Author: Dachary Carey

My strange caffeine detox journey

Lifestyle Personal

My strange caffeine detox journey

If you know me at all, you know I’m a devoted coffee snob. I have an AeroPress at home and a second one at the office where I’ve been contracting for almost a year. I have not one, but two expensive burr grinders so I can always brew from fresh beans (one at home, one at the office). I temp the water before I brew. (Different beans extract ideally at different temps – I generally prefer anywhere from 85C to 95C depending on the bean, but 92C seems to be about my sweet spot.) And I buy rather expensive single-source beans from a local roaster.

So it came as a big surprise to my friends and family when, leading up to Memorial Day Weekend, I announced my intent to do a caffeine detox.

It started as my attempt to give up diet soda – I’d usually drink Coke Zero at lunch and dinner, and sometimes extra Coke Zero throughout the day. I know the chemicals in that stuff are going to kill me someday, so I decided I wanted to stop drinking it. Soda entirely, really – the diet stuff is full of chemical crap, and the non-diet stuff is jam-packed with unnecessary sugar, and I really don’t need any of that in my life. Plus, I lost a bunch of weight when I stopped drinking soda in 2005, so I thought it might be a good way to jump-start a healthier lifestyle again.

When I was thinking about it giving up soda, though, I realized I’d gotten entirely too accustomed to drinking a lot of caffeine, period. I’d start my workday with a latte. I’d have Coke Zero at lunch. I’d have a latte or a mocha mid-afternoon when I started feeling sleepy at the office. I’d have Coke Zero at dinner. Sometimes, when we’d eat out, I’d have a coffee with dessert. Basically, caffeine every few hours from morning ’til bedtime. I thought: “You know, while I’m trying to clean up my soda-drinking habits, maybe I should just stop drinking caffeine entirely. Just for a little while. Get through the withdrawal, and then drink less of it when I start drinking it again.”

So I did.

I planned to start over Memorial Day Weekend, because I’d have an extra day off and I knew I’d have massive headaches due to the caffeine withdrawal.

I was right.

The extra day off wasn’t really enough. I ended up working at home for a couple of days once the weekend was over. It wasn’t until an entire week had passed since I last drank caffeine that the headaches let up. And we’re talking migraine-level headaches for days 2-4, and then pretty bad headaches from 5-7. It was no walk in the park.

Week two was about feeling exhausted, all the time. I never really thought about what that must be doing to my body – how every time I started to get tired during the day, I’d just add some more caffeine. As a result, I had unconsciously programmed my body that whenever it sent me a sleepy signal, I’d just give it a chemical upper. I had completely messed with my body’s natural energy cycle, and it didn’t really know what to do once the caffeine wasn’t coming in again.

I’d wake up feeling relatively ok. But by the time an hour had passed – when I’d normally be drinking my morning latte or coffee – my eyelids didn’t want to stay up on their own. I had NO energy. I just wanted to go back to bed. Mid-morning, I’d be dragging. But mid-afternoon, when I always tend to get sleepy, was the worst. I’d literally be staring at my computer, and no matter how much effort I put into keeping my eyelids open, they would not stay open. I never fell asleep at my desk, but there were times when I’d sit there with my eyelids closed because I just literally couldn’t keep them open. I’d give them thirty seconds and force them open again, or go for a walk to try to get some blood flowing and give me some energy. But I think week two was even harder than the headaches – I could barely focus, and there’s something really debilitating about just being exhausted all the time.

By week three, I’d gotten a little apprehensive about what was going to come next. Was it going to be headaches again? Was the perpetual exhaustion about to descend on me again? When neither manifested, I thought: hey, maybe that’s it. Maybe the withdrawal is done. I started thinking about when I might start drinking caffeine again, and what form that might take.

One day, in the afternoon, I was feeling sleepy and also craving chocolate, so I thought about getting myself a hot chocolate. I know hot chocolate has caffeine in it. I did some spelunking to determine how much. Turns out, it depends. Generally, anywhere from 5mg to 20mg of caffeine in a hot cocoa, versus 80mg to 200mg in coffee, depending on the bean and the brewing method. I decided that was benign enough, so I treated myself to a hot cocoa around mid-week during week three.

MAN, I felt that caffeine!

