Guest Blogger – Wendy E. Simmons, Author

Today I welcome guest blogger, Wendy E. Simmons. She’s the author of the new book, “My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth.”  Wendy has had a very impressive launch for her first book.

I enjoyed this witty and engaging book immensely and think you will too. It gives you a rare glimpse into the alternate universe that is North Korea from the safety of wherever it is you’re at.

IMG_4304beijing-1I am and have always been a traveler. Exploring the world, meeting its

people, experiencing their lives, and sharing what I see are my greatest

passions. I’ve traveled to more than eighty-five countries—including

territories and colonies—many of which I’ve been to multiple times, and

I’m struck more and more not by our differences but by our similarities.

Beneath all the trappings of politics and religion, and apart from variations

in the way we live our daily lives, I have come to understand how

fundamentally the same we all are as human beings.

 

Then I went on holiday to North Korea. And like Alice in Wonderland, I

fell through the rabbit hole.

 

This is my tale.

MY HOLIDAY IN NORTH KOREA:

THE FUNNIEST/WORST PLACE ON EARTH

 

WENDY E. SIMMONS

 

 

ALICE STARTED TO HER FEET, FOR IT

FLASHED ACROSS HER MIND THAT SHE HAD

NEVER BEFORE SEEN A RABBIT WITH EITHER

A WAISTCOAT POCKET OR A WATCH TO TAKE

OUT OF IT, AND, BURNING WITH CURIOSITY,

SHE RAN ACROSS THE FIELD AFTER IT…

  • Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

 

WSimmons-Noko3_pyongyangPROLOGUE

 

It’s amazing how badly you want to go outside when you’re not allowed to. It was such a nice night in Pyongyang, and all I wanted to do was not be stuck inside my dim, drab, smoky, weird, empty hotel.

 

My handlers and I had just arrived back at the Koryo Hotel. It was only 6:00 p.m., but since foreigners aren’t allowed to leave their hotels without their handlers, I wouldn’t be allowed back outside until 7:30 a.m. the next morning, when they returned to fetch me. I felt like a dog with a shock collar on.

 

I moaned, “I feel like I’m being sent back to prison.”

 

Older Handler recovered quickly and volunteered to take me on a walk.

 

“Meet in the lobby at 6:55; walk from 6:55 to 7:05.”

 

Itineraries and meeting times are very strict in North Korea.

 

We walked two long blocks up and two long blocks back, with people

staring at me the entire time—clearly not happy to see an American

Imperialist. We stopped in front of a tiny enclosed stand. Older Handler asked me if I’d like to try a North Korean ice cream “special treat.” I declined, ruminating over the likelihood of an actual, real ice cream stand existing in the barren retail wasteland that is North Korea (probability: zero).

 

She was not having it. “You said you feel like you are in prison. Eat the ice cream!”

 

Her feelings, I guess, were hurt. I ate the ice cream, which tasted kind of like an orange Creamsicle, but without the cream, or the orange.

Depositing me back at the hotel at 7:05 p.m. on the dot, she turned and said to me, “There. Now you feel better,” like I was some kind of child who had been granted a magical five-minute ice cream mind-eraser furlough.

 

Yup, all better.

 

I asked (again) why the main hotel for foreigners couldn’t just put

a bench right outside the front door—right by all the guards and doormen—that tourists could sit on for fresh air and not be stuck inside the hotel all the time.

 

She responded in typical North Korean fashion (read: insane), “To be honest, because naughty Americans—but not you—are using this information to create false stories about our country to make it look bad, so not until the reunification of our country.”

 

Right, got it.

 

Coincidentally, we spent the next two days in the countryside at hotels that had benches outside in small courtyards inside the hotel grounds.

 

Older Handler was very quick to emphatically point out the benches to me, repeatedly letting me know I should sit there so I “wouldn’t have to feel like [I] was in prison.” By this point in the trip, I couldn’t tell whether she was trying to be helpful or just spiteful. I think it was a little of both.

