No, really who are you?

For the last couple days, I've been building up to this question. Who am I? I know that it looks like a simple question but I also know that it is a heavy one. One that stumps people, making them stop and really think about it. Sometimes they start the list. You know the list, for instance mine would be I am:
  • A daughter
  • A sister
  • A friend
  • A freelancer
  • A paper pusher
  • ....
This is all well and good, but those are in relation to others or to activities. What happens if you strip them away, who are you? Who are you before others placed labels on you? Who are you before you  took on a profession? Who are you in a crowd of strangers?

After much thought, I've come to the belief that when you have the answer to this heavy question, you have a solid core and no matter what is layered over it, the core remains the same. Don't ask me why, but I'm thinking it's like the earth. When the top layers shift and crack, the core sends up magma to fill the void created. And that magma is rich in minerals. So if our sense of self shifts, if we lose a job to which our identity is so closely attached, we can fall back on our core identity, recognise that we are not our job but something and someone so much more.

So, who am I? Sometimes people like to throw that question like a right hook or a left jab, "Who do you think you are?", "Ah who she t'ink she be?" Well, to be honest, I don't know but I am working to find out. There are a few things I do know about myself, the kind of things that come from the gut that tells me I am happy or excited about something or that are hardwired into me as I've evolved, they are as follows,
  • I love to dance
  • I love to laugh
  • I love to read
  • I like to travel, not so much reaching the final destination but the actual traveling
  • I find large bodies of water peaceful, I like being out at sea
  • I like to try new things, I am the first of my siblings to eat Sushi and thanks to my Chinese coworkers in New York, I've eaten eel (it tastes fishy)
  • I find peace in writing
  • I love talking with people over good food and wine
  • I am stubborn, that is hardwired
  • I stand firmly on principle even though I am trying to reduce my value judgement
  • I am an idea machine but I am working on being a doer as well as a thinker
  • I am a movie lover
  • I love good sheets, there is something about curling up under a sheet with a certain thread count, or a fluffy duvet on a cold day
  • I love independence, it is something I've always valued but I'm still working out what it truly means
  • I love and fear the silence where all the demons and angels come out to play and the rawness of who I am brings tears to my eyes
A lot of thought leaders (such a funny term) have been spouting the idea that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. And for the most part, I agree but it saddens me that we get so caught up in petty issues, that our humanity is our handicap. What if we were not limited by our fears of what people will say? What if we did amazing things in spite of  our families saying don't do it because they are afraid we would be hurt? What if we became someone who is more than our job titles, our possessions, our relations to others, our hobbies and our capabilities?

What if you knew that from the beginning, be it conception or birth, you knew that you were special, that you mattered, that you can be and do whatever you want without limitations?

What if....

image credit: The Touch

Long, long time ago, in a land 15-20 minutes away from where I live now, I read Addicted by Zane. At the time, I was exploring sexuality as my experience had been very limited. Okay, let's be honest, Zane is porn for black women, that is before Eric Jerome Dickey took the mantle away from her. I'm just saying. Anyway, I had the book for a while because I thought that even if you took away the explicit sex, the story was strong, and I would have still had it in my library if I hadn't lost it. On the real, it's a solid book.

Then on the by and by, I found out that they made a movie based on the book. Although the trailer was interesting, I didn't have the strong desire to watch the movie. Then out of boredom and because the internet is slow in the evenings, I watched it and here are my thoughts on it.

Here I Stand Waving My Prude Flag
I know I'm a prude when I keep thinking, "Are they having sex again? Gosh! Can we get to the story. Geez, more guys' asses." I wouldn't say I was made uncomfortable by it but I got over it quick. I know the movie is based on a book that is erotica true and true, but I felt like the story is strong enough that I don't have to suppress the desire to skip the sex part.

Reminder To Kim, It's based on the book, it's not going to be exactly like the book
I had to stop myself from comparing it to the book. Although I can't give you blow by blow every chapter in the book, I know there were some things left out, like the main character being with a woman. The woman was there but she didn't get busy with her, which makes me make the assumption,

Infidelity, no matter how extensive, is bad, but homosexuality is unspeakable.

I guess not all sins are made equal.

It had its good moments
There were moments where they built suspense, but there were moments when they made me, as a viewer, want more. I think they glossed over her childhood by just tacking it on in the end. I question the loyalty of her friend, which she kept hanging. That is some friendship but she keeps letting down her friend and she stands by her. The ending reminded me of When a Man Loves a Woman with Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia, which is understandable as that movie is about addiction as well, but it felt like it was easier to address addiction using an existing movie concept than figure out how to translate the true ending of the book. Oops, I was supposed to say the good moments here, they got the suspense and they built the core story. I'm resisting using a but.