That hot chocolate tasted effing amazing. And I felt SO GREAT after I drank it. I felt like I could do ALL THE THINGS. My mood lifted, I had so much more energy and focus, and I was super productive for the rest of the afternoon.

That’s when I realized two things:

  1. Wow, the body really adjusts quickly to not having caffeine. I thought I’d barely feel it, because I’d been drinking so much caffeine before, but let me tell you I felt the results and was very aware that the caffeine was affecting me.
  2. Oh shit. This might be worse than I realize. If even a little hot cocoa makes me feel this way, I’m going to have to be damn careful about how I re-introduce caffeine to my life. Maybe I shouldn’t drink caffeine again at all?

I wrestled with that for a few days. On Sunday, about five days after the hot cocoa and a little ways into week four, I decided to try a latte from one of my favorite local coffee shops. I was going to be deliberate about it – we sat there and had breakfast, and I savored the crap out of it. It was one of the most amazing coffee-drinking experiences I’ve ever had. And I realized: mindful coffee drinking is even more mind-blowing than habitual caffeine consumption. (This was the latte in the picture at the top of the post. Yes, I took a picture of it. It tasted even better than it looks.)

The rest of that day was amazing. I was SO PRODUCTIVE. I did a million chores, and got a bunch of writing stuff done, and didn’t feel like napping at 3 o clock or any of the normal stuff.

Then, when night rolled around, I was still feeling pretty energetic when it was time to go to bed. I forced myself to lie down, but my brain wouldn’t shut off – I laid there tossing and turning for a couple of hours, just thinking about everything and nothing, because my brain was too busy for sleep.

The next day was rough. And I knew it was because of the caffeine. I could still feel it in my system 24 hours after I drank it. But by the time mid-afternoon had rolled around – around 30-32 hours post caffeine – I was crashing. I think most of it had left my system, and combined with the lack of sleep the night before, I was exhausted. I barely made it through the rest of the day, and I canceled my evening plans because I just didn’t have brain.

Then I started to wonder if I should really be drinking caffeine anymore. If one latte, drank first thing in the morning, could have that effect – should I even be ingesting this stuff, period?

But I enjoyed it so much. And I had felt so productive and focused.

When Thursday of that week rolled around, I was absolutely dragging. I woke up feeling really cranky and grumpy. I could barely keep my eyes open. I made a decision: I’m going to get a mocha this morning. I want the chocolate and caffeine, for the mood elevation and to help me wake up. Otherwise, work is going to be very unpleasant, not just for me, but for anyone who encounters me.

It was a good call. That mocha was amazing. By the time I got to work, I was happy and chatty. (Mildly obnoxious, too – I announced to at least a half dozen people that I’d had a mocha that morning, and I even made it my Slack status. I had previously shared with people at work that I was caffeine detoxing, so I wanted to let them all know the good news when I started drinking it again. In retrospect, I may have been mildly caffeine-high.)

In the end, I didn’t regret drinking that mocha at all. I’d made a very intentional decision to have it, because I wanted it (and perhaps because I felt I needed it), and it had the desired effect.

Now here we are into week five. It’s Sunday, and I’ve just bought a mocha again. This is my third caffeine-based beverage in about four and a half weeks. (Well, really, my third in the last week, because that’s when I started drinking them again – last Sunday.)

I thought, when I walked up the street to pick it up, that I finally had it figured out.

I could have coffee-based drinks when I wanted them, and ONLY then. Not when I felt I needed them. Not when I was feeling sleepy, or tired, or cranky. Not out of any sort of craving or habitual need – I’d gotten used to lattes every morning, and again every afternoon/evening, and I don’t want to get back to that state. Only when I deliberately, mindfully, WANTED a coffee-based drink should I have one. I was pretty happy with that decision while I was sipping my mocha on the way home.

But now that I’m sitting here, typing this out and thinking about my reactions, I’m wondering if that’s really a good call. I made the decision to have a mocha on Thursday because I was cranky and tired and couldn’t keep my eyes open. Was it really that I WANTED it, or did I feel I needed it?

How much can I trust myself to judge the difference between want and need?

I don’t want to get back to a dependency state, because withdrawal was no good and it can’t be healthy for my body to be going through all that. The migraine-level headaches completely eliminated my ability to do anything substantive in days two through four. The exhaustion I felt during all of week two of my detox made me realize how I’d been putting my body through all kinds of crazy, unnatural swings with the sleepy/caffeine cycle. I feel like the caffeine was just masking the fact that my body was actually tired, and shouldn’t I be listening to my body? Isn’t that the whole point of mindfulness?

