Being True To Yourself as a Romance Writer

I just recently read a blog that made me reevaluate my writing or at least the way I look at it. Writing from a place of fear versus from a place of love by Chuck Wendig really hit a nerve with me. Like most writers I thrive on self-doubt and am never sure whether I’m writing the right thing; the thing that readers want, what the readers will devour and beg for more, ultimately the one thing that will sell my books.

I have been tempted to write what seems to sell. As a romance writer I am plenty aware of what romance readers in general are reading, the things that make them tick. But as much as I have wanted to write those books, I couldn’t. They were not me. So cue in another wave of self-loathing; why can’t I be more like others, why am I so weird and different from everybody else? Enter days and days of agonizing over a manuscript; is my publisher going to want it? Will it sell? Will reviewers even be interested in reviewing it?writing

I was recently at a book signing event and decided to attend one of the panels they were offering. As quickly as I went in, I turned around and left, not so much horrified and depressed by what was being discussed but by the fact that if that was what the readers wanted, I would never be able to give it to them. No judgement on the authors of such books but they are not me. I can’t write kinky stuff, just can’t. I love writing about everyday Joes who take great pleasure in making love to their mates in simple ways, men and women who don’t need the aid of tools or pain (or the suggestion of such) to reach an orgasm, couples who won’t allow a third wheel in their sexual life and don’t need to be dominated, women who are not sex goddesses who may in fact even be a little shy about it… in short, people who are so in love with each other that they don’t need anything else to turn them on, keep them on, and reach that apex of pleasure most of us look for.

The reverse of the medal is what it’s usually called clean or sweet romance where sex is either only implied or not mentioned at all. I can’t write these either because I enjoy reading about the characters being intimate and loving, their physical reaction to the love they have for each other. So I like to write spicy scenes. My kind of spice, the kind I keep thinking is not what today’s romance reader want.

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And so the cycle of self-doubt goes on, possibly to never stop. But for now I will stick to what feels right to me at the risk of never selling enough books to keep me fed. I will keep writing from a place of love.

Have you ever been tempted or have in fact written from a place of fear? How did it make you feel?

When You Laugh…

Whoever came up with the old adage laughter is the best medicine was on to something in my opinion because when you laugh darkness loses some of its power. I love to laugh and, much like Chandler in the TV series Friends, I’ve used it as a shield against many things throughout my life.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of my long history of using humor as a protection of sorts is a time when I was about eight or nine years old. I was in fourth grade at the time and living in a tiny African island in the Atlantic called Ilha do Sal (Salt Island). As the name clearly suggests, the island was known for its salt mines and, unfortunately for the inhabitants at the time, for very little else; there were hardly any trees or other vegetation, nothing really grew on the island, it rained maybe once a year if we were lucky, and the only food resources came from the ocean. Not a bad thing for me since I discovered that I, the pickiest eater in the western world, absolutely adored lobster, a food product that abounded in the island.

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My dad worked for the national airline and, sort of like in the military, we moved around a lot. This time we were to spend a little over a year on this island where everyday luxuries were not quite a thing yet. For the first few months we lived in a tiny house without running water and no electricity but rich in giant flying roaches. Yes, that was quite an adventure.

My sense of humor came to my rescue when I became the target of hate in my school. There were two other white girls who hated me because I was not the daughter of a high-ranking officer in the army like they were, and I was hated by the other girls because–well, I was white. The simple act of going to school had become unbearable. I was bullied all the way to the building, during class by the most horrible teacher known to mankind, at recess, and then again on my way back home. All I wanted was to either be invisible or be seen for who I really was; just a girl who hated no one.

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My dad loved a Portuguese comedian called Raul Solnado and had all his records (yes, records. I’m ancient.) which he listened to every time he had a chance. I had grown up listening to those comedy skits and had them pretty well memorized. So one day at recess–not quite sure how or why–I began retelling all the jokes I had learned from listening to this comedian. Suddenly I had them. All the girls who had hated me because of the color of my skin were now my captive audience.

Things haven’t changed much for me when it comes to using humor to protect myself and those I love. Life turned hairy some years ago and if it wasn’t for my talent to find humor in pretty much everything, I’m sure I would have lost my mind a long time ago.

