What is Utopia?

As a writer, I get to imagine things all the time, but one thing for me has always been sort of amorphous. What, exactly, would Utopia be like? I can imagine a place with green fields where everyone does their fair share, but eventually I start seeing flaws in the system. For instance, I don’t like working outdoors, I tend to kill plants, and I hate bugs. Would I be expected to help grow crops the same way my brother, who has a green thumb, would? And as a librarian, I wonder, would people who don’t care about books be expected to help me take care of them? How can you be a caretaker for something you have no care for? Who’s making all these rules, anyway?

Usually, I end up deciding I’d rather just retreat onto a mountaintop or desert island with the people I love most and have supplies air dropped to me. But what kind of liberal does that make me if I can’t even picture a Utopia that works?

Today I read this wonderful opinion column by Ross Douthat in the New York Times called Watership Down and the Crisis of Liberalism and I practically clapped my hands. If you’ve never read Watership Down, the classic tale by Richard Adams, you must. Go get a copy. I’ll wait. Okay, maybe not, because it is like 500 pages long, but Watership Down was a masterpiece, and Douthat hits the nail on the head with what makes a true Utopia and how Adams created one with this sentence:

And what makes the regime the rabbits are founding good — and successful, but first and foremost good — is the integration of the different virtues, the cooperation of their different embodiments, their willing subordination to one another as circumstances require.

Bam. Right there. Each rabbit that embarks on the quest to found a new home after they lost their old home to ecoterrorism (a subdivision) has a unique skill that they offer to the group. The leader, the strong, the religiously gifted, the athletic, the intelligent, the creative—all have something to offer the group.

So that’s what Utopia is to me. It’s a world in which we all have our unique gifts and they’re all valued. Imagine a world where you could find your gift and pursue it and contribute to the world in your own way. If a teacher’s offering of education, a doctor’s offering of healing, a policeman’s offering of safety, a politician’s offering of governing, a writer’s offering of…whatever we offer—it was all valued. Every skill, from acting to playing a sport or inventing, all the way to trash collecting and housecleaning.

Isn’t that what we all want? A world we can live in without fear of someone taking what is ours? Our job, our belongings, our happiness. In a world where everyone already had theirs, maybe that wouldn’t be such a problem. To me, that is Utopia.

(Side note: The only other place I’ve ever seen a Utopia that looks like it could work is Starfleet in the Star Trek universe.)

But what is Utopia to you? In our highly divided culture today, maybe this isn’t what everyone wants. Utopian dreams come to us all, though. I’d love to hear yours.

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Utopian perfection? Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Mumfest weekend!

Just a quick note here to let you know I’ll be at Mumfest this year, representing both Michelle Garren Flye and my alter ego Shelley Gee, who you might know as the writer of charming children’s mysteries. I will have copies of all my books, including my poetry booklet, which is in limited release (meaning you either have to go to The Next Chapter Books & Art or find me to purchase a copy). I’ve cut the prices for Mumfest weekend if you buy directly from me, so it’s a great time to stock up on good books! I hope to meet some of you at Mumfest. I’ll be in the purple tent on Middle Street with my friend Noel of Blissworks. It’s hard to miss! Noel’s artwork is fantastic!

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Mumfest 2018

Happy Friday the 13th: A dog, a backlist and computer woes

This Friday the 13th I’m counting my blessings.

I’m fortunate that I have a dog that I love dearly.

I’m fortunate that I have a backlist with 13 novels that I can offer for free on Smashwords Summer Sale (coupon code SS100).

I’m fortunate that I have an iPad. It gives me something to work on while I’m waiting for a replacement power cord for my MacBook Pro that my dog chewed. That severely limits my productivity. It’s very difficult to upload a manuscript from an iPad to Smashwords. Most of my files are in Dropbox, fortunately, so I can access them, but it’s not what I’m used to. So I managed to upload Ducks in a Row, but yesterday I contented myself with thoroughly proofreading Saturday Love, thinking any minute UPS would arrive with the computer cord replacement I’d paid extra to have delivered overnight. 

They didn’t come.

I checked the tracking last night. My cord never made it past the UPS facility 30 miles away. It said something about the house number being incorrect, which is, of course, bull, since I’ve had plenty of things delivered from Apple with no problem. And they always use the same address. UPS, you’ve now taken the place of my dog in this screwed up saga of my week. Which is probably a good thing.

I still love her.