Would I recommend this movie?
I guess, if you want to watch something when you are suffering from insomnia and have nothing better to watch. I know that sounds bad, but it all depends on what you are up for. And movie watching late at night is not a bad thing, I've done it in the past and have come across some decent movies, not great but decent movies. If you've read the book and you are expecting to see the book on the screen, don't watch it. If you haven't read the book, go right ahead, then read the book, it will make you appreciate the book more.

I know the movie came out late 2014 and I'm reviewing it in 2015, but as they say, down here in Antigua, " 'llow me." More reviews when I watch something else, except After Earth. I tried to watch it twice and in the first quarter of the movie, I stopped it and deleted it from my computer. The hate is real. Wooosah!

Image Credit: Mommy Noire

For the first time in thirty five years being on this rock hurtling through space, I tried marijuana and I have one thing to say,

Thank You, But No Thank You.

Now there are many reasons why I've never tried Mary Jane, including effective drug use prevention advertisements and that little thing where I can't inhale. In the past, I've tried cigarettes and cigars and I just can't voluntarily inhale smoke. As this is the case, I've tried ingesting the weed, I've eaten:

  • A Marijuana sugarcake - Made me sleepy. I must say I slept well that night;
  • A Marijuana lollipop - God, it tasted so bad that I could take only so much and I felt nothing.

Then over the weekend, I had Marijuana in cake. As one friend said, it doesn't appear as though it's working until bam, you are high, and trust me, she wasn't whistling Dixie. I think I had 4-5 1 1/2" X 1" cakes and it doesn't help my situation that I was drinking. Ladies and gentlemen, I was shitfaced and I don't want to ever be like that again. My symptoms that night were:

  • Major cotton mouth;
  • Hyper-awareness - it killed the chatter in my head and left my only perceiving things as they are;
  • Slow motor skills - although I was hyper-aware, I was sluggish;
  • A listing to the right - I would be walking and I would veer to the right;

Now the above may not all be attributed to the Mary Jane alone but it was a trip traveling home. I can understand why people take it like one would drink wine, but I didn't like losing control. I appreciated the hyper awareness because now I know what it looks like so I can work to get back to that place without drugs, but I like to be able to defend myself, to react quickly and that is impossible while under the influence.

I also noticed that it brought out a base emotion. I noticed that I became anxious, I was anxious while my sister was driving, I was anxious about how I behaved at the get together, I was anxious about how people perceived me. I was uber anxious and that continued into the next day while at work. I had to calm my anxieties and remind myself to let go of decade old regrets. The drug brought forth my most primal emotion and proved that although I layered on positive points of view, the negative roots are still there and can escape through a crack.

My first hallucinogenic experience was a double edge sword, I learned from it and still it was not all fun experiencing it. Would I try it again? No, it just isn't my cup of tea. I would rather read a good book, hang out with cool people, take in a great view or watch a movie than get high. Would I tell others not to try it? No, I think people should experience it so that they can have their own view point on it. I know it would be hard for me to do, but I would have my child try it in my presence so that they go through it in a safe environment. Then when they are proper wasted, I would make the experience awful (muhahaha).

 Now a day and a half removed from the experience, I can definitively say, "Thank you, but no thank you." If that is the alleged gateway drug, I won't be indulging in any drugs in the future thus making me even more of a prude. Ain't no thang, I'm a prude till I die.

Image Credit: ImageBack

You are standing in front of a crowd, waiting for a reaction of some kind when you here a crack like thunder. You fall back, the ground coming up to meet your back, the wind is knocked out of you and the pain to your chest is so intense you black out. When you come to, you are staring up at the star filled sky, you survived a gun shot to the chest thanks to your bulletproof vest but it still hurts like hell. Your only saving grace is knowing that you are alive.

Now we, the public, are aware of bulletproof vests from movies, books, what may have you, and we know that they are meant to up one's chance of survival when one is shot. Well, shot in the vest which covers your widest area where a would be assailants would shoot at, your torso region. What people don't know is these vest are not bullet proof but bullet resistant and they do not ensure that you would survive a gun shot, but they do up the chances of survival.

So what does this have to do with reviews and the writer's life?