My love for the funny is well reflected in almost all my books, where I balance the sad and the serious with a touch of comedy. I’m sure not everyone thinks that is an actual good thing, but I do hope never to lose the power to see the kernel of the absurd in even the direst of situations.

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Syrian Brides-New Release

 

Syrian Brides

New Release

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Book Blurb:

Syrian Brides, published on November 3rd, is a collection of eleven short stories about the lives of women in Syria. The author manages to make the reader laugh while introducing a range of serious topics, such as domestic violence and the role of women in the Syrian society.

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Author’s Bio:

Anna Halabi was born and raised in Aleppo, Syria. She emigrated to Europe in 1999 for her university studies. She currently lives with her family in Germany.
Syrian Brides is her debut as an author. The stories and characters in this collection were inspired by her personal experiences as well as her relatives, friends and TV Shows.

 

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Further details:

·  Paperback: 136 pages

·  Publisher: Independently published (November 3, 2018)

·  Language: English

Interview with Allison Garcia

Please join me in welcoming Allison Garcia, author of Vivir el Dream and Finding Amor.

N: Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.

In college I DJ’d a radio show with my roommate…It was called The Allison and Charlene Show, and we won DJs of the Year. We were very silly and had loads of fun!

N: What’s your favorite scene in “Finding Amor”, and what makes it a fave? Would you care to share an excerpt from the scene with us?

Sure! My favorite scene is…oh my…this is hard. I’ve been staring at the screen for five minutes. I can’t pick! Also I don’t want to pick a scene toooo far into the book and give anything away. I kind of like the scenes where Emanuel meets his grandmother, Mami Sandra. I know a lot more about the character than everyone at this point, so the way she connects with Emanuel is pretty miraculous and outside her normal character. Also it turns out she has a pretty good sense of humor. Who knew?! Here is a scene where they are eating breakfast together in Nashville. I apologize for the large amount of Spanish. There are footnotes in the book! J

Mami Sandra let out a sigh and took another swig of her coffee. “Regresemos al río.”

Emanuel nodded and walked alongside her until they got to the railing overlooking the flowing waters. The sunset was brighter and glowed with a mixture of orange and red, like mangos and jocotes.

Vamos a comer por allá. El puente tiene bancos.

They walked up the steep bridge until they got to the top, where they sat on a metal bench, looking out over the river below, its surface reflecting the changing colors of the sky.

Mami Sandra swallowed another gulp of coffee and passed Emanuel a warm wrapped sandwich from the paper bag. “Okay, I’m awake now. ¿Qué querés saber?” She checked her watch. “Tenés quince minutos para preguntarme todo lo que quieras.”

Emanuel stopped with his biscuit sandwich halfway to his mouth. “¿Por qué habla español con acento?”

“Out of practice,” she responded with a full mouth.

“Why?”

“I don’t like speaking Spanish.”

“Why?”

“Because.” She picked off a piece of her biscuit and threw it to a group of nearby pigeons.

“Because why?”

Mami Sandra narrowed her eyes but didn’t answer.

Me dijo ‘todo lo que yo quiera saber de usted,’” Emanuel reminded her, taking another sip of the flavorless juice.

She swallowed hard and looked out over the river. “Me recuerda a la Guerra.”

Emanuel sat back. “Oh. Por eso salió del país, ¿verdad?

She nodded and tossed another crumb to the birds. “It really messed me up.”

He had a million other questions floating around in his mind. Why had she abandoned Mamá? Why hadn’t she helped her get papers or waited so long to help Emanuel? Why did everyone seem to hate her so much?

He nibbled on his sandwich and studied her saddened face and her leg that restlessly shook the bench, deciding that la Guerra might be the answer to most of his questions. So he chose an easier one. “¿Por qué me está ayudando?”

Mami Sandra glanced at him, a strange far-off look in her eyes. “I don’t know.” She shook her head and finished off her biscuit and coffee, tossing the garbage into the trash. “Fifteen minutes are over.”

Emanuel laughed. “Ni llegué a cinco.”

“Oh, well. Son mis reglas.” Mami Sandra shrugged. “If I’d known you were so smart, I wouldn’t have let you ask me questions.” She ruffled his hair and stood up. “Let’s go.”

