I turned sixty-six today, and I can’t help but think about my mother, who died when she was my age after a long illness. In that context, this particular milestone seems unusually significant. Both of my parents are gone…and yet daily I am reminded of the impact both of them had on my life.
Six years ago, I wrote a tribute to my father, Second Chances and Role Models, that talked about how his choices in life and his decision to write poetry in his retirement years influenced me in my decision to finally fulfill my dream of writing historical fiction by becoming a self-published author when I was sixty.
Today, however, I would like to talk about my mother and how I can see her influence in my journey as an independent author.
The two characteristics I associate most with my mother are friendship and service. When I remember her, I picture her on the phone, cup of coffee in hand and pad of paper next to her.
When the pen and paper weren’t being used, I knew she was listening patiently to her friends as they confided in her about their marriages, their children, their aging parents, their hopes and their fears. Friendship was important to her…and she spent quality time maintaining those relationships. Something she taught me to do as well.
But when the paper and pen were being used…I knew that my mother was organizing someone or something to be of service to others. She wasn’t just the normal 1950s mother volunteering as Girl Scout leader, Sunday school teacher, PTA president (although she did all those things.) But she organized vaccination drives in the inner city, was the first female elder in our church, helped found the first domestic violence hot line and shelter for battered woman in Pittsburgh, and became the volunteer Executive Director of Pennsylvania Common Cause—an organization committed to campaign reform that was started in the 1970s.
Friendship…and service to others. The twin pillars of her life.
So what does that have to do with my journey as an independent author?
When I worked as a college professor, I was part of a community, building friendships and actively serving that community. Following my mother’s example, in addition to my teaching responsibilities, I served on multiple committees, volunteered for faculty leadership positions, raised money for scholarships, and helped on the campaigns that got bonds passed to completely rebuild our campus. Hours and hours of time spent with paper and pen at my side, listening, talking, organizing, serving.
But I thought when I retired to focus on the solitary occupation of writing that it would be isolating. I told myself I would visit campus to keep up with old friends, maybe volunteer in the community.
But none of that happened because I found many of my new friends and opportunities for service among the growing indie author community. And I think that is because members of the indie community, by-in-large, do not see other authors as competitors, don’t see writing and publishing as a zero-sum game, and they are willing to share with each other, believing that our mutual goal is reaching readers not beating out each other for one of the few “contracts” doled out by traditional publishers each year.
As a result, on any given day, I check in with author friends scattered as widely as Australia, England, Canada, and practically every region of the U.S. We chat online about how our writing is going, share information on marketing initiatives, ask about the weather, commiserate over colds, and share funny cat pictures. Checking my Facebook to talk with both fans and other authors has become my reward when I hit my target of words written. And, over the past couple of years, I have actually gotten to hang out with some of these friends in the real world at conventions…turning what I have always seen as a chore into a delight.
But the indie author community has also provided me with opportunities for service. I know the common wisdom is that to be a successful indie author you need to treat it like a business…being focused, efficient, and subordinating everything to writing and marketing. And while I agree, my mother taught me that giving back to the community that sustains me is also important, making life rich and rewarding.
So I write blog posts on this website about my journey as an indie author…not as a marketing ploy…but as a way of giving back to a community of authors who have been generous with their own information.
For the past five years, I have helped serve the Historical Fiction Author Cooperative that I belong to (a group of 50 authors of quality historical fiction) by setting up author and book pages on the website (hfebooks.com) and organizing the weekly blog posts on Mondays, and putting together the Thursday posts that publicize when our books are discounted or newly published.
This year I helped found the Paradisi Chronicles, an open source science fiction world, which I hope will also become a vibrant community of science fiction authors committed to pushing the envelope of independent publishing. And I also had the wonderful chance to mentor a high school student as she self-published an anthology of her poetry and essays, entitled Tales of a Navy Brat.
And as I do these things…I think about my mother and smile. She might be puzzled by my use of a laptop instead of paper and pen or wonder how I was able to skype face to face with my mentee who lives in Singapore. But she would absolutely recognize that I am honoring her with the time I spend in friendship and service.
M. Louisa Locke, January 25, 2016