 

+ + + +

 

I am and have always been a traveler. Exploring the world, meeting its people, experiencing their lives, and sharing what I see are my greatest passions. I’ve traveled  to  more  than  eighty-five  countries—including territories and colonies—many of which I’ve been to multiple times, and I’m struck more and more not by our differences but by our similarities. Beneath all the trappings of politics and religion, and apart from variations in the way we live our daily lives, I have come to understand how fundamentally the same we all are as human beings.

Then I went on holiday to North Korea. And like Alice in Wonderland, I fell through the rabbit hole.

 

This is my tale.

 

 

HOW DO YOU KNOW I’M MAD? SAID ALICE. YOU

MUST BE, SAID THE CAT, OR YOU WOULDN’T

HAVE COME HERE.

– Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

 

WSimmons-Noko1_pyongyangCHAPTER 1

ARRIVAL

 

It was June 25, 2014. China Air Flight 121 touched down at Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport and taxied to a stop on the tarmac. The cabin door opened. I disembarked the airplane and descended the passenger boarding stairs. I was alone, a tourist in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, unaccompanied by an organized tour group or international liaison (unlike most other visitors to the country).

 

I had never been more excited.

 

Aside from our plane, twelve or so fellow passengers, the half-dozen soldiers and airline employees who’d met us at the bottom of the stairs, and a giant smiling portrait of Kim Il-sung affixed to the side of the terminal building, the area was completely empty. There were no baggage trains, no food or fuel trucks, no conveyor-belt vehicles, or vehicles of any kind for that matter. There were no ground crews doing their jobs. There were no other planes. We were it.

One of the soldiers pointed me in the direction of the terminal building. I walked to the entrance and went inside. That twenty-foot walk to the terminal’s entrance would mark the last time I was allowed outside alone for the next ten days.

 

The inside of the terminal was as devoid of normal airport activity as the outside was—something I would have expected had we just landed on a small island in the Philippines or a dirt runway in Uganda but not in the capital of North Korea.

 

There were three booths for immigration: two for “regular” people and a third for diplomats and other government officials. As if it was inconceivable that a foreign woman would travel alone to North Korea and not be a diplomat, my fellow passengers kept urging me to join the diplomatic line. I stayed put. I didn’t want to risk deportation trying to impersonate a diplomat when I hadn’t even been imported yet.

 

When it was my turn, I walked up to the counter, laid my papers and passport down, smiled, and chirped, “Hello!”

 

The agent grunted back without making eye contact.

He took one paper from me, stamped another, and handed it back with my passport, and I was in.

 

I was euphoric. The most exciting moments in my life, when I feel most alive, happen when I’m touching down anywhere in the world I’ve never been. I am reborn into a new world, where everything is a curiosity to wonder at, and even the smallest accomplishment is a victory. There was nothing but discovery and learning ahead of me. And I was in North Korea—the most reclusive country on Earth. This was going to be amazing.

 

Even though I’d done research to make sure the size and type of camera and lens I’d brought would be acceptable, cleared my iPhone of any applications I thought might be questionable, and had declared all of my other electronic devices and cash on my immigration forms, I still felt trepidation as I approached security.

 

“Cell phone!” demanded a guard.

 

I’d read online that North Korean officials take your cell phone and

examine it but give it back nowadays, so I handed it over without

argument. I put my bags on the baggage scanner, which looked about a hundred years old, and walked through the also-ancient metal detector. After being patted down, I stood watching as a gaggle of guards (soldiers?) huddled in a semicircle around my phone. I couldn’t imagine what they were doing with it, since it was locked. Installing a listening or recording device? They were probably just trying to unlock it.

 

After a few minutes, a guard returned my phone and pointed to a set of doors, indicating I was free to go. But my luggage was still inside the baggage-screening machine. I pointed to the machine and politely said,

 

“Bags?” hoping my luggage was merely trapped in the scanner’s inner sanctum, not confiscated. When the guard realized what I was saying, he began shouting at the other guards, who in turn began shouting at one another as another guard worked to dislodge my bags. To slake the mounting chaos, I smiled and jokingly said, “Don’t worry! Happens all the time!” I was summarily ignored.