Emanuel swallowed his last dry bite of sandwich, gulped down the juice, and followed his grandmother down the hill. He smiled. Mami Sandra was strange, but for a moment, she’d reminded him of Mamita. Despite everything he’d heard about her his whole life, he couldn’t shake the feeling that somewhere deep inside, she was actually a good person.

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N: If you could spend some real-life time with one of the characters in the book, who would you choose and why?

Emanuel, hands down. He is a cool kid. He is so strong and has been through so much, and yet the world hasn’t dragged him down. He has a good heart and a lot of love to give.

N: On the flipside, which character would you probably least get along with? Why?

Carlos. He is the worst. When my editor made me write scenes from his POV, I bucked back hard. But, alas, it helped grow the story. And, don’t worry, horrible things will happen to him. Mwahahaha

N: Let’s take off your author cap and put on your reader cap for a moment: what do you look for in a book, what sort of protagonists do you love, and do you have a favorite genre/sub-genre?

I’m a sucker for the classics. My fav book is Jane Eyre. But I also love Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and The Giver and And Then There Were None. My favorite recent book is The Hate U Give. I’d say I read whatever, as long as it has a good story and characters I care about.

N: What are your least and most favorite things about being an author?

I love writing. I haaaaate editing, though I love the final product. It is really awesome holding a book you wrote in your hands and seeing it on the shelves of a bookstore. Also I only have 2 books out, so next year I would looove to be in the black. J

N: Have you ever written a line, paragraph, or passage, and thought, “Darn, that’s pretty amazing, even if I do say so myself”? What was it?

Yes. There is one scene in Vivir el Dream, my book that has won 5 awards, where it talks about Juanita and her 3-yr old daughter Linda’s traumatic border crossing. So…I think the last line is the most powerful, but it needs context so here ya go!

Juanita had heard stories about people dying in the desert. Hundreds of people, maybe thousands. Searching for freedom and a better life for their families. She had heard other stories, too. Stories about what the coyotes did to women, stories she didn’t want to believe were true. She took a deep breath and looked ahead with determination. She wouldn’t be one of those bodies lying out for the vultures to find. They were going to make it.

All of a sudden, the old man in front of her stopped, swayed, and dropped onto the sand, dead. She made the sign of the cross over her chest and stepped around him, continuing on.

N:  When you sit down to start a new book, how do you decide whether it will best be told in the first or the third person?

I almost always write in 3rd person, and starting with Vivir el Dream, I have written stories from usually 3-4 POVs. I usually decide the main people I’d like the story to be about and go from there. I am a “pantser” so the story develops as I write.

N: Let’s talk tropes: do you have a few favorites that you enjoy both writing and reading? If so, what are they and what makes them your faves?

I sort of hate tropes. I don’t like things to be predictable at all. Though…I suppose I would say that I am a sucker for the underdog or for surprise declarations of love.

N: Describe your ideal fantasy writing environment—the beach in Monaco, a sidewalk café in Paris, a thatched cottage in the English countryside—wherever you can dream of.

I have written some really good stuff while down visiting my in-laws in Guadalajara. But I’ve already been there and I’ve never been to Italy, so I think there!

N: If you could choose one of your books to be adapted for the silver screen, which would you choose? Why do you think it would translate well to film?

This is hard because I see all of them in my head like a movie, but people seem to really love Vivir el Dream. I think the characters are lovable (most of them!) and it is very poignant. Finding Amor would also be cool. I can see people falling in love with sweet little Emanuel.

N: If I were to interview Ana and Emanuel what would they say about you?

Give us a break, Allison! I think they’d be mad about the next shoe that is dropping in Finding Seguridad (book 2 of the Buscando Home series) and the following shoe in Finding Paz (book 3). I like to make people squirm and care and worry, because these are real things that happen in the real world. I hear stories like theirs every day as a counselor. I want it to be authentic and not a fake, happy, perfectly-tied-up-in-a-bow ending.

N: Thank you so much. Finding Amor sounds very interesting. I wish you all the best in your writing career and hope you visit us again soon.

 

Buy Links

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vivir

 

A New Year Begins…

With the approaching of a new year, we all begin making resolutions or at least dreaming about what might be.