 

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Can you blame me?

 
So, anyway, look for Saturday Love to be online (without the two typos I found) later today, hopefully. In the meantime, you can obtain every book in my armada in the electronic format of your choice on Smashwords for $2.99. (That’s for Becoming Magic, which I just published, so you know…) That’s fourteen books once I get Saturday Love done. Come on, that’s pretty good. Go. Download. 

And if you have a dog, keep an eye on your computer cord!

Take the Plunge: See beyond the stigma of “self-published”

man standing on brown rock cliff in front of waterfalls photography

How to convince a reader to take that leap of faith into your book? Photo by Oliver Sju00f6stru00f6m on Pexels.com

I get it. I’m old enough to remember vanity presses. I remember the indie-publishing phenomenon of The Christmas BoxRemember how quickly indie publishing grew after Richard Paul Evans’s little treasure was discovered by mainstream publishing? Vanity presses became independent presses and developed into KDP and Smashwords, providing a voice for authors who either can’t make it through the gatekeepers of traditional presses or, like me (I like to think, anyway), lost patience with the hoops you must jump through.

I’ve had three books published by two different traditional publishers. In all three cases, I enjoyed the experience of having professional cover designers, editors and book designers. It was invigorating working on a deadline. But at both publishers, my editors eventually left, putting me back at square one of trying to sell my book to another editor.

I’d rather sell it to you, my readers. But finding you is another process. Gaining your faith is yet another. I’ve been doing this for eight years now. My first book, Secrets of the Lotus, was published by Lyrical Press (now the digital first arm of Kensington Press) on July 5, 2010. I started this blog around then, too. Eight years, fourteen books, and countless blog posts later, I’ve got a few devoted readers. They’re the ones who’ll take the plunge no matter what I put out.

So I better make it good.

I think I’ve managed to improve both my writing and my publishing skills. I edit my own work now, but I have worked with enough professional editors so I have pretty good idea of how to find the holes in my own plots. I put all my manuscripts through a thorough proofreading at least twice by me and I have some beta readers who’ll look over drafts for me, too. I’ve learned a lot about the formatting of both ebooks and print. My self-published books look good now. Clean and pretty with clearly delineated breaks and chapters. And my covers are almost always professionally designed.

Now, I’m working on the marketing. That’s the really tough part. That’s the final push every author—traditional or self—must somehow summon to convince a reader that their book is worth reading. That’s why we query book reviewers and write blogs, why we spend hours writing guest posts for online book tours and tend to all our social media sites from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and Goodreads.

It’s all to push you, dear reader, over the edge of a cliff and into the world of our writing.

Go ahead. Jump. If you don’t, you might miss out on the next self-publishing phenomenon.

 

Thoughts and Reviews

I do a lot of thinking. Some might say too much. I’ve been thinking a lot recently in light of the Time’s Up movement in Hollywood and around the nation about how my genre of writing needs to evolve—if at all.

I’m a romantic who’s been blessed in the love and family department. It’s not always easy to see life from the viewpoint of the victimized when you live in a safe bubble. I’ve never really needed to be feminist, though I’ve had my own small #metoo moments. Still, I’ve been wondering…how do I as a romance writer make this situation better? How can I write about the flirtation and romance between men and women when so much negativity is associated with such flirtation and romance crossing a line into something much darker?

I’ve always tried to write strong female characters and caring male characters, but I’ve never considered how their romantic interactions could read to someone who has been victimized. Consider the pirate scene in Movie Magic, for instance. Or the scene in Secrets of the Lotus where the rich guy just chooses a woman at random to kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve. In Winter Solstice, the two main characters are co-workers. Island Magic is basically about a kidnapping—a good-natured and necessary one, but still. In almost every one of my books, looking back, there is something that might be frowned upon by a feminist or trigger a victim. The only one of my books with a real feminist as a heroine is Escape Magic, which I wrote in response to my disgust over 50 Shades of Grey.

I haven’t solved this romance/feminism quandary, by the way. I’m keeping it in mind in my writing, however, so it’s most likely going to show up eventually.