 

Reunited with my bags a few minutes later, I emerged from security and was greeted by my two smiling, seemingly blissful North Korean handlers—the people who would be my near constant companions until I returned to the airport ten days later.

 

Older Handler stepped forward and introduced herself first. She was prim, wearing decades-old clothes that looked part Star Trek, part

1960s air-hostess uniform, only not stylish and in ugly colors. If we were the cast of a TV show, Older Handler would be the neighbor lady who always tries so hard to look put together

just so but can’t quite pull it off.

 

Older Handler then introduced me to her subordinate, Fresh Handler.

Older Hander told me she was “fresh” at her job—that is, she’d only been a guide a short time. Fresh Handler was young and diffident, and something about her shaggy-punk haircut and sweet demeanor told me I’d like her best.

 

As Fresh Handler said hello, Older Handler unabashedly looked me up and down, sizing up—as I would be called throughout my trip—the

American Imperialist. Then, without taking a breath, in a tone slightly less than suspicious:

 

You first time come Korea? You been South Korea? You been Japan? You speak Korean?

 

ME: Yes. Yes. Yes. No.

 

North Koreans’ antipathy for Americans cannot be overstated. They are taught aggressively from birth that the United States is their number-one enemy, that Americans are imperialist pigs hell-bent on occupying North Korea, and that we may attack North Korea at any time. The Party espouses this rhetoric to maintain its absolute power over the North Korean people. If there is an enemy from which the people need protecting, the Party can be their protector.

 

We exited the airport, and I was introduced to Driver, who had spiky hair and was standing next to our car smoking. He half grinned, revealing several gold teeth, then took my bag and loaded it into the boot.

 

Older Handler directed me to sit in the backseat next to Fresh Handler and took the senior position in the front.

 

My “North Korea Is Great! America Is Not!” indoctrination began immediately. The car doors had barely closed when Older Handler uttered “our Dear Great Leader” and “American Imperialist” for the first time.

 

As we drove from the airport to our first tourist attraction, the Arch of

Triumph, Older Handler turned to me with a smile plastered across her face and said, “Do you know what today is?”

 

ME: Umm, Wednesday?

 

(Which was true.)

 

OLDER HANDLER: It’s June  Twenty-Fifth,  the  day  the American Imperialists invaded our country.

 

(Which was not true.)

 

On June 25, 1950, nearly the opposite happened. North Korea invaded South Korea.

 

Unsure what etiquette dictated in such a situation, I awkwardly said nothing, hoping the conversation would end. She asked me the question again, perhaps thinking I hadn’t heard her the first time. I offered the same answer.

 

Unsatisfied with my response, Older  Handler  responded,  her  smile unperturbed, “It’s the day your country invaded our country.”

 

ME: Oh, that’s a coincidence then that I arrived today.

 

I quickly glanced at Fresh Handler with a look that said, “Ack. How did I screw this up already?” And like the new best friend I knew she would be, she giggle-smiled back at me the equivalent of “Don’t worry!”

 

I looked back at Older Handler, whose smile was now gone. Like a one-two-knockout punch, Older Handler said something to Fresh Handler and Driver, then Driver pulled the car over, and Older Handler and Fresh Handler switched seats.

 

Older Handler looked at me and said, “Now I watch you more.”

 

Welcome to North Korea

WSimmons-Noko2-pyongyang

A Writer’s Life

Shaky with apprehensions,

poorer this year than the last,

existing in the place between

what will be and what has passed

 

it’s an author’s life for me

I have given the benefit of every doubt,

and during fevers of eloquence,

found myself electrified absolutely

by the lightning bolt of muse

 

this current flowing through me,

greater than any currency

it has given me friends that span oceans wide

there are no borders here, no blind pride

we are bound by our love of words,

and have found an all embracing tenderness

that shows us

there should be no other way.