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“Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.”

― Brad Paisley

I love this quote not only because it pulls at my writer’s sensibilities, but also because it’s true. Obviously we are not always in control, and lots of what will happen may not be of our own doing. However, we can at least strive at doing the best we can.

Every year I have all these dreams of what I will accomplish or at least try. Like with most people, those things normally end up at least partially undone. As I get older though, I developed this sense of hurry, of urgency that was not there when I was younger. I’ve always been patient, willing to wait, never rushing. But for the past three or four years, I’ve had this need for speed. It’s almost as if, as my life draws near to the end, I realize I still have so much to do and possibly not enough time to do it. When you’re young, time just drags and old age is a very distant and abstract idea. When you get to my age, the end is suddenly very concrete. Most of the adults of your childhood are either dead or dying, your heroes, your idols, everything is dwindling down and you know that you’ll go sometime next.

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I had always wanted to be a published writer. I had a knack for writing and did it constantly since very early on. My dream finally came true four years ago. Nine books later, I still find it hard to believe it actually happened. My next “dream” is to actually be mildly successful at it. It’s a very slow process and I get antsy. I don’t have a life in front of me to wait patiently for the world to discover my stories, I need it now. Talk about self-induced anxieties, lol.

Those of you who are in the last quarter or so of your life, getting ready to become silver foxes, do you feel this way too? This anxiety to accomplish a thousand things all at the same time and frustration of not having enough time for it? Or energy? It has gotten so bad for me, I avoid things I used to love (and still do) and that helped me relax so that I have time to finish that story, or work on that ad, or interact with my audience. It’s exhausting.

So for this new year I still want to accomplish all of that, but I also want to learn to relax, to allow myself those moments of blissful peace when there is nothing to do, no place to go.

What are your plans for the new year?

Sparkler

Offended & Bewildered

It’s not the first time I write a blog about the many frustrations of being a romance writer and not be taking seriously. This is one of them.

I recently attended a writing event as a panelist where I was once again reminded of what people (including or especially other writers) think a romance is. They conveniently forget that the great ones of literature such as Jane Austen, The Bronte sisters, and even–gulp–the Great Bard were all romance writers.

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Yes, the genre has gone through some significant changes throughout the years (some good, some bad) and I’ll be the first one to admit that there are a lot of really bad romance novels out there. This, however, can be said about any other genre today. There are excellent high fantasy books just as there are some absolutely awful. Same can be said of mystery, science fiction, and everything in between. Even high-brow literature has its winners and losers. I can think of at least one Pulitzer Prize prize winner who wrote a book that made zero sense whatsoever.

So to bundle up every romance book and label it “porn” is not only offensive but totally incorrect.

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Anyone who knows me well will tell you I abhor porn. To me, porn objectifies people of every gender (but especially women) and trivializes sex. Don’t get me wrong. There is sex in my romances, heat level depending on the plot and the characters. These are love stories and where there is love eventually, and in most cases, there will be a communion of bodies as much as of hearts. But a loving sex scene should not be confused with porn. If you think my love scenes are porn, then you must have led a very sheltered life.

When someone at this writing event insinuated (quite loudly in a  room full of people) that I wrote porn and therefore what I wrote would not make its way to the group online page or anthology, I was extremely offended. It’s been boiling just under the surface since then and I’ve considered posting something to the effect, because I feel that by not defending my writing is admitting that I do indeed write porn. Which I don’t.

This reminds me of when the Harry Potter books were first released. There was such a fuss made by certain religious groups about the evil nature of such stories. They called for boycotts of the books and other extreme reactions to a wonderful fictional world that depicted good against evil. I was shocked to find out that many of the people running their mouths about the books had never read as much as the first chapter. How can you judge something if you’ve never read, or at least sample parts of it?

This person who accused me of writing porn has never read any of my books, so how does she know what my writing is like? Why didn’t she refrain from making assumptions before sampling one of my books? All she did was show how ignorant she is about the genre. One silver lining though: I am now determined to show up to a book open mic event and show everybody that my books are well written and have depth. I want to prove to all who have sneered at my books that romance is not the sex fest they think it is. Not my type of romance and not a lot of romance I read and love. Let’s not judge a whole group of authors and their books by a few.