On to better news. Today, in spite of its possible problematic elements, Movie Magic received TWO great reviews. See below for details and stop by to give my reviewers some love and for your last chance to enter to win a $50 Amazon gift card:

“A sudden storm brings the characters together, and very much like the Shakespearean play, “The Tempest”, the characters are introduced and the story unfolds against a background of nature, the elements, and magic. Movie Magic is a charming romance!” —Jennifer Macaire

“…for the most part I really did enjoy Mrs. Flye’s writing style as she was superior on detail.  She carefully thought-out certain passages that when I read them I wasn’t reading them – I was seeing them!  Perhaps like my own little movie magic occurring!” —Fabulous and Brunette

In honor of National Book Lovers’ Day

It’s National Book Lovers’ Day, and I’m obviously a book lover. Whether I’m writing them, reading them, editing them or cataloguing them, nothing, in my opinion, is better than a book. I love giving books to people, I love finding books for people and I love, love, love when someone gives me a book. There is no better gift.

When I wrote Out of Time, I wanted to express some of the gratitude I feel for those who helped foster my love of reading and books in my acknowledgements. On this day of all days, it feels appropriate to share that here. I hope some of the people who I mention might see them and know how much they meant to me. I hope others who read these acknowledgements will think of those who’ve helped put books in their hands at one point or another. And mostly, I hope we’ll all think about how we might get more books into more hands in the future. Because if you create a book lover, you’ve done the world a huge favor.

From Acknowledgements, Out of Time:

I always want to say something splendid in the acknowledgements of my books. It’s kind of like writing a note in a birthday card, though. If you’re not careful, you’ll write yourself into a corner, but you just have to keep going…

As usual, I want to thank the friends and family who support me and believe in me. My parents and in-laws and brothers and, especially, my husband, Chris and children, Josh, Ben and Jessi (to whom this book is dedicated). And the members of The (most) Flye Street Team. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Strangely, however, with this book, I feel I need to add a thank you to some other people who don’t know me, some of whom are dead now. Maybe it’s because this book, which is so different from others I have written, comes closer to what I feel I was always intended to write. A fantasy that sort of reflects my belief that there’s way more poetry in our prosaic world than at first meets the eye. So a special note of appreciation to the following seems in order.

Thank you to the owners of Highland Books and The Book Nook, where I spent many hours reading science fiction and fantasy books I couldn’t afford to buy when I was a kid. I know you saw me in the corner of your store, but you never once asked me, “Are you going to buy that book?”

Thank you to the ladies of the Transylvania County Library where I “worked” on Saturdays during my teenage years. I know you know I spent a good amount of my shelving time browsing the books, but you never complained.

Thank you to the innumerable science fiction and fantasy authors who have provided me with hours of enjoyable reading. You don’t know me, but I have lived in your worlds, whether it be Pern or Narnia or Middle-Earth…

And thank you to you, my readers. Whether you’re hiding in a corner of a book store or browsing the shelves of a library, or reading on your e-reader, I hope my book can take you somewhere beyond the reality of normality.

Let’s be honest: We can’t blame E.L. James.

So, E.L. James decides to try to do what many authors do. In an attempt at promoting her new book Grey, James went live on Twitter, allowing other Tweeters to ask her questions using #AskELJames. What ensued was…troubling. Tweeters used the opportunity to criticize James’s writing and to accuse her of everything from glorifying abuse to setting back women’s rights a good fifty years.

Now, I’m not a fan of 50 Shades. I read the first one, or at least started it, after hearing a great deal of buzz about it. I ended up skipping through a good bit of it, and when I reached the end, I was actually disappointed to learn that there were two sequels. I’m no fan of E.L. James, but I don’t blame her, and I certainly would never have participated in the monstrous activity that took place on Twitter.

E.L. James is a writer. Maybe not a great one, but she did write, as of last count, four enormously popular books. Is it her fault that a publisher chose to publish her books, a gazillion people chose to buy and read them, and a movie producer chose to make a movie—which another gazillion people went to see? Not really.

So who is there left to blame if the author is out of bounds? The publisher for pulling 50 Shades out of the slush pile and giving it the type of promotion that most authors can only dream of? Maybe, but publishers are, in the end, just salesmen. They see a need in the market and they try to be the first to fill it.

The troubling thing about the whole 50 Shades phenomenon is that, at the end of the day, there was a market for the book. In spite of its disturbing thematic material. In spite of its sub-par writing. In spite of the fact that “those type” of books (which have been around for many, many years) were once hidden at the back of the bookstore, not prominently displayed at the front door to greet me and my children when we go in looking for summer reading.

So don’t blame E.L. James for writing what a large part of our society now wants to read. Writers write. Publishers publish. Readers buy the books.