The Truth Shall Set Us Free

The past decade has been a roller coaster. In 2010 I was suffering from writer’s block so bad I was afraid to open my laptop, because almost every time I did I cried. Writing 100 words was an effort tantamount to climbing Everest. I was so stuck in the fear of writing the wrong thing, or not writing anything well enough for anyone to bother reading ever again, that I could no longer enjoy the craft I once practiced purely for fun.

Now it’s 2020, and here I am once again unable to write. The thought doesn’t make me cry though. It’s more that I am generally dispirited by all that the business of writing entails, and I’m not sure of my place in the landscape of authorship anymore.

But let me back track a little.

Sometime in 2011 I did manage to write something. All of it a notebook, by hand, because of my laptop phobia. I thought no one would ever read this weird erotic menage romance about a woman with the breast cancer gene and two bisexual firefighters. But as I was transcribing the book onto the screen at last, I saw I’d written something I was proud of. I made myself cry, in the good way this time. And when it was accepted for publication with Samhain, I was ecstatic. That would have been enough for me, to be honest. Like I said, I never thought many people would read it. However in 2012, a few months after the book’s release, I received a text from my friend Jess Dee. It said 908.

I texted back something along the lines of what the fuck you on about?

Turns out 908 was the book’s rank on Amazon. I’d done no advertising, a couple of blog tours. It had I think about 10 reviews at that time. I’d published the book and gotten on with my life, yet somehow I’d cracked the elusive top 1000. To say I was shocked was an understatement. But back in the day (was it really only 8 years ago??), a book could still take off like that, organically, without an immense financial outlay made to appease the Amazon gods. I just hadn’t expected mine to do it.

Erica’s Choice went on to sell lots of copies (I dunno how many but I think around 30,000..?) and get about 94 reviews, none of them solicited. People wrote to me to tell me how the book effected them. I never expected any of that, and it was a delight to know I’d given people something. I’d created something out of literally nothing, because when I first picked up that notebook I thought I had nothing left in me.

I was wrong.

Then, in 2013 I decided to release a sweet romance. Yep. Right when I was gaining momentum as an erotic romance author lol. But I had this little book on my hard drive that Mills & Boon had rejected way back in 2008, because the hero wasn’t ‘alpha enough’ and was ‘just a pizza chef’ (you bet I kept that letter…just. A. pizza. chef). I thought they’d failed to see the point of the story. The heroine was a successful professional. She didn’t need to be financially taken care of, she needed someone to emotionally support her. Enter Mike, the ‘pizza chef’ who cooked for her, helped her raise an infant, was flirty but not pushy, was patient with her trust issues, and generally had her back. Mike took care of Eve, a woman who’d been taking care of herself since childhood. There was something in that I felt women would respond to.

I was right.

A Man Like Mike was accepted for publication with Escape Publishing, and went on to hit #1 on the Australian iBooks charts on two separate occasions in 2013. Not just the romance charts, but the overall bestseller charts. It was the top selling book in Australia, on iBooks, both upon its release and later on during a .99c sale.

Again, I was shocked. I am still shocked if I think about it. I found out while attending the Australian Romance Readers Convention in Brisbane. I was sitting with Lexxie Couper at the swanky dinner party and she looked at her phone because ‘hey your book was doing pretty well on iBooks earlier’. She looked over at me and said ‘it’s number one.’

And I was like ‘haha lolz, mean joke bitch’.

And she was like ‘yaya truth, look’.

The Divas at ARRC 2013

So that was surreal. Here I was attending a conference where I sat on a no-holds-barred panel answering questions about writing filthy romance books, while having a bestselling sweet, closed-door love scene book at the top of the charts.

Wild.

After the success of that book I enjoyed a few more wins. The spin-off of Erica’s Choice, Burning Up, was released as part of the Down and Dirty box set. That set cracked the top 100 on Amazon, and I carried on to write two more books in what became the Ashton Heights Fire series, a collection of novels and novellas I’m truly proud of. For the box set, the Down Under Divas (Lexxie Couper, Rhian Cahill, Jess Dee and myself) also won an Australian Romance Readers Association award for best erotic romance. It was a good year for the Divas.

