Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Haircut Incident (On impulsivity and taking risks)

Today I cut my hair.

Ok, ok. I realize that's not big news. Thousands of people get haircuts every day. But this was a little different. My thought process went something like this:

Sure, this was a small, simple act. Yes, hair grows back. But it was thrilling nonetheless. I unearthed a part of myself I've missed--the reckless, impulsive part.

When I was a little younger, I'd dream up things and do them. When I lived in Portland, Oregon, I decided I wanted to drive to California one night. It was 9:30 p.m. at night and I was in the middle of the city when I had the impulse. I was having a rough day and a long drive seemed like just the ticket for climbing my way out of melancholy.

I walked over to my car and paused. I had a couple granola bars, a sleeping bag in the trunk, and a road map (this was before the days of GPS in every cell phone). I thought to myself as I opened the map, "I wonder how hard it is to get to California."

Turns out, not very hard.

I spent the next 24 hours driving along the Cali coast and into the redwood forest. I sang to myself in the car, journaled, and ate gas station food. I returned to Portland with a grin and a revitalized spirit.

Unfortunately, growing up inevitably means shedding some of that impulsivity. There are bills to pay, pets and kids to care for, meetings to attend. It's difficult for the typical person to hop in a car and drive away for a while.

But that doesn't mean we have to lose our impulsivity entirely. We don't have to become increasingly afraid of the unknown and foreign. It's easy, as an adult, to stay comfortably within our boxes, only socializing with close friends and family, only traveling to "safe" places with plush hotel room beds and chlorinated swimming pools.

I argue that living strictly within the confines of our comfort zone stagnates growth. We miss opportunities to learn, grow, and experience. We miss out on making mistakes and solving problems. We lose our ability to think on our feet.

So, maybe it's impossible to hop on a plane tomorrow to visit Fiji...but that doesn't mean you can't hop on that plane next month.

Here's to a healthy dose of recklessness and discovering new parts of yourself along the way!


I'm liking my impulsive haircut!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Writing Through Grief

It's been a while since I've published a post (a month, actually). The reason? My life was derailed by the sudden and unexpected death of my partner's father.

We were left dumbfounded, lost, and ladened with grief. None of it made sense. He was here one day--smiling, laughing, running a business, planning a trip to Japan--and gone the next. He had a lot of life left to live, a lot of ground to travel. Surely, this was a mistake. Surely, he would arise from the hospital bed, brush himself off, and ask for the score of his favorite soccer team's latest game.

writing as a tool to soothe grief and heal
His passing shook me to the core. I found myself questioning the importance of my own life--did any of it matter? Was I really making a difference? And I found myself breaking down at odd moments throughout the day and crying uncontrollably. And yet, I had to be a rock for my partner. I had to hold him when he felt weak and listen when he needed an ear.

Through it all, I wrote.

I wrote long, rambling stream of consciousness-type pieces. I filled pages in my sketchbook (which I use for free writes and idea generation; I like the lack of lines and quality of the paper). I found myself thinking in poetry, and I wrote it down.

I know writing helped lift me out of this dark time. It was an outlet for my tangle of feelings.

And it's something I've used in the past to slice through polluted clouds and find a lungful of clear air. I've used free writing to cope with troubled relationships, unemployment, and general listlessness. Sure, it doesn't solve all my problems or change circumstances, but it does clear my head and give me the courage to step forward. And sometimes, that's all it takes.

People deal with tragedy in different ways. If you're feeling lost, troubled, depressed, confused, I recommend picking up a pen and paper. Write without judgment or premeditation. Let your emotions do the talking. You might be amazed by what ends up on your paper.

Aside from free writing, I found myself thinking in haikus this past month. I can't exactly explain why, but I have a hunch that it had something to do with the reliability of haikus. They have a definite structure (three lines, 5-7-5 syllables) and there's something comfortable in their stability. I ended up calling my haikus the Loss Haikus.

Loss Haiku #1
The shuddering breath
We cry with bodies entwined.
Is he really gone? 

Loss Haiku #2
Eyes swollen from tears
Skin draped over tired bones.
Was it me who died?

Loss Haiku #3
Charcoal fog hanging
I bite into the sorrow
and keep on walking

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What Would You Do?

Here's a simple message to meditate upon today. What would you do?

Have a Thoughtful Thursday.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Everything Has Already Been Invented: A Refute

“Everything that can be invented, has been invented." --Charles Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Patent Office, 1899

At one of my writing groups, a fellow writer said off-handedly (during a discussion about creating mythical beasts in fantasy writing) that, “pretty much everything has been written, so you shouldn’t worry about reusing or recycling known tropes, like unicorns or dragons. Around the room, people nodded and no one refuted him. The conversation moved on to whether or not your fictional creatures should have some sort of cosmology and the topic of inventing new storylines and monsters was dropped.