 

~Eric Vance Walton~

Balancing The Books

 

The life of an Indie writer can be filled with uncertainties, for most people the largest of these uncertainties pertains to income. As a writer, instead of receiving a regular paycheck your payday only comes when you sell what you’ve written.  Don’t let this dissuade you from following your dream.  The fact is there is no job that is completely safe in today’s economy. No matter what your profession, job security is now a fallacy. Even after you’ve worked for a company for years you can find one day without warning that your job has been outsourced.  Once we truly understand that risk is everywhere why not devote your time and energy to something you absolutely love?  If the financial challenges of becoming a full time writer are what’s holding you back from pursuing your dream, stop worrying and start planning.

 

For some people there’s an innate romance associated with a writer’s life but when you begin to think about it more practically it’s easy for trepidation to sink in. I know how scary it can be, I’ve been in the workforce since I was fifteen years old and receiving a regular paycheck for almost twenty five years. As I’m preparing to make the transition into becoming a full time writer I’ve done thorough research and have begun to retool my entire life to make the transition to becoming a fulltime writer less of a shock. You only have to stop thinking like an employee and start thinking like an entrepreneur.

 

Your odds of success as a full time writer will be much greater if you have a practical plan in place which includes concrete and realistic goals.  First off, it’s very easy to underestimate how much money you’ll need to support yourself with your writing but it can be done. I have a huge amount of respect for authors who have figured this out.

 

As I was looking at my budget  I decided the best way to start would be to determine how much money it would really take to make the transition into writing full time. I have always told myself that my magic number would be two year’s worth of my current salary.  If I could earn the equivalent of two year’s salary from my writing then I would feel comfortable putting in my notice at work and finally take the leap of faith that I’ve been fantasizing about for years. Of course, this amount needed to put your plan into action will differ for everyone based on your lifestyle and current finances. The first step is to determine your personal number.

 

To aid in your transition it helps to deeply examine your life and decide what can be eliminated from your monthly budget as well as how you can maximize the revenue from your writing. Unless you have a lot of cash saved or an alternate source of regular income it’s best to have a lean budget as you’re making the transition into writing full time, at least in the beginning. Frugality is your best friend during the transition into the writer’s life. This part came easily for me because I’m one of the few creative people I know of that are also very fiscally conservative. My parents love to tell the story of how when I was a young child I would save my allowance for months to buy a toy that I wanted only to decide the next day that I wanted the money back and I would return the toy to the store unopened.  

 

I guess it’s always really bothered me to hand over my hard earned cash on things that aren’t a good value or something that doesn’t add any real value to my life. I would much rather have money left at the end of the month to have wonderful life experiences like seeing new places and trying new restaurants than having my life cluttered with a bunch useless of things. When it comes to buying stuff I’ve rediscovered something our ancestors already practiced out of necessity, research everything you buy and purchase the best quality you can afford, it’s always less expensive in the long term. For example, it absolutely drove me crazy to spend twenty dollars on a pack of five disposable razor blades that lasted only a few months. Three years ago purchased a Merkur brand safety razor for $30 and a pack of 200 blades for $20. I’ve only gone through half of the box of blades in three years. This one purchase has saved me several hundreds of dollars so far.

 

As I was started striving to live my ideal writer’s life, the first thing to be eliminated from the household budget was satellite television. I was spending over one hundred dollars a month for this service and only watched a handful of channels. As an alternative, my wife and I discovered the digital TV antenna and AppleTV.  Now we get over twenty free local channels over the air from the antenna and more content than we can watch on NetFlix and Hulu for around sixteen dollars a month.  The content on these streaming services isn’t as current as cable or satellite television but it’s worked out just fine because we’re watching far less television and have more time for more important things. If we want to watch a more current film there’s always the option of renting DVDs from RedBox for under two dollars per movie.

 

If you really start to examine your life you’ll be amazed at the number of creative ways you can find to lower your expenses.  It’s just a matter of taking a look at your own personal situation and decide what you can live without. Some other suggestions to get you started are growing your own vegetables and canning for use later and shopping at thrift stores. I haven’t owned a new car for years but save thousands by buying cars that are still in great condition but just a couple of years old. I also bike to work when weather allows.  

