Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Super Short, Super Creepy, Essay, “The Gloaming,” Is Now Posted!

It’s a finalist in Mormon Artist’s Lit Blitz, remember. The winner is chosen by vote, which means, really, whoever can get the most people to read it.

So read it! Post it on your blogs! Post it on Facebook! I will send you love and devotion!

The voting won’t be until all the essays are posted, which is in a few days. I’ll let you know when that is.

In the meantime, here is the link to the essay: http://mormonartist.net/2012/02/day-kerry-spencer/

It’s best read when you’re alone, in the dark, preferably when you’re going to the hospital to have a colonoscopy the next day. (Going to get a big mole removed counts too :)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Mormon Lit Blitz Has Begun!




That's the poster. Looks like you'll have to click on it to see the whole thing. I can't get it to shrink. [Oh, geez. I will not make a "she said" joke... I will not make a "she said" joke...]

My (super-short, super-creepy) essay, "The Gloaming," will be posted February 25. Which is also my brother's birthday, so happy thirties, buddy.

Not sure when the voting will be, but have no fear, I will tell you. Over and over and over and over.

Monday, February 13, 2012

There are two things particularly fascinating about this quote my Mom sent me:

I was called to act in the office of a Teacher and with my companion had a district assigned us, and Brother Heber C. Kimball and Joseph Smith were in our district. We hesitated to visit such prominent men, as we well knew we were not capable of teaching them, yet we could not find any excuse to pass by their houses, so we ventured. The Presiding Bishop, Newel K. Whitney, gave us a routine of questions to ask everyone in our district. Among the questions was, "do you keep the word of wisdom?" We found that Brother Joseph Smith was the most submissive of any in our district. After he had answered our questions, he called his wife Emma to answer also. I then asked him the meaning and purport of the word of wisdom, as at that time there was a great diversity of opinion concerning it. He answered and said, "I understand the Word of Wisdom to mean that we must get in wisdom all things. If I think a glass of Brandy will do one good or a cup of Coffee or to smoke a cigar I will use these things." Thus in short he gave us the meaning of the Word of Wisdom.

Fascinating thing one: Brother Joseph (the prophet) gives his wife equal time! (Can you imagine the drama at General Conference if Tommy called up Sister Monson to finish his talk?)

Fascinating thing two: A cigar? really? I mean, coffee and brandy I can see... :)

(Argh! I published this without a source citation first time and for an English Professor that is just NOT OKAY! It's from a book called “Remembering Joseph” by Mark L. McConkie. Dunno the page number, Mom didn't send it. Not to throw Mom under the bus. But she doesn't have to care as much as I do, so it's OK.)

Also, I see that y'all want to talk about audience resonance. Which is also fascinating. Because didn't I just spend however many kilobytes saying that the research shows it doesn't even matter?

(But tomorrow I'll try to tackle it anyway. Cuz I'm nice like that.)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

It's a POLL!


Dissertation part three: On Marketing

When it comes to books and how they sell, writers tend to think there are two main categories that influence the sales. FIRST: there is what the author has control over, the quality of the book itself. SECOND: there is what the author does NOT have control over, i.e., marketing budgets, reviews, media presence, cover art, etc. For practical purposes, let's call this category "Marketing."

So. What do you think? If you want to sell your book to the masses, is it more important to have a quality book? Or is it more important to have a lot of marketing?

I'm going to hold off answering for a minute, because you probably already know and you don't want it confirmed yet because it's depressing.

See, the writing world is full of optimists. (Otherwise, why would we write? Or, more specifically, why would we try to publish?) We all believe that we will be the rare exception to every rule! Yes, marketing would be nice, we tell ourselves. But if we can just get our books out there, i.e. PUBLISHED, then people will catch on! They'll see our brilliance! We'll be the next Stephanie Meyer!**

This belief is perpetuated in books-on-writing, talks, conferences, everywhere. You never know, people say. It could happen. No one wants to be the killer of dreams.

So let me kill your dreams: Books sell when they are well-marketed. Period.

Are there exceptions? Maybe one in 100. (Actual odds coming in a few paragraphs.) That's one percent, people.