I moved on as well, but something about that statement bothered me. It seemed so fatalistic, so glass-half-empty. And I wondered if it was true. Has everything already been written in one form or another? Are we just revamping tired stories with new characters, settings, and technologies? Are we resigned to creating yet another Terminator sequel instead of coming up with a fresh plot?


I firmly disagree that everything has already been created, that every story has been told.

When Charles Duell said the above quote in 1899, he truly thought that nothing new could be invented. They had it all, right? Sophisticated transportation (horse and buggy), modes of communication (telegraph), and incredible home technology (the gas-lit lamp). Nothing new to invent, right?

Today, his statement is laughable. We’ve seen millions of new technologies and improvements since 1899.

Here’s the crux of what I’m getting at: Just because Duell couldn’t envision new technologies at the time, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t happen. His lack of vision didn’t stop Ford from inventing the model-T, Orville and Wilbur from taking the first flight, and Al Gore from inventing the internet (kidding, kidding).

In the same vein, I’m certain not every story has been told. Just because you can’t think of anything new, doesn’t mean there is nothing new.

In short, don’t impose your limitations on me.

Thousands of people write novels every year. Sure, many of them might recycle plot lines or character themes, but some of them are truly fresh and innovative.

So, keep writing. Keep imagining. And don't impose others' narrow-mindedness on yourself.

Kate Bitters is the author of Ten Thousand Lines and Elmer Left.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Book Review: Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of CholeraLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am a fan of Marquez, and magic realism in general, but this one didn't have the same pull as some of his other works. I loved the first bit; I love the ending, but the middle was kind of...meh. I got the sense that Marquez had to write SOMETHING to keep the plot going, but it all seemed more like a vehicle to get to the (amazing) ending.

[Some spoilers ahead]

The thing I liked best about the first couple chapters was the "ah-ha" moment when you realize the book is not about Dr. Urbino Juvenal. Marquez makes a masterful twist at the end of chapter one when our supposed protagonist dies and the story wildly changes perspectives. He had me there; he lost me shortly after that.

The reason? It's tedious to describe what someone does with their life for 50 years, no matter how artful the writing. In this case, Marquez describes two lives--that of the illustrious Fermina Daza and that of the hopelessly romantic FLorentino Ariza. In their youth, they had something like a romance (although it mostly involved writing an excessive number of love letters to one another), but Ms. Daza eventually rejected Ariza and made a sensible marriage to Dr. Urbino Juvenal. What follows, is a tedious catalogue of both Daza's life and Ariza's--their tiny adventures, his multiple lovers (they all blend together for me), her little trips to Europe. By the time the book caught up to Dr. Urbino's death, the only thing I could think was, "Finally! Now we can move forward with the plot).

The ending is the big pay-off of this book. If you stick with it, it's worth it (or you could just read the first 50 pages and the last). The ending beautifully and tragically describes elderly love--the smells, the feel, the objections from younger generations, the realization that one's body doesn't behave like it once did. It's a moving portrayal of two young souls in elderly bodies. THIS is the story to me. THIS is where Marquez' writing comes alive. If only it hadn't taken 300 pages to get there.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Double Book Release Challenge #3: Book Release Party

Last Sunday, I released both my novel (Ten Thousand Lines) and my children's book (¿Cómo se Llama tu Llama?) into the world. It's a scary thing--letting others' eyes see your work, letting your naked heart beat outside your body. You open yourself up to critique and criticism, boredom and indifference. But you also open yourself up to the possibility that your words will resonant with some people, that you will cause them to pause and think about the world in a different way.

Kate Leibfried Como Se Llama Tu Llama
My favorite part about this photo collage is Pat Benatar looking over my shoulder...

So, how to give your words the pomp and circumstance they deserve? Throw a party.

A book release party is not only essential for garnering interest and making sales, it can also be fun and amazingly gratifying. Last week, I was truly humbled as nearly 100 of my friends and acquaintances showed up to support my work. At times, the sheer volume of people was overwhelming and my hand cramped up from signing my books so many times.

How can YOU make your book release party a success? Here are a few tips:

Your network is of utmost importance here and you shouldn't leave anyone out. Invite your friends, Facebook acquaintances, co-workers, members of your writing groups. I even invited my hair stylist because, hey, why not?
Create an event on Facebook and one on GoodReads and invite your entire contact list. You just never know who is going to show up.
I also created little flyers (4 to a standard sheet of paper) and passed them out to my network.