Until it wasn’t. After we won the ARRA, complaints were made about the judging process. Seems someone/s had a problem with a box set winning an award because it meant we had 4x the voters or something. Never mind that none of us even asked anyone to vote for us. We were surprised to even be nominated. And in truth all our readers were the same people, heh. The Australian market for erotic romance is very small. There was no coordinated campaign, yet, we were treated as though we had somehow rigged the competition. Because of our win, they changed the rules for future awards and from my perspective it was hard not to take that as a slap in the face. A caveat that said although we’d won by popular vote, we somehow shouldn’t have. We didn’t deserve it, and the organisation had to make sure no one like us ever won again.

It’s all ours mofos

I continued my membership of ARRA for another year or two, but my heart wasn’t in it and I let it lapse. I didn’t want to pay dues to an organisation that made me feel like their dodgy cousin Vinny (more on the, ahem, RWA in a minute). AND HELL YEAH THEY HAD TO MAKE US 3 MORE STATUETTES BECAUSE THERE WERE 4 OF US AND I STILL PROUDLY DISPLAY THAT FUCKER IN MY OFFICE.

So while I’m venting the spleen about writer’s organisations…

RWA (Australia) runs one conference a year and it is sponsored by Harlequin. In effect, it is owned by Harlequin. It’s a Harlequin PR spectacle. Nothing wrong with that. Harlequins are great. I cut my reading teeth on them. I tried to write them for a long time, but never seemed to fit there (see above story about my beloved pizza chef). Luckily, I found my home when the world of e publishing opened up. Samhain didn’t care what job my hero had. In my first novel, the hero was a carpenter who’d spent a nomadic existence avoiding commitment and accumulating zero wealth. My second story was about an ex-convict who’d built a business on stolen money. Readers for the most part gave these books positive reviews. Readers liked them, yet they would NEVER have had a chance in print publishing at that time. To this day, I thank heaven for Samahain Publishing and the opportunities it afforded me to write the characters I needed to write. They made me a published author. They gave me the confidence to attend RWA conferences. Too bad when I went to those conferences I was shown in innumerable ways that I wasn’t quite legitimately published, was I? They were ebooks, erotic ones at that. They didn’t count, you know.

You think I sound bitter. I’m not anymore because to be honest I have barely given the RWA a moment’s thought in years. But at the time, yeah, it was kinda hurtful. How many times they tried to change the definition of published so digital first authors were excluded from entering competitions. The fact they set up a separate author loop for e-published authors as though we had not earned the right to sit at the same table as the print (read: Harlequin) authors. At conferences there was a special cocktail party for the Harlequin authors only, which isn’t a problem on its own. Ok for the organisation to schmooze its authors, of course. Except that no other publishers ever sponsored a similar event for anyone else, so it gave the conference a very us and them feel right from the outset. There were digital authors submitting proposals to run sessions and being knocked back, even though there were no sessions addressing the unique issues of digital first publishing. They jumped straight over epublishing as a phenomenon and started talking about self-publishing, eventually, but they prioritised the voices of previously print published authors who were branching out. Not digital first authors, not self-published only authors, for whom the experience of publishing without a print backlist is completely different. 

So yeah, it was hard not to take it all as a deliberate attempt to keep digital authors out of the inner circle of the RWA. But I along with others fought to have epublished authors recognised as legitimate by the organisation. When A Man Like Mike did so well, I felt emboldened enough to enter it in the RUBY award.

It didn’t even final.

I have to concede maybe it was a shit book. Perhaps thousands of sales and hundreds of positive reviews can happen even when your book is objectively terrible (Well, 50 Shades of Grey exists). So maybe that’s why. Maybe nobody on the judging panel liked the book. Fair enough. But after years of feeling like the bogan who turned up uninvited to the barbeque and stole beer from the esky, it was too much. It felt personal no matter how much I told myself it might not be. Sami Lee, the digital first published erotic romance author was NOT going to final in a competition for sweet romances. What next? They’d all be thinking they could enter.