I'm getting there. While writing and publishing ebooks, I've been consuming a lot of content (books, blog posts, podcasts) on being an indie writer and during my education, I picked up a bullet proof vest for reviews. In knowing the following, I felt that I could take on any harsh review on the work I put out there,

  • a review is someone's opinion on your work and is colored by their life experiences;
  • some of the great novels out there have harsh reviews;
  • my books are not for everyone;
  • a review is done by one person and is not a reflection of the feelings of all who have read my book(s);

Because I knew the above, I felt that I could take on any harsh view that came my way then I got harsh reviews on the first book of a romance series I put out earlier this month, More Than Friends. It started with a reader posting on Goodreads and sharing on Twitter that she was pissed with the main characters. Then they gave it a two star review and another person gave it three stars on Goodreads and the same was done on Amazon. The thunderous crack, the immense pain to my chest, I was down on the ground, and all the while I'm chanting to myself, why am I defending my work to myself?

How I deal
I won't say I didn't want to respond and defend my work by agreeing or disagreeing with their reviews, but I've read a lot of books over the years that have changed my ways of thinking. From Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People to Eckhart Tolle's books, I've read my share and from what I've learned from them, I recognize that,

  •  People are entitled to their opinions. And if you argue with them, they will hold onto it with the ferocity of a mother defending her child. People have their thoughts on the matter and it isn't in my place to place a value judgement on their thoughts. Are the reviews really harsh? What can I learn from the reviews to make my upcoming books better?
  • Despite these reviews, people have been buying this book. For the first time since self publishing books, this is the first time I've seen sales almost every day or multiple sales in a day. I've had a month pass and didn't see one sale. This genre of books are wanted and people will buy when they see a book that looks interesting. Plus, people have joined my email list to be notified when the next book in the series comes out, the book couldn't be that bad if this happened.
  • I wrote a book that was messy. Messy in that it portrayed people as they were not as we think they should be. A lot of times we read romance novels when people have their shit together, but really who do you know has their shit together? Who has the perfect set of values, beliefs and by extension, their actions are always right? In my lifetime (short as it is), I've seen people make foolish decisions that make you wonder what the hell were they thinking and still they go about their business because you know what, it's their business.
  • There are worst books out there in comparison to mine. I've read a few and I've felt robbed. From them being half of the stories (heck some of them were quarters of the stories) to me wondering is that it? I won't be reading any more from those authors but others will, and the same it will be when it comes to my books. What would be funny if the people who gave me harsh reviews reviewed the three other books in the series. Time will tell.
  • Even professionals mess up. Not everyone is perfect. I remember one incident ever so clearly that I use as a reminder. It is Beyonce's "Video Phone" music video with Lady GaGa a few years ago. Gosh, I thought that video was awful, but that one video didn't ruin either performers' careers. They didn't pack up their bags and said "I'm done," they moved on to the next thing and that is what I'm doing.
  • The book got a reaction. I'm sure writers know what I mean when they return to their book's page and see no stars and have to take that daunting step of asking for reviews. It's not that people won't review your book but they never get around to it and they need a reminder, but why does it feel so.... demeaning, like you are begging, (fill in what ever you feel is appropriate)? Oh, yeah, if you've read any of my books, please leave me a review. Thank you, much. In a way, it's better to get some reaction rather than no reaction at all.

Now that I've let my feelings have their 15 minutes of fame, I now can look at the reviews with the eyes of a person who sees her writing career as a business. I've shipped a product and now I can learn from my mistakes and make the next series of books better than this series.

I looked at the reviews, and I try to see the positive like,
  • Neither reviewer said the book was poorly written;
  • One said it had potential;
  • One said that they would stop at Book 1, which to me means that it was a complete book and not one that would leave the reader pissed that they have to buy another book to continue the story;
  • One had strong feelings towards a character, that means they got into the story; 

Then I ask myself the hard questions,
  • How can I make the stories better in accordance with these reviews?
  • Do I want to change up my storytelling style to appease these reviewers?
  • Should I consider learning how to write the standard romance novel so that I fall in line with the expectations of romance readers?
  • If I do so, what would differentiate my books from what is already on the market? Then why bother write if it is a mimicry of what is already available?
  • What should be my next move?

Reviews are a part of a writer's life, but one should not let positive or negative reviews impact one's writing career negatively. So far, I've seen positive results from publishing this particular type of book. I approached this series of books with a business mindset, checking the following boxes to the best of my ability,

  • Writing in a niche and marketing in that niche (BWWM romance)
  • Writing a series with the final product being a box set (Friends and Lovers is the series name)
  • Working to have a clean cover
  • Working on the description and title so that it is keyword heavy, making it pop out when particular searches are made in Amazon

In the end I got sales, reviews and people on my email list. Yes, I got harsh reviews, but as the old adage goes,

You can't make omelets without breaking a few eggs.
(yeah, I probably wrote that wrong)

All I can say to you, fellow writer, is the same thing I'm telling myself right now and in the days to come,

Keep writing, keep getting better at your craft, continue to build your catalog or books, your readers will find you, and just focus on the next step, it will get you to where you want to go.