that kind of poet.

That said, Songs from the Underground DOES include some form poetry, since I wrote most of the poems for my undergraduate poetry class (under former Poet Laureate of Minnesota Joyce Sutphen — she’s amazing). I’m proud of those poems, and many of them did see much more editing than I usually engage in — but I still prefer to write poems when inspiration strikes, and leave them preserved.

So it’s not that I care about my poetry less (although for some reason I do feel more pressure to produce a great novel than a perfect book of poetry), but that I’m more confident — or at least comfortable — in letting it simply “be.” I also like to keep covers simple, using my own photography and a simple text overlay. I think that’s all a collection of personal poetry needs.

I harbor similar sentiments about nonfiction writing, possibly because I wrote and photographed so many news stories on such a short timeline that I simply had to write, proofread, publish and move on. Wabi-Sabi, like Songs from the Underground, was composed for a college class, and I’d really been meaning to publish it for years now, so its venture into the world this week doesn’t seem sudden.

I should also note that, technically, I’d already published each of the abovementioned books through Photobook America — I just only printed one copy, and didn’t have an ISBN for any of them. So I guess you could call that a kind of revision.

In any case, I can now call myself a published author in a way that people can see and (hopefully) understand. And that doesn’t suck 🙂


What do you think? To self publish, or not to self publish? What are your conditions?