Here's my research (with numbers! and graphs! and equations!):

FIRST, though, I want to make a caveat. Statistics like this can be tricky because of one fact: they can show correlation but they can't PROVE causation. They can certainly imply causation, but all they prove is correlation. What does that mean, practically speaking? It means that, yes, marketed books are the ones that sell. But what if ONLY really quality books get that kind of marketing? In that case, it might be quality that's the cause, though marketing is correlated. As to whether or not this is true? Well, just think about the last few super-hits you've read. Are they quality? That question is up to you. I will say, though, that one aspect of my study was to compare what audiences value versus what publishers value (i.e. what they market). There are some pretty big disconnects, though there is a LOT of variability among houses.

So, back to the question of MARKETING. As the abstract outlined yesterday, in my study we gave each of 200 books two scores: a marketing score and a sales score. (Actually, we looked at 210 books, but had to throw some out for various statistical reasons, coming to 197; let's just round and say 200 cuz it's easier to remember, k?) And when I say "we" I mostly mean "I," but, not only did I have wonderful volunteers from this very blog who helped read books, I also obtained the help of a very gracious statistics professor (Dr. Natalie) to make sure my calculations weren't full of crap. So I feel better when I say "we."

The statistics professor is important because I want you to know: you can have some reasonable trust in the way we scored marketing and sales. It wasn't just an English major playing with math, it was an English major playing with math who had a professional statistician to call her on her crazies and steer her toward the solid stuff.

Anyway, the way we scored marketing ended up being a semi-complicated algorithm (utilizing various data sources gleaned from many different places)and we came up with it together, though, yeah, Dr. Natalie helped a LOT. Is the algorithm perfect? Well, you know what would have been perfect? If publishers would have given me their marketing budgets directly. But when I asked them? They laughed. And laughed. And laughed.

So, like I said, Dr. Natalie and I had to come up with our own way. The resulting algorithm provided us with a way to compare marketing among the books and then to rank them. Books with the least amount of marketing in our sample were scored with a "1." Books with the highest amount of marketing were scored "11." Books in between had scores between 1 and 11. This way, even though we couldn't know the exact amount of marketing behind a book, we could know how its marketing ranked in comparison to all the other books in the sample.

(The cool thing? When I showed editors my results, they were freaked out by the accuracy. Let's give a WOOT to statistics!)

Okay, now that you know that, let's consider some disturbing stuff. Like, the very first calculation I did: The Pearson's Correlations which ultimately gave us the ability to perform a Linear Regression. Sounds scary, but all it is is a way to measure the tendency for one variable to increase linearly as the other variable increases, giving us the ability to quantify the actual relationship. In this case, we looked at how much sales increased with increased marketing.

This is the initial bar graph:


Further calculations showed that this was a strong linear progression. It had a simply calculated formula with a relatively small margin of error:

S = 0.63M + 2.58 (S = Sales; M = Marketing)

(I'd tell you the R-squared so you could judge the error margin yourself, but I think that would just make us all blind or migrainey.)

So what does that formula mean? It means that Sales increase in direct proportion to Marketing. Any other stuff? Like book quality? Simply do not seem to factor in.

It gets more disturbing.

In the sample of 200 books, there were about 10 "breakouts." That is, books that sold MUCH better than their marketing predicted they would. OK, you might think, I have a 5% chance of getting a breakout! All I have to do is get published...

Wrong again.

Consider this graph:
(are y'all OK with the graphs? would you rather I chat instead?)


Now, for some reason when I converted the graph into a picture, only one of the stars showed up. Can you do a little imagining for me? Do you see how the star marks a profound "jump" in the data? That's a sales spike. There are 9 other sales spikes, if I counted right (all used to have a star on them, I dunno what happened). Can you see them?

So, let's consider. The graph shows sales scores as marketing increases. The vertical lines in the graph (pink/red ones) represent the delineation between each "level" of marketing. Everything before the first line got a marketing score of one. Before the second? Two. And so on up till eleven.

Notice anything yucky?

First: the biggest category of books BY FAR is that made up of books with a marketing score of ONE. If you are a new author? This is where you will most likely find yourself.

Did ANY books "breakout" in that category?

No.

None.

Zero.

Zilch.

For a marketing score of two? There was ONE breakout. Sounds good until you realize the sheer number of books it took to get to that one breakout: more than 100.

Out of the first 100 books, there was ONE breakout. A success rate of one percent.

What does this mean? It means that not only will the vast majority of books fail to breakout, but that a full half of them never had a chance in hell of breaking out.

But what about the other breakouts? There were ten after all, right? Well, look closely at the chart. Almost all of them are in the top 20% by marketing score.