There’s also the fact that it feels wonderful to be so focused and productive when I drink caffeine. I feel like I get so much done. (I really do get so much done.) But it also just feels like a better mental state. And how is that different than any of the more serious, less socially-acceptable drugs? It feels like a slippery slope to me. Not that I ever have, or ever would, use “real” drugs – with my family history, that’s just not a thing that would happen. But in terms of how it affects the body, and wondering whether I can trust my mind when I’m making a decision about whether or not to have caffeine – all of the same psychology of addiction applies, I’m beginning to realize.

There’s the added complication that this coffee-consumption is tied into my identity as a writer. I love sitting at my desk, typing away and drinking coffee. It’s a really satisfying ritual. But how much of that is habitual?

And coffee helps me through those lagging cycles, where I want to stop and rest, instead letting me sit in front of my keyboard and just keep on working. But is that the healthiest thing? Shouldn’t I instead get up and talk a walk, or exercise, or nap?

Let’s not forget the fact that coffee and writers go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and jelly. It’s a huge part of the cultural identity of writers. If I stop drinking coffee entirely, does that mean I’m less a writer than other writers? It does feel alienating.

In short, this is a way more complicated question than I thought it would be when I stopped drinking caffeine on Memorial Day Weekend. The coffee detox was only supposed to be temporary – no more soda, but I’d go back to drinking coffee because I love coffee and I don’t have a medical reason not to.

But now, I have to wonder… is it really that simple? I’ve seen very clear signs of the physical effects, and I don’t think it’s such a straightforward question anymore. So I guess today, I’ll finish drinking this mocha, and savor it, and acknowledge that I have some thinking to do about whether caffeine has a place in my life long-term, and if so, how it will fit in.

Protecting your digital empire

Business

Protecting your digital empire

After some of the conversations I’ve seen lately about backup strategies, I have been reminded that I’m not on my A-game when it comes to backing up my digital assets. It’s not just manuscripts; it’s the book covers, ad images, videos, podcasts and everything else related to the publishing empire. I’ve had bits and pieces backed up here and there, but not a comprehensive strategy.

So hubby and I have just splurged on a Synology (a raid array storage device with redundant drives to back up computers, so even if our computer dies and our backup fails, there’s another backup) and we’ll be syncing it with Backblaze for offsite storage.

Sound like overkill? Here’s the thing: hard drives die. It only takes your computer harddrive dying once to realize you need to back it up regularly. But what if your backup drive dies? Those don’t get the same attention as a computer drive, and you’d be surprised by how often they fail. (The one we’re using right now? Over 10 years old. Statistically, it should have died years ago. Before that, I’ve had two other backup drives fail.)

The raid array means that a backup drive can fail, too, but the information is stored in such a way that the other drives contain enough information to recreate the failed drive’s contents. There’s redundancy across drives, so one drive in the array can fail but the others still have enough data to protect everything.

But then what about a horrible disaster – like what if, God forbid, your house catches on fire, or gets destroyed in a hurricane? Your carefully-planned raid array is useless – you need an offsite backup solution.

A lot of people use Dropbox for this, which can be OK if you’re just talking a few documents. But if you want to back up terabytes of data, Dropbox isn’t a great solution. We currently have a 2TB backup drive that contains about 1.5TB of content. We also want to store content that we have on other drives, like videos from our trips, so there are a couple of other 1-2TB drives scattered around the house. Dropbox gets pricey when you go over 2TB, and more importantly – I’m not happy with some of their business decisions lately. I’d rather stop using them entirely.

So: Synology for the raid-array backup on-site, and Backblaze offers a Synology integration to back up our content offsite. It’s cheaper than Dropbox, doesn’t have the same icky business practices, and gives me a trusted company to keep my digital content safe even if a disaster should strike my home.

When your entire business is based on digital assets, this stuff matters. I have tons of documents (literally thousands – or maybe verging on tens of thousands at this point) from my freelance career. I have manuscripts from the publishing empire. I have cover art, ad image art and videos that have been professionally designed – I’ve paid thousands of dollars for – on my computer. I have podcasts for Bright Little Light Press. I have tax returns and accounting stuff. These things are assets, with real values attached, that my business can’t afford to lose. So it’s about time I’ve gotten serious about my backup strategy.