How do you get such a fabulous network in the first place? It doesn't happen overnight. Join a few writing or community action groups (but don't do this disingenuously. If you're not interested in what you're doing, people can tell) and be an active member in them. But the true key to gaining support for your work is to SUPPORT OTHERS! Buy others' books, attend friends' concerts, help co-workers move. In sum: Be a good person and a reliable friend, and others will come through for you. This is how the world goes round.

Choose a great venue
Chatterbox Kate Bitters Book release
Your guests will want some food, beverages, and entertainment. They'll want a space to relax and enjoy others' company. I chose the Chatterbox Pub in S. Minneapolis. They have a wonderful back room (which they were willing to reserve for the party), a great menu, beer and wine, and board games. Plus, their staff was endlessly enthusiastic and supportive. Win!

Create a take-away
I think of a "take-away" as not just a party favor, but something meaningful that your guests can take home with them. I created a bookmark with my book on one side and a list of "10 Ways to Help an Author" on the other. It's a fun memento that also provides a little insight into what actions best help indie authors.
You could also give out personalized pens, magnets, or copies of poems you've written. Keep it simple and don't spend too much.

Do some readings
Readings help connect the audience with your story and provide some conversation fodder. Aim for a 2-3 minute segment that is A) interesting and intriguing and B) doesn't give away major plot points. During a four hour stretch, I did three readings and that seemed about right. When you do your readings, don't forget to say THANK YOU to everyone who showed up.

Station yourself in one spot
It's just easier. If you flit around, you'll tire yourself out and you might accidentally skip over someone. If someone wants to talk to you, let them approach you. And (of course) keep a stack of books by your side.

Other Tips
Here are some tidbits I've learned:
-Wednesdays and Sundays are the best days for book launch parties (Not sure why, but that's what I've read.)
-Background music helps (I have a friend who plays acoustic guitar and she added to the nice, relaxed ambiance).
-Enlist the help of a friend or significant other to help with payments (It's hard to sign a book, keep up a conversation, and take a payment at the same time. My wonderful partner, Eric, ran credit cards as I chatted with friends).
-Use Square (about 50% of sales were by credit card. Square is essential).
-Say thank you. Let everyone know how much they mean to you
-Take a deep breath! Your book launch party will fly by; make sure you take the time to enjoy it.

Good luck, have fun, and keep writing.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Double Book Release CHALLENGE #2: Websites & Profiles

I have a lot of websites.

I have one for my pen name (under which I write novels), one for my actual name (for freelance work and children's books), one for my novel Elmer Left, and one for my novel Ten Thousand Lines. On top of that, I have various profiles associated with my writing:
If you felt exhausted just reading that list, imagine keeping up with it all! But the thing is, you don't have much of a choice. Given the demand for up-to-date, of-the-moment information (just think about how often Wikipedia pages are updated), people expect your social media platforms and websites to be current.

I've slogged through it on my own--updating things at random whenever they popped into my mind--but, there's a better way. Make a list [once] and refer back to it whenever you have any major changes you'd like to advertise across world wide web channels.

I've already done the heavy lifting and I'm here to help you with that list...

First, gather these materials:

  • Thumbnail of book cover
  • Larger image of book cover
  • Updated bio (with new info about your latest work)
  • Updated photograph (it's always good to refresh your photo every couple of years)
  • Link to your personal website
  • Link to the marketplace (site where someone can purchase a book)

Then, add to/enhance these sites*:
  • Personal website: Home Page** (May want to include an Amazon widget for selling book)
  • Personal website: About Page**
  • GoodReads: Author Page Profile** (If you don't have one, apply! It's easy)
  • GoodReads: Personal Profile
  • GoodReads: Add your book to GoodReads
  • Amazon: Author Central Profile
  • Twitter: Bio
  • Facebook: Personal bio
  • Facebook: Author Page bio**
  • LinkedIn: Bio**
  • Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, etc: Bio
  • Blog: Bio and add images of your new book**

*This probably goes without saying, but you should always include a link to your book's "for sale" page in each bio you write.
**Include links to both your paper copy and your eBook

Other things to think about:

  • Updating your email signature to include something about your new book
  • Creating a book release party event through Facebook and GoodReads
  • Letting your writing groups know you're launching a new book
  • Updating your event page to include your book launch party
Are you exhausted yet? Good thing you have this handy checklist, eh? Best of luck with updating all your infrastructure. It will all be worth it in the end!

Happy writing,