Meaning?

Books don't break out. Well-marketed books break out. And how often does that happen for those lucky well-marketed books? 20% of the time. A one in five chance.

To sum up:

80% of books don't get the kind of marketing that frequently leads to high sales. In fact, odds are that only about 2 out of every 150 books in this category might break out. Thems not good odds.

On the other hand, for the 20% of books that do get good marketing? One out of every five of those will be "breakouts."

To sum up even more:

In general, books will sell exactly in proportion to how much marketing they have. i.e. Strong linear relationship = Books are ONLY AS GOOD as their marketing. (Monetarily speaking, obviously. "Good" is a far more visceral, far less determinate value.)

And when it comes to the mysterious feat of writing the "breakout" novel? Well, you have to be in the top 20th percentile of marketing before that's even a remote possibility.

I've never met Dear Mr. Maas who wrote, Writing the Breakout Novel, and I truly mean him no offense when I say the stuff I'm going to say in the next paragraph. The only reason I'm picking on him, actually, is because he had the (mis?)fortune of having such a popular book on writing that his book ended up being one of the books we analyzed for "plot" advice. (Among other things, we looked for successful plot structures. Mr. Maas was in the company of people like Joseph Campbell!) And as you'll see if you ever want me to talk about the kinds of plots that sell, the stuff he said about writing was not bad. Some pretty good advice, actually.

But he also said a lot of stuff about marketing. Maybe to give authors the illusion they had some control over sales? I dunno. Anyway, one thing he emphatically emphasized is that it's a "myth" that a high advances mean higher sales. That promotion doesn't sell books, that the real culprit is bad writing(20-25). In fact, he goes as far as to say that "Ads in the New York Times Book Review are placed there mostly to make the author feel good"(23).

He's not the only person to tell writers this. He's one of many. But he's wrong. Indeed, I think he is doing a great disservice to writers. (It almost seems like, at some level, he knows that it's his industry's fault that certain books don't sell, and he wants to eschew the blame outside, to assuage his guilt, maybe? Am I off base do you think? Anyone know Dear Donald Maass?") Telling authors that their lack of sales is "their fault," is not only false, it makes authors feel like garbage when, all along, the real "fault" might not have had anything to do with their writing.

Is there is any lesson here? Any hope? Anything that an author can take away and actually apply to their own publication endeavors?

Yes, actually. I think there is. (Don't want to kill dreams entirely, I guess. What a softie I am.)

1. You need to leverage your publisher for as much marketing as possible. Since you are a mere author, this means...

2. You absolutely, positively, 100% MUST have an agent. Publishers don't want to spend money on you. They want as little output as possible on their part. "Save costs and it's easier to glean a predictable small profit," is their thinking. (Emphasis on the "small.") Unless you are Stephen King, you will not be able to leverage publishers into giving you the promotion and marketing you need. You MUST have an agent. The best damn agent you can get, preferably. (Think shark!)

3. If you get an offer for a book, you might be SO EXCITED just to know that your words will be in PRINT! It won't even seem to matter that the marketing will be a pittance. Here's the thing, though. There's something called "Bookscan." I know I didn't talk about it here, but this is what it means: bookstores keep track of how well your books sell. If you write a second book, they will look at how well your first book sold. And if you were so eager to sell your book at any price, most likely you did NOT get good marketing. Which means it's almost a guarantee that your book did NOT sell very well. So it becomes a cycle. For your second book, the stores only buy as many books as you sold last time. If that was 12? They'll order 12. This will go on and on until finally your publisher will give up. Maybe they'll try to blame it on you. "Your writing just isn't fresh anymore!" they might say. But it had nothing to do with the writing. It was all about the marketing. (Or the lack of it.) THE LESSON: Don't settle! If you can't get a good deal for your first book, there's nothing wrong with making NO deal and writing another book! Don't let your excitement get in the way of making a good business decision. That's what publishing is, after all. A Business.

4. Learn a little about marketing. Find yourself a marketing friend so you can get in their head. (I married a marketing guy, but you don't have to go that far for the sake of your career. I mean, not everyone is as cut-throat ambitious as I am. :) Figure out the types of subjects/genres/themes/etc. that appeal to marketers. i.e. Ask yourself: What would an MBA do with this? (Not a writer. Not a writing professor, even. An MBA. Someone concerned with sales alone. Repeat the mantra: publishing is a BUSINESS.) So package your writing in a frame that is easy to market. (This doesn't mean dumbing it down, or being any less lyrical in your writing. It means asking yourself, "In two words, why would someone buy this?" And then making sure that you frame the book according to the answer. Because that's all marketers can really work with: two words. And not cuz they're dumb, don't blame them. It's a psychology thing about advertising.) If you can get the MBA's in the publishing house excited? You have a much better shot to sell.