These are the types of expenses you don’t necessarily think about when you start a business. I know a lot of businesses that don’t have a good storage strategy, and an emergency data recovery plan with an offsite element in the event of an emergency. But these things can absolutely have a catastrophic impact on your business if you don’t take the proper precautions to safeguard yourself.

Some days are harder than others

Personal

Some days are harder than others

Some days, being a writer is hard.

You sit in a room, by yourself, pouring words out onto a screen through a keyboard. (Or a typewriter/pen onto paper, if you’re old school.)

You create worlds. They could be beautiful, or horrible, depending on what’s going on in your life. Your heroes could have wonderful adventures, or face Sisyphean struggles – or both within the span of a single story.

You have entire conversations in your head. There could be whole days when you don’t interact with another human being – you’re just alone with the people who have sprung from your mind.

When you start putting your work out into the world, you have no idea whether it’s good or bad. You think it’s good – or good enough, anyway – or you wouldn’t put it out at all. But it’s rare that readers go out of their way to say anything to you – good or bad. For all you know, your work could be falling into a void.

When you don’t hear much, you don’t know whether it’s because it was ‘good enough’ that people don’t have anything bad to say, or whether it sucks but people are subscribing to the: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” school of thought. But if you’re like me, the little Demons of Doubt like to sit on your shoulder and whisper into your ears, and you’ve constantly got to work to push them away.

But, if you’re really a writer, you can’t help yourself. Even though the Demons of Doubt are whispering away, and you rarely hear much about your work, and make only a modest living – you can’t stop writing even if you feel like giving up. Because writing isn’t something you do to make money, or to gain followers, or to become famous.

It’s just something you do because it’s part of who you are. You could no more give up writing than you could breathing.

So even if you go away, for a bit – try to wander off because you just don’t know if you’re accomplishing anything – you always find yourself back there, typing away, staring into the void as it stares back at you.

If you’re like me, and you’re having a tough day, just remember: we delve deeply into the stuff of life so that other people don’t have to.

We write about sadness, and heartache, and loss, because we’ve experienced it. The reader who shares your experience will find comfort in the threads that bind humanity together. And the reader who doesn’t will learn empathy for people who bear these burdens.

We write about struggle, and triumph, and joy – because other people need it. We write for the reader who is struggling, so he can believe he will overcome. We write about joy to bring light in the darkness, when the reader is daunted and sad. We write about love, for the reader who feels her life is lacking it. We write about family, for the reader who feels alone.

It is through this storytelling tradition that we as a species learn about things we have never experienced, discover that other people feel as sad or happy or lonely as we do, that none of us are as different as some may seem. It is this storytelling tradition that inspires us to dream, and strive, and dare to improve our lives – because someone has. At the root of every dream, every Herculean struggle, is a story of someone who achieved something.

We are the storytellers.

So if you write, and you’re having a hard day, just remind yourself of the story that inspired you. And think about the people who need to read the stories you have yet to write.

We write – because we can’t help ourselves. And we write – to help whomever might read it.

Cart, meet horse

Publishing

Cart, meet horse

On the one hand, I’m definitely proud of myself for deciding to finally just put my stuff out there, and really make a go at this authoring thing.

On the other hand, maybe deciding to just put it out there was a little… shortsighted.

Who knew that running a publishing empire would be as much work as starting any other business? (Well, ok, so I knew it would be work, but I was maybe a little naive about how much work it would be.)

In the past few weeks, I’ve shifted gears… instead of trying a whole bunch of things in an unfocused way and seeing what works, I’ve settled down a bit to some of the foundational work that I skipped right past when I just threw my stuff out into the wild.

What’s that, you ask?

Well, the biggest thing has been building a mailing list, surprisingly.

I’ve been struggling with the issue of how to get reviews on the books, because people use reviews when deciding whether or not to buy. I’ve been spending a lot on ads, but there’s only so much ROI when there aren’t any reviews. All the traffic in the world is only moderately useful without what one author calls ‘social proof.’ But Amazon, at least, is very strict about reviews – in theory, they shouldn’t come from friends and family, and I could actually get suspended if friends and family review my books. (Which is bullshit – I get that they don’t want review manipulation, but for a new author starting out, the only people we have to ask for reviews is friends and family! We don’t have fans yet, silly retail beast.)