 

Once you begin to analyze your situation ways to save money will become very apparent.  Ironically, you’ll find that most of the cuts you make to your budget will come along with the fringe benefits of simplifying your life, improving your health, enhancing your creativity, and giving you more free time to do things like read and write.

 

The English writer, Brian Aldiss said, “A writer should say to himself, not, How can I get more money?, but How can I reach more readers (without lowering standards)?”  It’s important not to let financial concerns slow the progress or stall the enthusiasm of your writing career.  As you grow your career your income typically will increase organically.

 

Even before you can make the full transition into your dream of writing full time it’s good practice to view your part time writing gig like the business that it is.  Before your writing can pay all of your living expenses the first step is to make your craft self sustaining.  By self sustaining I mean, try to support all the expenses associated with your writing with proceeds from your writing. When you try this you will realize that supporting writing expenses from only your writing proceeds sounds much easier than it is. If you don’t think outside of the box you may find yourself stuck in a cubicle.

 

I’ve found that launching a writing career takes a fair amount of two things, time and money. To make your work known to the world you must pay for things like marketing, professional editing, and travel to and from appearances just to name a few.  If you can get to the point in your career where your writing is paying for itself you will be that much closer to achieving the dream of making a living with your words.

 

Since income as a writer can be so sporadic it’s important focus on diversifying your revenue streams as much as you can to make the most from your writing.  Begin to think of different and creative ways your can market the same work.  For example, I publish collections of my poetry in book form but I also sell the poems individually, matted on parchment paper.  In doing this, I produce two different products and can profit twice from the same poems.  Additionally, I offer a service where I will collaborate with clients to create a completely original poem for a gift or special occasion and by doing so can use my talent as a poet for a third potential income opportunity and the best part is I love doing all of them.

 

As an indie author, you’re busy writing so it’s easy to overlook all the ways to profit from your work, and many writers often do.  The first, and most effective, thing to focus on is making it as easy as possible for readers to find you and buy your work. It’s important to have a page on your website or blog that list live links to where readers can purchase each of your published books.  Regularly post a link to this page, with an attention grabbing introduction on your social media sites.  It’s also imperative to choose the correct keywords on your pages so they show up in internet search results.

 

Whenever you have the opportunity to do personal appearances like book club meetings, readings or any event where you have the chance to make a face to face sale it’s important to have extra books on hand and provide your readers the option of purchasing these books easily with a credit card.  Companies like PayPal and Square offer reliable, easy to use, and compact credit card readers that plug right into your smartphone.  Buy one of these credit card readers and learn how to operate it.  Never be hesitant to wisely invest in yourself and in your career.  According to a recent survey of BankRate.com, fifty percent of Americans admit they carry less than $20 in cash, and nine percent say they don’t carry cash at all. Giving your audience the ability to easily pay with a credit card is a simple way to improve your sales potential.

 

Another great way to add another source of revenue is to monetize your blog through pay per click ad programs such as Google’s Adsense. This service will embed ads in your blog that usually correlate, at least remotely, to products or services you’re writing about in your blog post. Once you sign up for these programs you will get paid each time a reader clicks on an ad. You can even download the free Adsense app to your mobile phone to manage your account on the go. You won’t generate much revenue at first, but it will grow as more readers begin visiting your blog. Although it’s not typical, Google reports that some users are making tens of thousands of dollars per month off this program. Whatever you make, every little bit helps.

 

I can’t stress this enough, just because you choose to pursue a writing career doesn’t mean you have to be a starving artist, it only requires you to think differently and have the discipline to stick to a budget.  Use your gift of creativity to discover new and different ways to get people to pay you for your work and be mindful of the money that you’re spending. If you accomplish this balance you will be well positioned to successfully support yourself with your words. More than ever before writers really do have control of their destinies. Utilize all of the tools at your disposal and you will soon see that reaching the goal of becoming a full time writer will feel every bit as amazing as you imagined it would be.

 

Here’s to your success!

~Eric Vance Walton, Author~

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More information on finding success as an indie author can be found in my book, One Word at a Time, Finding Your Way as an Indie Author. This book debuted at #7 on Amazon and currently has 19 reviews with an average of 4.9 stars.