Now, to conclude, does all this mean that you don't have to write a GOOD book? That you can forget about quality? I wouldn't say that.

What I would say is this: you can't count on good writing to translate into good sales.

But you still need good writing. For one thing, getting a kickass agent is REALLY hard if you write like crap. For another thing, good writing still might help you get more marketing--especially if you do #4 and combine your good writing with a frame that's easy to market.

Good writing + Kickass Agent + Thinking like a Marketer = your best chance to sell a book.




**(Incidentally, Stephanie Meyer's Twilight would have scored about a 10 on our marketing scale. Meaning, the book's breakout was mathematically predictable. It had a 1 in 5 chance. Nothing magical about it.)

**(Also note: Stephanie had a kickass agent. Get yurself one, too!)


More to come. In fact, I'll post a vote to see what we talk about next!

Today was RUFF

por ejemplo:

[Actual Conversation]

interviewer: You have no experience with software.

me: I wouldn't say that. I designed and coded proprietary software for one of the biggest engineering firms in California. I may be an English major, but I can program in three different computer languages.

interviewer: What's a computer language?

[intense concentration needed in order to not bang my head against desk. cuz, dude. I'd like a full time job. interviews like this? not helping.]

I'm going to look over my marketing stuff. See if I can't pull a post off in spite of my ruffed up brain. If I can't? Come back in a day or two. Hugs.

Monday, February 06, 2012

This is the "SHORT" description of what I did in my dissertation. (Reminder: diss was, like, 600 pages long. I'm competing with the fantasty people here!)

Before you start, let me apologize for the academic death prose. I don't always use it, but sometimes they make you. I don't like it any more than y'all. Here's the thing to remember: I'm studying the crucial question: Why do books sell? If we can answer that, it's worth a little death prose wading, don't you think?
____________________________________
Abstract
In order to determine the extent of book marketing on book sales and the principles of resonance that may be linked to sales beyond that predicted by marketing, a demonstrably random sample of 192 books from the population of Young Adult (YA) books available from 2003-2008 in the national U.S. market were scored with estimations of marketing influence and total sales.

Three data analysis methods were used: first, a consideration of simple linear regression and variable correlation, termed the ‘linear’ method; second and third, the ‘difference’ and ‘quadrant’ methods, in which books with sales beyond what was predicted by their marketing scores were compared against books with sales below what was predicted by their marketing scores. In the ‘difference’ and ‘quadrant’ methods (the differentiation between the two methods will be discussed in detail later), statistically significant differences between the ‘beyond’ and ‘below’ sets of books were established as possible points of resonance or dissonance—i.e., key aspects of audience appeal or distaste. These aspects were then compared to the initial results from the ‘linear’ method and probable patterns of resonance were established. These patterns had important implications pertaining to issues of race, gender, and the belief-systems particular to teenagers. The nine main patterns established were: patterns of meaning/sophistication, patterns of emotion, patterns of estrangement, self-importance, gender, race, socioeconomic status, divine potential and moral identity.

Three auxiliary studies were conducted first to identify the extent of cover-likeability as it pertained to sales, next to establish that young adults (and not their parents or other adults) accounted for the majority of resonance points observed, and finally to estimate the overall effectiveness of self-promotion among authors. Results indicated that cover likeability may increase sales by up to 14.5%, that young adults can reasonably be assumed to be the primary readers of texts, and that author self-promotion is not significantly connected to increased sales.

As a final exercise, the list of possible principles of resonance was used to evaluate the publishing industry’s effectiveness at assigning marketing/promotion. Numbers indicate that publisher book marketing is disconnected with principles connected to sales somewhere between 3% and 55% of the time and a more accurate estimate may not be possible without another study.