It turns out, conventional wisdom in this area is to build a mailing list to generate buzz around new releases, and have an advance reader team who can get ARCs and be prepared to leave reviews right away when a new release releases.

Oh, yeah, there’s also the pesky issue of having an actual launch strategy. Whazzat?

And the fact that ad costs go WAY down when your sales go up, because Amazon’s algorithms work in favor of things that people want to buy.

And I’m discovering that plain old book covers aren’t really effective for Facebook ads. You need separate art for those. So now I have to develop new creative assets for my Facebook ads. Which apparently should be mostly about list building, because the ROI on book sales through Facebook is generally too low to support advertising there for individual books. But when I have enough books to put together a box set, I can advertise that on FB, because the margin will be high enough to support the higher cost of customer acquisition there.

But with all this business stuff, I don’t actually have much time to write.

Oh, yeah, and to build my list, I’m having to offer a reader magnet, which is a free prequel novella. So I have to write that. But because it’s not written yet, I’m doing a free weekly giveaway of the book that is written in the meantime, as incentive for people to actually subscribe now even though the reader magnet isn’t ready yet.

Oh, and then there’s all the specialized tools I need to learn about. I had to learn MailChimp, and set up an automation sequence, and design an email, to start populating my mailing list. (And had to develop those creatives – but I’m actually pretty pleased with the creatives I came up with for that, they almost look professional. The Facebook ads are pretty slick.) I’ve spent way too many hours figuring out how to do 3-D book covers in Pixelmator. (I hate 3d book covers, personally – think they look so cheesy – but evidently they sell.)

And apparently I’m going to have to learn BookFunnel to distribute this novella once I’ve finished writing it, because that will relieve a lot of the technical headache associated with delivering the book file to people and helping them get it into their devices.

I also paid good cash monies on a course from this guy, who apparently made $450,000 via Amazon a couple of years ago, on self-publishing. This year’s course is focused on Facebook ads, but I actually bought it with the promise of an Amazon ads course that he’s adding in May. I’ve been spending a lot on Amazon ads, and they seem to be the only thing driving sales, but my ROI is crap – not a single ad is in the black.

But he touches on a lot of stuff in this course that sort of assumes I’ve done the underlying work and know what some of these concepts are. I do, in a vague sort of way, but I haven’t really done the work to develop these assets and resources for my pen name.

All this is in support of building up one pen name. The other pen name, which I’m currently 12k into a rewrite with, and frankly, am more excited about that content, hasn’t even been touched. I also haven’t touched that rewrite in weeks as I work on developing the infrastructure to support the first pen name, which already has books out. And common wisdom in the self-pub community is to get more books out ASAP, because new books can drive the sales of my backlist – especially when it’s a series – and people are now getting conditioned to ‘binge’ several books at once. I blame Netflix for this and their stupid, awesome original series stuff that gives you a billion episodes at once, freely supporting the binge.

(By the way, Trollhunters is our newest binge on Netflix – surprisingly awesome for a kids’ series. Guillermo del Toro is involved. If you like DreamWorks, take a look.)

So yeah. Tonight I have to edit this week’s podcast for the publishing imprint, because I’m still doing that, for some unknown reason. This weekend, I’d like to put together a video ad for the book – yes, video ads for books are apparently a thing – and work on the novella some. Plus I need to record next week’s podcast. And I still have a module and a half to go in the online course, plus two other bonus courses to consume. And at some point, I should work on building up a list of keywords for my Amazon ads, because those are supposedly the more effective ads (although I’m currently having more success with Product ads – presumably because I haven’t done the work to develop the keyword list).

So basically, I have a full-time job on top of the full-time contract gig. When am I supposed to write? Apparently authors don’t get to do that anymore.

Beauty and the Beast: Why We Don’t Mess with a Classic

Review

Beauty and the Beast: Why We Don’t Mess with a Classic

I went to see the Beauty and the Beast live action movie over the weekend.

I have opinions.