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What do you think? Are you a reader that believes romance to be a low-form of literature or are you willing to set your assumptions aside and give romance a chance? Or any other genre for that matter.

For those who still think romance is the black sheep of the literary family and a mere venue for pornographic voyeurism, here are some readings that may make you change your mind:

Inventing Human Rights: A History by Lynn Hunt

Where Are Romance Novels Headed (Chicago Tribune)

For the Love of Food

***Originally posted on Stories that Make You Smile blog***

Cai is a foodie who cooks to relax. Lyra, his slovenly sister, loves her brother and his delicious dishes. And Shahin, the man Cai loves, is a dedicated fan of raw meat, though he makes a valiant effort to cook something edible for his boyfriend.

Food plays an essential role in Infinite Blue. I’m not sure how it ended up being such a large part of the plot since that’s never happened before (coffee always, food not so much), but it did. In this book, food is the glue that holds the scenes and the characters together. The first (official) time Cai meets Shahin is at a restaurant where he unwisely orders mussels and spends the rest of the evening worried about making a mess out of himself.

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There are quite a few family gatherings around the dinner table for Shahin, events that generally don’t end well, and Shahin is formally introduced to Lyra at a dinner meticulously prepared by a very nervous Cai.

There are also romantic moments where food is merely the backdrop for some sweet and sensual encounters between Cai and wild man, Shahin.

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I’m from Portugal where food has a very important role in society. Much of our social interaction takes place around the table. In the U.S. people eat, pay the bill, and leave. In my country, restaurants are accustomed to having the same people around the table for a long time. Meals there last for hours. Even now, certain foods or dishes always bring back memories of my friends and family—delicious snapshots of my childhood. Maybe that’s why I added so many food references in Infinite Blue. These two guys are lonely people—for different reasons. I wanted to give them something that would evoke happy memories. In the end, life is made of those small moments, and I didn’t want Cai and Shahin to miss out on a single one of them.

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Writing a Strong Broken Character

A couple months ago I finished writing a romantic comedy that is close to my heart for a few different reasons. If you have read any of my books you know they are not just about romance and happy endings (even though they definitely have both) but they normally touch on something a bit heavier, sometimes darker.

This one is no exception. I wanted to write a character who is being emotionally blackmailed. This was an important subject for me because it’s something I experienced personally. I had always considered myself a strong woman. Not the most assertive one, but emotionally strong. Until the day I discovered I had been manipulated by someone I considered my best friend at the time. Worse even this had been going on for years. I lived in a state of confusion and hurt without a clue of who or what was making me so miserable.

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Emotional blackmailers use traits of your personality (good qualities more often than not) against you. In my case, she used the fact I would do just about anything to help and/or defend a friend and turned it into a weapon against me. She also used the fact I choose to believe the best about people to make herself believable in my eyes. She was the victim, the one that needed help, everyone was out to get her. And I ate it up even when my conscience and common sense told me there was something wrong with her stories and/or her attitude.

When I began writing this story I wanted my main male character (who in romance are kind of expected to be alpha males) to be a victim of emotional blackmail. As I wrote the story I had the suspicion I was making him look weak, which was not at all my intention. Strength has nothing to do with this. The most put together, emotionally stable person can be the victim of one of these predators. Because make no mistake, these are predators as ruthless as any other.

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I submitted the manuscript thinking that I would get it back with the comment, “he comes across as weak”. I was right. That’s exactly what happened. So now I’m faced with the challenge of portraying someone who has been “broken” by his girlfriend but still seems strong and capable–which he really is. Not an easy task but I have all confidence I’m on the right track. I agonized over it when I was writing it the first time, I’m agonizing over it now as I revise it. I want to be true and fair to my MMC and not make him look like the weakling he is not.

I’m hoping I can make my guy just as strong and awesome as he is broken and confused. Have you ever have to write a character like that? What did you do to balance his state of mind with his personal strengths?

 

The Insidious Impostor Syndrome

On my last blog I wrote about my experience at a book signing recently–an experience colored by many anxieties and doubts. I’m very happy to say that despite my irrational fears, I was indeed invited back for next year’s event.