Outcome Variables: Marketing and Sales Scores
In order to be able to factor out the effect of marketing/promotion on a book’s sales, each book was given a marketing score and a sales score. The marketing score was calculated based upon the following criteria: 1) the actual price paid to the author for initial rights; 2) how many additional books the publisher committed to publish in the initial deal; 3) whether or not there was a bidding war among publishers that either ended in an auction or was circumvented through a pre-empt; 4) the relative fame and/or reputation of the author; 5) whether or not School Library Journal or Booklist (two of the most influential reviewers of YA fiction) gave a starred review; 6) Whether or not one of 50 major review sources gave the book a full-length positive review; and 7) whether or not there was potential for ‘carryover,’ e.g. books about vampires published shortly after the success of Twilight.

In order to make an estimate of sales, the following three variables were considered: 1) The book’s Amazon ranking compared to how many standard deviations from the mean for the book’s year of publication ; 2) The book’s BN.com rankings ; 3) The number of weeks the book spent on each of thirteen bestseller lists tracked by the PM database.

When each book had a marketing and a sales score, the Pearson’s Relationship Coefficient of the marketing-sales relationship was calculated to be 0.6, indicating a moderately strong linear relationship between marketing and sales. Linear regression provides the formula:

S = 0.63M +2.58

By comparing residuals, assembling quadrants of sales vs. marketing, and considering differences between sales and marketing scores, the data were assembled into three basic categories: books that sold better than their marketing predicted, books that sold worse than their marketing predicted, and books that sold as their marketing predicted.

Independent Variables
Each of the 192 books was analyzed based on 150+ questions pertaining to plot, literary merit, morality, race, gender, and other categories of interest to YA authors. The aim was to identify book traits that may result in greater audience resonance/dissonance—specifically looking for important patterns of appeal and distaste.


Auxiliary Study One: Cover Likeability

149 students from a California high school (chosen because its demographics were analogous to the U.S. population at large) were shown pictures of each of the book covers from the sample. They were asked to quickly score each picture on a scale of 1-5, with lower scores corresponding to distaste. The average cover-likeability scores of books that performed better than their marketing predicted were compared to books that performed worse than their marketing predicted. Books that sold better than their marketing predicted had a cover-likeability score 11% (+/- 5%) higher than books that sold worse than their marketing predicted. This difference seems to be largely driven by the opinions of girls. When split into gender groups, the girls’ cover-likeability scores for books that sold better than predicted were 14.5% (+/- 6.5%) higher than books that sold worse than predicted. The boys’ responses showed no statistically significant difference between the two groups of books. The data indicates that a likeable book cover seems to help sales, but only if it appeals to girls. Considering that the vast majority of the YA fiction audience is female, this is expected.


Auxiliary Study Two: Library Data
In order to confirm that young adults were the ones primarily responsible for the purchase of YA books and, thus, that any data about trait resonance corresponded with young adult (as opposed to adult/parental) taste, 37 libraries from around the country were sampled. From each library the following was recorded: the number of each of the 192 books that the library stocked and the number of copies of those books checked out. The reasoning was that librarians (adults) were responsible for the stocking of books, and that books checked out were more likely to be checked out by young adults, themselves, than by their parents or other adults. The results showed a close correlation between all relevant groups. The number of books stocked mirrored the number of books checked out and both of these mirrored the number of books sold, indicating that divergent audiences of YA lit (teens, parents, librarians) either do not appear to have fundamentally different tastes or that all groups defer to the taste of the young adult reader.
____________________________________
Overwhelmed much?

Tomorrow: I will talk like a NORMAL PERSON again. What should we talk about? I think marketing. Why? Because it is more important than anyone will ever tell you. For all practical purposes, it's the ONLY thing between your book and a bestselling book, accounting for as much as 80% of a book's success or failure.

To put it another way: you know how Donald Maas, in his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, says that there is a disconnect between marketing and sales? That the real reason books don't sell is their quality?

He is wrong.

I have equations to prove it. This one is my favorite:

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Dissertation, part one! My Narrative Dedication to Dr. Tyler J. Jarvis: My Old Calculus Professor

[Exactly as appeared at the beginning of the dissertation.]

[But don't worry, I promise I'm not going to post the whole dissertation here. Just some interesting bits.]

[Also, watch for the super fun British spelling! Got my PhD in Wales, remember?]

Early on in my PhD programme, all of the Creative Writing students were gathered into an ancient-seeming room. We sat at a very long table in chairs with very high backs. The air was musty--both too hot and too cold all at once. Faculty members sat calmly at one end of the table, while Graeme--my soon-to-be-adviser--paced up and down the room in his normal frantic way.