 

PERFECTING OUR STORIES

It’s astonishing is how fast it happened. One day I was young and then I blinked my eyes and somehow landed in the unchartered territory of my middle years.This June I turned the double quatro, forty-four years old, and have started to notice some interesting very things going on.

There are the well known physical changes of middle age, decreased muscle tone, laugh lines starting to form, higher forehead and gray hair. As we approach the autumn of our years, no matter how hard we try to hide it, our faces truly reveal the kind of lives we’ve lived.

The psychological changes are even more interesting. Before middle age I thought the repetition of stories was just something seniors did along with complaining about whippersnappers and eating dinner at three-thirty in the afternoon. I was wrong. Yes, my friends and I are now beginning to tell the same stories over and over again.

This could easily be attributed to some natural age-related cognitive decline, stress, or maybe the accumulative effects of too many beer bongs in the 80’s and 90’s but I don’t think this is totally it. It’s as though we are retelling the stories that comprise the mosaic of who we are because a small part of us are afraid we’ll be forgotten. On some level we want our stories to be forever etched into the collective consciousness of humanity. We want our brief blip of existence on this planet to be remembered.

The middle years usher in wave after wave of profound realizations or “Oh $h!t” moments as I call them. I think Generation X, like every generation who came before us, are experiencing, “Oh $h!t” moments on an epic scale. I see it in mass media, social media and face-to-face, we are waking up to the fact that we’re not going to live forever. When you have an Oh $h!t moment it can’t be denied and isn’t easily forgotten. It’s a realization that can be felt on a deep cellular level.

Because of this, Gen Xers are discovering how valuable time is and are figuring out how we can best spend the time we have left more wisely. I’m concerning myself much less about what others think of me or the balance of my investment portfolio. Lately, I’m focusing more on happiness, facing fears, and making awesome new memories. Most importantly, I’m thinking about how I will be remembered by those I leave behind. Lately, I’ve been making a conscious attempt to shed anything or anybody who doesn’t bring a spark of joy to my life. Time is just too short to spend what you have left of it mired in drama and negativity.

I’ll admit this year I’ve given a lot of thought about my legacy. To get to the bottom of it I asked, what do I love greater than myself? After a little contemplation I decided that the legacy I wish to leave the world with will be small, often anonymous, acts of kindness and my words. I hope the many words I’ve written and the words I’ve yet to write will spark some joy in others. I hope my words make someone think, or smile, or even know that they’re not alone in this world. If my words accomplish this my life will have been complete.

Thinking about legacy can be uncomfortable. It can even border on morose but it doesn’t have to be that way. Contemplating and then consciously creating a legacy can provide an extra boost of octane to those of us in middle age who are beginning to feel a bit weary and worn around the edges. I tend think it as a little red button on the steering wheel of life that, once pressed, propels me through mires of the middle years, soreness, fatigue, and at times, the worry that my life will never quite measure up to the one I wished for in my dreams.

Time can teach, time can heal, and time eventually always reveals the truth…IF a person is awake enough to notice. Sometimes we simply must take a deep breath, have faith and take comfort that the universe is unfolding exactly as it was meant to. One thing’s for certain, there’s no fighting age or time. There’s such a profound beauty in learning from our missteps, gathering wisdom, and surrendering to time gracefully.

I would like to leave you with a three things I’d like you to ask yourself. What do you love greater than yourself? What will be your legacy? How would you like the world remember you? When you answer these questions your life changes in some pretty amazing ways. What once seemed so important starts to seem trivial and some things that seemed trivial all of a sudden pretty damned important.

Shakespeare penned the following lines in his play, As You Like It nearly five hundred years ago,

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

Here the Bard sums life up with his typical genius. Yes, life can hard and it is short but it is also the most amazing ride. Not a minute of it should be taken for granted. We are put on this Earth to love, to learn, to grow, and perhaps to help make life a little easier for others. Each of us have the chance to leave our own unique stamp on the world. What will yours be?