I know, I know. It probably wasn’t like that. But it felt like that. It was the final straw for me. If I couldn’t even final with a bestseller, they were never going to accept me. I quit the RWA. 

We did some drinkin’ in NOLA

More positive things happened – more good than bad I think. I got to attend the Romantic Times Convention in the USA 4 times, and meet so many great people. I found the Americans much more accepting of erotic romance than the Australian market ever was. New Orleans in 2014 was probably the highlight. I’ll never forget drinking Hurricanes with RG Alexander (to be fair, I think I was the only one drinking them), being able to drink ON THE STREET. And those people FREE POUR ALCOHOL into STADIUM CUPS it is WILD, even Mari Carr could not believe it (not all the memories are about drinking I swear. Some are about eating catfish lol). And let’s not forget I saw the house where Hope and Bo from Days of our Lives got married. A HIGHLIGHT IN MY LIFE YES IT WAS.

Hope and Bo’s wedding venue OMG

But there were also a lot of lows. My aborted attempt to jump on the Ellora’s Cave gravy train only to discover the train was derailing. The closure of Samhain, which I’m still very sad about. I miss their ‘all about the story’ ethic. I miss my editor. The rapid decline of sales, no matter what I did. Losing the will to write because it all seemed like too much drama to compete with the new breed of writer, who was also an expert marketer with money behind them. Let alone having to compete with scammers, whom Amazon does little to thwart. Writing a good book doesn’t seem to hold the same value it once did, and writing good books was all I ever wanted to do.

So where does that leave writers like me?

As far as writing purely for self-interest… I try. I’ve started several things. They’re not romance. I can’t write romance now. I can’t even read it. Reading about couples making kiss face makes me honestly want to hurl. That’s partly because I can’t write. It’s also personal. I’m going to slip this in here real quick, because I don’t want to talk about it more than that. Today is my 22nd wedding anniversary, but my husband and I are separated and sometime in 2020, I’ll be divorced, so that’s a whole thing. Writing about happy couples? Just not doable right now. The one fiction I’ve attempted is about a woman revenge killing a bunch of perverts. Lol. It’s actually pretty good. I think.

Anyone want that? I have 10,000 words and no earthly idea how to add more.

I’ve journaled, written a memoir of sorts. Nobody wants to read my memoir, I know lol. But that was for me because I needed to do it, to make sense of how I got here. It all seems to start around the time I realised there was no Santa Claus, but I continued to perpetuate the lie for years so as not to hurt everyone else’s feelings. I shit you not. I’ve spent my life pretending I believe things I don’t believe, being too nice under the guise of my ‘easy-going nature’, so other people can continue on in their delusions. Because the truth hurts, and people don’t like it when you tell the truth.

Well, I guess this whole (rambling and far too honest, I’m sure) post was to say, I’m not doing that anymore. If the truth hurts, tough. 2020 is the start of a new decade, a new life for me, whatever it holds. If you’re full of shit, I’m gonna tell ya. If you’re being racist, I’m saying so. If you’re a rusted on misogynist I’ll let you have it with both barrels or dismiss you completely, because kind explanations to someone who hates you don’t work and are a waste of precious time. If I need help I’m going to ask for it but damned if I’m not finding out how many things I can do that I never thought I could. Moving heavy objects? Done. Killing spiders? Done (with a shudder, always). Rehoming snakes? Done (a couple of times, and they weren’t poisonous, don’t stress).

The wall of inspiration. I hope.

I’m gonna be fine, y’all, little by little, and I do so hope I can write something for you again, something worthy. Because writing has given me so much the past decade and I don’t feel myself without it. I am making myself a proper writing space at last, because ‘if you build it they (the words) will come’. I hope. My daughters are painting pictures on the wall of it as I type. Yep right on the wall I’m allowing graffiti. Because I’ve lived my life, largely, by the rules. But in this dystopian present, while the world is for many people literally burning and our so called leaders go on holiday, seems like the old rules shouldn’t apply anymore. Write on the walls. Dance in the rain. Tell people to fuck off. Why not?

What do you think? Time to start breaking rules and messing shit up, yeah?

*straps on body armour*

Who’s with me?

Sami

 

 

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