‘Tell me...’ He spoke in an Australian accent, but being utterly unfamiliar with accents and utterly unfamiliar with Wales, I thought that maybe he was English. ‘What makes for a successful book?’

After a few moments of silence in which it became abundantly clear that Graeme wanted us to... answer... people began offering ideas.

‘One that leaves you feeling fulfilled,’ said a blonde woman from London. (She was, incidentally, married to a rock star.)

‘One that’s raucous and fun,’ said a man from Scotland who looked equally as raucous and fun until he sighed and slumped in an obviously put-on despair as he said, ‘Though I suppose you want me to say something about how it’s lit’ary.’

There were a few more answers, and I could tell that there was one, possibly obvious, answer that no one seemed to be saying. I raised my hand, feeling tentative as I did because I half knew what would happen when I said it. Graeme called on me.

‘Well...’ My speech was halted as I began. ‘I write young adult fiction... and YA is completely defined by rhetorical context... And if we look at it from a purely rhetorical stance... where you have the interactive relationship between the author/audience/text... and you judge the value of the text based upon the success of the author/audience interaction...’

I closed my eyes.

‘Then a successful book would be a book that... sells.’

One beat of silence.

And then least seven people erupted in protest.

One said something under her breath about ‘American capitalists.’

Graeme got a wicked smile.

And I wondered: if authors want their books to sell (and most of us do), why do we all protest so loudly against the idea that the success or failure of a book has to do with the book, itself?

Simple answer, really: no one wants to be told they’re rubbish.

Mix into that the fact that the sales of a book are ever so much more complicated than the quality of a book alone. We’ve all seen trash that hits the top of the charts. We’ve all read undiscovered gems.

What accounts for the difference?

Internalizing the protests of the room, my lingering questions about whether or not sales could be used as a measure of audience-resonance, and the wickedness of Graeme’s smile, I decided that it might not be a bad thing to figure out.

The question: how?!

All of the theorists that I’d read up to that point seemed to approach the question deductively. There are certain rules of fiction: plot, characterization, action, pacing, etc. If you can quantify the rules, you can evaluate books based upon their adherence or departure from said rules. The problem with deductive thinking, of course, is that your ability to be right or wrong utterly depends upon how correct your axioms and assumptions (i.e. rules) were in the first place. It’s the problem noted by Stephen King when he proclaims that ‘most books about writing are filled with bullshit’ (King xvii). We might think we know why something is, but when we have to measure it against something as solidly quantitative as the marketplace, if we limit our theoretical frameworks to those that are largely deductive, we can’t always make accurate predictions.

(Un?)Fortunately, however, before I began writing young adult (YA) fiction, I spent three years as an undergraduate engineering major--complete with hours upon hours spent in smelly laboratories wearing a stained lab coat with banana-shaped buttons. (The buttons seemed cool at the time.) My latent science instincts said that there might be a chance to make accurate predictions by utilizing something other than deduction. In other words, I’d have to look at books. I’d need a theoretical framework that allowed an inductive approach. Perhaps even one with a statistically-gathered sample, a blind process, a research procedure--i.e., one completely exhausting just to think about.

We creative writers aren’t known for our affinity to the inductively procedural, but the idea that an inductive approach might be the one way to say something new, immediately applicable, and relatively conclusive on the subject of sales versus resonance, was something that I couldn’t let go of. If I really wanted to know what makes a book sell, I was going to have to work within a theoretical framework that allowed a methodised observation of the book market. And that meant I was going to have to embrace the very thing I once rejected in favour of art: the scientific method.

[Go ahead and pause while we all shudder.]

The brilliance of the scientific method is the methodisation, itself. There is no making of pure guesses, no reliance upon emotion. And, ultimately, with the appropriate methodisation, you can study even emotion without becoming... well... emotional.

“Aw, crap.” I thought to myself. “I might actually have to use that calculus I learned after all.”

So that is why, Tyler, this dissertation is dedicated to you.

People! Did I forget to tell you about what I learned from my finished dissertation?

That isn't right, you know?

Because:

1. I never could have done it without all of your help and you deserve to celebrate the end! (even if the "end" was two years ago.)

2. Some of the conclusions were super intriguing! If you're a writer, you might actually want to know them!

3. It feels incomplete, somehow, right? I mean, you guys got the saga while it was happening, but you never heard the end!