~Eric Vance Walton~
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Eric Vance Walton is a novelist, poet, aspiring world traveler, and tea junkie. He invites you to follow his unfolding story by “liking” his Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/EricVanceWaltonAuthor for updates and promotions on his current and upcoming projects. You can find Eric’s new book One Word At A Time: Finding Your Way as an Indie Author, on Amazon in print or as an ebook. Article © 2015 Eric Vance Walton

TIME TRAVEL 1.0

A few weeks ago I entered a contest sponsored by Garrison Keillor.  It was called, “Dear You” and the theme was to write a poem in the form of a letter to any living person. I wrote a letter to my 20 year old self.  Unfortunately, I didn’t win BUT the act of writing it provided me with some great insights so it wasn’t a total loss.

Writing this letter was so helpful to me I challenge you to try writing a letter to your 20 year old self and see how much you learn from it.  It was such an amazing (and scary) thing to revisit who I was to realize how much I’ve grown and where I’d like to take my life from this point forward.

At the advice of James Altucher I’m also going to write a letter to my 106 year old self and will post it soon.

If you try this exercise and feel comfortable sharing it with us please post it on my page!  

Here’s my entry:

Dear Twenty-year old Eric:

You are much stronger than you think and in the next twenty years the world will test that strength to the fullest. Life isn’t anything remotely as you imagine it to be now, it’s much tougher and more beautiful than you can know. Don’t believe anything you hear in the news, the history books, or from any government. Be gentle with yourself and others. Celebrate each success. Try not to judge. Everybody feels insecure inside, some people are just better at hiding it.  Don’t worry so much about what others think of you. Tell the truth, especially to yourself.

One day you will switch roles with your parents. Remember all of those times you made your parents worry?  Well, get ready, karma is coming for you. Enjoy each moment, right now it feels like you’ll live forever but time is incredibly short.  Never put your dreams on hold for anyone, you will resent them for it.  Success exists just outside your comfort zone. Cars are a huge waste of time and money. Spend your money on experiences. 

Pay attention to your pets, they are more intelligent than you think they are and have many lessons to teach you in their short lives. Nothing hurts as much as regret. Watch the sunrise at least once a year.
Don’t worry so much about your credit score. Say yes to as many things that scare you as you can. Carry a Swiss army knife. Buy internet stock in 1997, sell internet stock before March 10, 2000. Mullets aren’t sexy. Some people aren’t meant to be your friends for life and that’s okay. You will write a novel. Have more fun, worry less about sleep. Buy quality stuff that can be repaired, expensive doesn’t always equate to quality. Net worth doesn’t equal self-worth. Travel and don’t be afraid to get lost.  Talk to strangers. You will get wiser. Really listen to people when they speak instead of thinking what you’ll say next. Dance every single chance you get. Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up. 

Be yourself, always. Do yoga at least three times per week. Don’t eat soy, it’ll give you man boobs. Meditate. Your heart will be broken, you will recover. Watch less television. Butter actually is good for you (I know it sounds crazy!) Learn to trust your instincts. 
Although your forehead will be higher, you will not be completely bald by the time you’re forty. You will meet and marry the love of your life. Beagles are incredibly awesome dogs. Write every single day. Travel. Although you will never have biological children of your own will get to experience some of the joys of fatherhood with your stepson. It’s awesome.

I love you, I really do, but I’m so happy that I’m not you anymore,
(signed) Forty-three year old Eric

FUN TICKETS

I had a lot of misconceptions in my youth. One of them was that making money was the ultimate goal. I think dispelling this myth was one of my biggest lessons in this life. I started doing regular lawn jobs when I was eight so I always had a little stash of cash on hand.

Once I saved for months for a set of walkie-talkies. All I could think about was how cool it would be to be able to talk to someone down the block, wirelessly.  This is commonplace now but in 1979 it was still like magic to an eight year old kid.

