When my eldest was a toddler, she’d express her excitement by clenching her fists close to her head and vibrating her entire body. Ever get that feeling? I want to clench, squeal, and vibrate every evening as the Roberts Street “Littles” emerge — a menagerie of baby critters. Somehow, the word’s gone out that my fairy gardens and below deck are safe places to leave off little ones, including two baby chipmunks, two fledged robins, a baby gray squirrel, a baby bunny, and a juvenile frog. They are so cute, my body hums.
Pre-summer evenings linger at the 47th parallel on the tail-end of the eastern time zone. Throughout June and most of July, last light remains past 10:30 p.m. It’s deceptive when we BBQ in the “evening” and realize it’s 9 pm. Of course, my personal time clock is wonky — I come to life in the evening and write or study most productively until 3 am. It’s a joy to watch young life unfold in my yard before sunset the way I imagine some people enjoy sunrises.
My former boss was a sunriser. She’d get that vibration about her every new place we went for conferences or work-related travel. It was bad enough that she was parsimonious (her favorite word), cramming her senior managers into as few hotel rooms as possible. I’ve even slept with my boss. Slept. I joked that I was going to turn her into HR, and from across the room, HR laughed with me. We were a close-knit management team, and I wouldn’t trade the lessons of that period of my life. My boss was a true servant-leader and taught me the value of building platforms that benefited communities. And sometimes, that meant sharing a room, bed, and sunrises.
One particular sunrise I remember was on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota (that Lady Lake of mine gets around). We were on a work retreat, and it was close enough to autumn to be cold in the pre-dawn morning. No one else would go with our boss to the lake to catch the sunrise. She had figured out the precise point to see dawn slip over the lake’s eastern horizon. By the time she laid a hand on my shoulder, I could smell coffee brewing. We filled a thermos and grabbed two mugs. Everyone else slept. We walked along a narrow and craggy trail to a place where we could sit on the bedrock and wait for the sun to appear. We shivered, huddled around our coffee, and were not disappointed.
When I watch the sunset over the western horizon of Lake Superior, I feel like that sunrise over a decade ago reflects back to me. I’m on the opposite side now, in tune with what harmonizes in me.
Earlier today, I met with a representative at the Michigan Small Business Development Center. It’s a resource of the US Small Business Administration, a government organization that supports entrepreneurs and small businesses. As a professional writer (meaning, this is my source of income), I’ve contracted a patchwork of services. Every author grapples with the reality that books alone will likely not make a living. I say likely because there are exceptions, superstars, and specific strategies to that truth of authorhood. Some exceptions include moderate success within a lucrative commercial genre (this requires multiple books). Superstars are the likes of J. K. Rowling and Stephen King. Specific strategies include shrewd studies of market trends and writing books to fill readership gaps (rather than writing the books you want to pen).
Mostly, professional authors find secondary sources of income. One professor told me he publishes books and “assets” (and, obviously, he teaches). Assets are value-added products that enhance your book — e-book, audio recording, a graphic novel based on your book, a series of podcasts, figurines or jewelry based on characters or props, music based on your book, character drawings. In addition to products (books and assets), professional authors teach — universities, online courses, webinars, workshops, retreats — or speak at conferences for a fee. Some work the book club angle and sell packages of their books and access to Q&A with the author. Some sell international book rights, others option their books for movies or Netflix series. Some offer services — agencies, PR, editing, coaching, marketing. Some supplement income, working odd jobs or temporary gigs in between writing and publishing books.
Whether you make it to superstar status or you work the secondary sources of income, authors do more than pound away at the keyboard and publish books.
This is what I’m working with the SBA to develop — a way to recognize the hard work of any path a writer takes and define what steps next for personal growth and professional development (if that is your path; it doesn’t have to be). Imagine being a writer who writes every single day — that’s commitment! But this dedicated writer has no interest in creating products or offering services, which leads to others not counting them as a “real” writer. I’ll be creating something that honors such a writer in addition to recognition for annual growth. It’s based on a program I used to apply for as a marketing communications manager.
Earlier in my MFA, I got excited (not quite full-body vibrations) about the possibility of coaching. However, after creating plans in my course, I realized it’s hard for me to offer individual services. I’m a high-energy person, and I put a lot into anything I do. Coaching would wipe me out. I realized it’s why I was struggling to work as a writing contractor. What I’m going to build will be more like mass coaching with a platform where I can invite other writers to coach and teach, too. I can get focused, manage my time, grow the literary outreach to expand beyond libraries and veterans to include more diversity and greater involvement from the community. The SBA is helping me build a business plan that is both sustainable and supportive of the writing community. I can incorporate the lessons of my sunriser boss to lift up others to make the writing world a better place. And I get to define my role in that ecosystem as a professional author.
Often, when you follow your North Star, the excitement can be palpable. Yet the possibilities of how to get there can be overwhelming. Sometimes, it shines down on us, and we are in the worst place to manifest its promise. But circumstances are always shifting, like it or not, life is in a daily flux between sunrises and sunsets. What’s important is that we set our North Star and follow its guidance. Right now, mine is starting to hum. And I’m ready.
June 18, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes good vibrations. What is unfolding? Is someone giving off or receiving the feeling? Where is the story situated? Gather some good vibes and go where the prompt leads!
Respond by June 23, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.
Liberation by Charli Mills
Gran’ma’s mama was an Okie from Muskogee, a fruit-picker in Tres Pinos, California, where Steinbeck Country ended in hayfields, orchards, and coastal mountains. She died young – 36 – cancer from unbridled use of pesticides in the 1930s. Gran’ma married a bull rider, a real bull shitter, too. They chased the tails of rodeos and ranch work across Nevada and back to Tres Pinos too many circuits to count. When he finally died of liver cirrhosis, Gran’ma shocked us all and married a Moscogo. White hand in black, they held the good vibes of Juneteenth, understanding the long wait for liberation.