Today I’d like to talk to you about something related, impostor syndrome. A lot of authors suffer from this condition and I’m no exception. Recently, I was reminded of how much this affects me as a writer and a human being.

As the majority of writers today, I struggle to make myself known and get people to buy my books. I work my butt off and sacrifice a lot to sell a handful of books a month if I’m lucky. One of my books, Desert Jewel, is part of a series I’m very proud of: The Jewel Chronicles, a fantasy with a strong romantic element which I wrote using a world I knew well in my past to create a parallel-type universe as my setting. Some of you know I spent a lot of my childhood and  young adult years in Africa. I used what I knew to create a speculative world where everything was the opposite of the real one. I buried deep personal beliefs about prejudice and superstition in the plot and colored it perhaps with a bit of anger against the power-hungry men who even today keep the people of many African nations poor and helpless.

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As I write the third and last book of the series, I find myself procrastinating, making excuses not to write. Because I very rarely do this, I began wondering why that is. Is it because my story is coming to an end and I want to hold on to it as long as I can? Is it because I’m afraid of not knowing how to further push the story forward? Or is it because I’m discouraged by the extremely low sales of the past two books?

I guess it is a little of all three above, but I also realized something else–I’m suffering from a serious bout of impostor’s syndrome. Let me explain.

In May of this year a young adult fantasy was released to almost instant success and critical acclaim. I didn’t know much about it, other than it was set in an African-like world. Being the African groupie that I am, I was curious and checked out its synopsis. I immediately found several parallels with Desert Jewel–not the same plot but many of the same elements. The story incorporates Afro-Brazilian mythology, the idea of a girl with a special gift who will save a repressed people, and a romantic attachment with someone on the “other side” of the rail tracks, so to speak. Being an expert at self-doubt, my first reaction was, “This was her first book and she sold thousands of copies already and is in every freaking bookstagrammer’s page. I’ve sold a handful of copies of my book in over two years. I suck at writing obviously.”

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Ever since then I’ve carrying this growing doubt with me–am I a good enough writer? Are my stories interesting enough? Am I tricking myself into believing I can write? A doubt that has been hampering the writing progress of my WIP. This, my friends, is what impostor syndrome is all about. I have a publisher that believes in me, a few readers that love my books, good–even if not tons of–reviews and yet I still doubt myself. Frequently.

How many of you suffers from this too? How do you fight this self-defeating feeling? I fight it by writing on, despite that little voice that tells me nobody wants to read what I write. I keep writing even when I’m scared people think I’m an old fool who has nothing interesting to say. I keep on writing because it’s where my voice is, the one thing that gives me wings.

You can read more about impostor syndrome here and here and here.

Tales of an Introvert

This is the story of how I managed to sabotage myself thanks to my introvert anxieties.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend SaSS18, a much anticipated and large romance authors’ signing in Norfolk, Virginia. It was a dream come true (I got in because someone had to cancel at the last minute) and I was determined to make this opportunity my foot-in into the circle of wonderful authors who always seemed to be invited for these events.

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Even before the day of the event arrived, my anxieties were already kicking in and by the time I checked in at the hotel I was not feeling so good. It only got worse. When the doors opened to the public I was totally overhwlemed. A nonstop stream of self-defeating mantras flashed in my head:

  • You suck as a writer.
  • Nobody reads your books.
  • People think you’re boring.
  • You’re too fat.
  • No one wants to talk to you.
  • They all think you’re an idiot.
  • You don’t belong here.

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No matter how much I fight these inner voices, they are often too strong for me. And this was the case that weekend. Afraid that I would be the one in a corner alone while everyone else was having fun, I ditched all the fun events, those where I could make an impression by talking and networking with other authors and readers.

Afterward came the self-loathing, anger at myself for once again making myself invisible. Apart from a couple of people, no one will remember that middle-aged woman who barely moved out of her table for the whole signing.

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Names have already began being picked for next year’s event, and I’m not holding my breath–why would they pick someone they can’t even remember? I’m in about three event pictures out of hundreds and I have no one else to blame but myself. Everyone was sweet and welcoming, but my anxieties did what I had promised myself I wouldn’t allow them to do; they ruined something I had looked forward to so much.

Have your anxieties ever done anything like that to you?