The thing I discovered is after a few times of using the walkie talkies is this wasn’t cool at all. They were a burden, you had to buy batteries, my friends fought over them. Really, what did eight year olds have to talk about on walkie-talkies anyway…Saturday morning cartoons? How good looking Daisy Duke was? I quickly discovered that this “thing” didn’t make me happy and I felt robbed.

Fast forward a few decades and I got the bright idea that I wanted to become a writer. I dreamed of having a bestseller and getting that huge advance that would change my life in an instant. I wanted to travel and live the glamorous life. I was an idiot. I worked and I worked for years but that day never came for me. The truth was I was still dreaming of and chasing money instead of it being about the love of the craft, connecting with, and helping others.

Only about seventeen years into my writing career did I change my attitude. Honestly, my spirit was broken by the struggles of this career, I was humbled, and had no ego left.  I found this little book called, Choose Yourself and read it on a flight to Cleveland. This is when it all changed for me. I started writing from a place of love instead of a place of greed and after a while I saw the world with new eyes.

Just yesterday I received the first batch of royalties for my first traditionally published book, One Word At A Time: Finding Your Way as an Indie Author. Although I was incredibly grateful, the experience felt weirdly anticlimactic. The positive feedback I’ve received from indie authors about how the book has helped them provided me with many more sparks of joy than the money.

I had a wise uncle who referred to money as, “fun tickets.”  Only now do I fully fathom what he meant. Money doesn’t buy happiness but what it can provide is a little independence and, yes, a little fun. The happiness you must create yourself.

The days of one book providing you enough “fun tickets” to live on are pretty much gone. Indie authors must hustle and use their ingenuity to dream up multiple revenue streams. Books, consulting, freelancing, speaking engagements.

I’m spending this dreary and cold weekend in a city far from home to visit bookstores and drum up some new readers. My life is far from glamorous but I’m beginning to catch a glimpse of real freedom and what a writer’s life is like.

I’m here in a loud hotel lobby in downtown Chicago banging out this blog post. Tired, strung out from getting about four hours sleep the night before and waiting for the hotel staff to have the room ready so I can nap for an hour.

Reality is usually so much different from our dreams. Sometimes it’s even better. I’m writing the best I have in my whole life, I feel completely alive, and am full of hope. This, I couldn’t buy with all of the fun tickets in the world.

~Eric Vance Walton~

THE UPSIDE OF NEGATIVE BOOK REVIEWS

I recently received a one star review on Amazon for my newest book on writing, One Word At A Time: Finding Your Way as an Indie Author. The review read, and I quote, “Sounded like a seventh grader put it together…” The reviewer then proceeded to make the accusation that I attempted to copy Anne Lamott’s iconic book on writing, “Bird by Bird” grinding the proverbial salt to the wound by saying, “He missed by a mile.”
How do you even respond to that? The truth is you can’t and you don’t want to. 
My emotional cycle played out like this…first comes a few seconds of anger, then a few minutes of shaken confidence, then about ten minutes of worry that it will have a negative effect on the book sales and then, finally, I shrugged it off and moved on.  
Not only do you move you, you try to determine if there’s a kernel of constructive criticism that can make you better.   If the negative reviewer reveals something you can work on to make you a better writer they’ve done you a huge favor and you should thank them for their honesty. My big takeaway from this review is apparently not to write like a seventh grader. I’ll try to work on that. 

 Seriously, being an indie affords you countless opportunities to develop a thick skin but the great thing is almost every negative can be turned into a positive. According to James Altucher (whom I respect very deeply) we should strive for a Flesch-Kincaid readability score of three for truly effective writing. A FK score of three translates into third grade level so ideally I need to get to work at reducing this by four grades. 
I’ve said it before, writing is not the profession for the timid or faint of heart. You must be like a gold miner panning for glimmers of shining truth in the river of life. The occasional bad review, can even give your book more legitimacy by showing that it’s not just a bunch of friends and relatives writing reviews for your work. 
The truth is not everybody is going to connect with your writing. If you want to become a writer of the caliber that will leave a legacy and be remembered you will probably have as many haters as you have fans. When this happens I will know I’ve truly succeeded at my craft and in life. 
~Eric Vance Walton~