So, why, oh why, did I not post this before?

It's obvious if you know me in person.

But it might not be obvious to people who only know me through the blog, and for that, I'm sorry. Shame is my only explanation. Misplaced shame, probably. But isn't most shame like that?

See, I sort of disappeared two years ago, maybe you noticed? My posts were shorter, when they appeared at all. Maybe you thought I'd stopped blogging, or stopped caring. But it wasn't that.

What happened was that I stopped being.

Here's how it went: I defended my dissertation exactly* two days before I had my ill-fated cancer surgery. I didn't tell y'all much about the whole cancer thing because, I thought, blah. Who wants to hear me whine?

And it wasn't going to be a big deal, I was sure of it. So why inflict it on you? It would bore you to death. I mean, skin grafts? No biggie. A little time off and then we can talk again. It'd make more sense to talk about the dissertation off drugs, anyway. And it can't take THAT long to recover, right? Six weeks? Maybe seven?

heh.

the universe loves to mess with me.

It's been almost two years since then. And you know when I first felt like myself again? The first time I was able to pick up my computer and really write? To feel my own thoughts connecting with words? The first time I could write like I used to?

It was three weeks ago.

I'm reminded of that "plans" thing they say. You know? You make plans and God laughs? I didn't plan on having to deal with a freaky-rare-cancery-lesion-thingy. And once I did have to deal, I didn't plan on having a bad surgery. I mean, I've run marathons, had two babies, I hiked 200 miles over 7 mountains while on IVF hormones! I gave birth to a baby 15 minutes after going into labor! And I'd had surgery before, no problem. I am tuff.

Turns out: none of us are tuff.

See,"tuff"is a delusion we cling to--one that completely ignores the fact that there are things in the universe (almost everything in the universe) we can't control. We're "tuff" because we don't want to acknowledge: all of us can be broken. And the things that break us? Never things our "tuffness" can prevent. No matter how "tuff" we think we are.

I didn't plan on a lot of things that happened these last two years, and I certainly couldn't control them. The grafts didn't take, there were gaping, oozing, open wounds for half a year, infections in places there should never be infections, ripping and tearing in places there should never be ripping or tearing, drugs causing language aphasia, legs that didn't work properly, a once awesome brain turned to mush. I didn't plan on any of that.

And the pain.

Well, you can't plan for something you didn't know existed. And pain like that? It's not even pain anymore. It's something ten exponents bigger than pain, something they haven't even named. I don't even know how to describe it. But here's a little of what I know: One part? Dissociation. (Who is the girl in that bed? Why is she screaming?) Another part? Your heart stops. Literally. The pain is so bad that your heart plunges into arrhythmia, unable to handle the bombardment of stress hormones erupting from the brain. They say pain can't kill you? They're wrong. Pain nearly killed me. Twice.

But that's not even the worst of it. Because it doesn't stop with death. It keeps going. Months and months and months and years it keeps going. And somewhere, in that mess of dissociation and hovering between life and death, and the years-long bombardment of hormones and pain signals, and death signals all rushing through your blood... Somewhere in all of that you realize:

you are gone.

The person you were? Not coming back. Everything you thought you were capable of? You're not. Everything you hoped for? Laughable. That's the worst part, really. When you lose the ability to hope.

We need hope.

We need to look at our babies and hope that we *will* survive to make sure they're okay. We need to look at the future and hope that we'll be able to smile again, if not walk normally. We need to look at our husband and hope that, someday, we'll be able to hold him again. Not as an invalid desperately clinging: as a partner showing love. And most of all, we need to be able to pray. To pray and really hope that someone hears us.

When you lose hope? You lose everything.

This post has officially digressed FAR beyond my original intentions, so I'll get on with it.

My point is, I meant to share some stuff, but life got in the way.

But my brain is better now, I'm better now. I didn't know I was going to come back, but I did. I'm not all the way back to the way I was, but I'm me again. I'm more surprised than anyone.

And that dissertation y'all helped me with? It was kickass. So maybe we can pick up where we left off. Maybe we can go back to the place we were. Back in time. And you know where we were? We were at the end of a kickass dissertation.

So in the next few days, I'll share some of it with you.

Assuming, of course, that life keeps it's distance for a bit.




*(okay, approximately two days; I'm too lazy to check, but it was superquick. didn't even have time to mention to y'all that I'd passed my defense. I think. I'm too lazy to check that, too.)