To give you a little backstory…

Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite stories of all time. It caught my imagination at a young and impressionable age, and it has stuck with me relentlessly into adulthood. I love all versions of it. I love the classic Disney cartoon. I love Robin McKinley’s Beauty. I love Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter. I even love Sheri Tepper’s darker, grittier Beauty. In fact, I’ve got a soft spot for fairy tale retellings of all sorts, but Beauty and the Beast remains one of my all-time favorites. I’ve read somewhere between a half dozen and a dozen different book-length versions of this story.

I say all this to lay a little groundwork. Yes, I have high expectations when you mess with a classic. But I also feel there’s plenty of room for interpretation, if it’s done well, as evidenced by all the various book versions of Beauty that I love. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly a purist, or a snob about having the story told a certain way. If anything, I think I’d call myself an aficionado of the tale.

Now with all that out of the way… I was disappointed by the film.

(I know, you’re shocked, right? With all those qualifiers, you must have thought I was going to say I loved it.)

Note: I did not hate it. I would not say: “Oh, if you go to see it, you’re going to wish you’d had your eyes ripped out and your memory erased.” But I also would not say: “Oh, if you loved the Disney cartoon, you’re going to love this, so go see it.” If anything, I’d say: “If you loved the Disney cartoon, you may find this mildly disappointing – so maybe don’t go see it.”

So why did I find it mildly disappointing, when I’m normally so prepared to love every version of this tale?

Let us take a foray into the way my mind works…

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD. I WILL TALK ABOUT SPECIFIC SCENES IN THE MOVIE. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT SPECIFIC SCENES IN THE MOVIE, DON’T KEEP READING.]

Beef 1: The making of the beast

Alright, so it’s tradition to begin the story with the tale of how the Beast got cursed in the first place. If you know the story at all, you know how it went down. He was arrogant and entitled, in love with surrounding himself with beautiful things and beautiful people, and refused shelter to an old beggar woman because she was ‘hideously ugly.’ Or something.

Turns out, she was a beautiful enchantress, and she cursed him. The Beast gets what he deserves! Comeuppance!

In the live action movie, the director does a little too good of a job of setting up the spoiled prince. He’s ridiculously entitled, and the ball scene where he’s surrounded by beautiful women, who are all so focused on looking beautiful and catching his attention, while he cavalierly dances among them, swapping them out interchangeably, with an almost manic energy as he looks around himself – while still managing to be completely empty and soulless – that does too good of a job setting him up as a heartless beast.

Maybe it’s because I’m older and more cynical now. Maybe it’s because of the current political administration, the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, and all the Bad Shit I see going down in the regular world these days. For whatever reason, seeing his obsession with all that empty splendor, and the utter frivolity of his life, made him extremely unsympathetic to me. The entire scene seemed a little tone deaf to me – a little too on the nose given the current state of the world – and all I felt was “good riddance” when the enchantress cursed him.

The thing about this story is; you’re supposed to want to root for the Beast. You’re supposed to be glad, and relieved, and encouraged, to see him changing. But as the story progressed, all I kept thinking was: “No! Don’t let him change back. That arrogant human male was ridiculously entitled and horrible. Let him stay the Beast forever, and learn humility, and lead a simple life, and be happy.” Because they did too good of a job setting up the horrible spoiled prince, I didn’t want to see him again.

In all the other versions of the story, the prince is portrayed as an arrogant little jackass who needs to learn a lesson. That’s OK. He’s not truly a bad person – there’s a good heart in there somewhere under the spoiled veneer – he just needs someone to help guide it out of him.

In this version, he’s completely unsympathetic right out of the gate. Irredeemable. He’s a cold-hearted snake… look into his eyes. Uh oh.

For reals, though, they went too far establishing his backstory.

Beef 2: Belle’s village

Belle has always been different. She’s smart, and bookish, and that sets her apart. She longs for adventure, while the rest of the villagers are content to live their small, petty, unchanging lives, day-in, day-out.

Fine. Well and good. That version of Belle is just blandly sympathetic enough that we can project our own version of ‘otherness’ onto her. The village people look a little askance at her – they recognize that she’s different – but for the most part, there’s no malice in it. They’re just simple people, and they can’t understand her.

In the live action version of the movie, the villagers cross the line from being understandable, simple, village people (hah!) to… horrible, illiterate, Republicans.

I mean no disrespect to Republicans.

Well, OK, only a little.

The villagers are downright pissy that Belle is so different. But I was chilled by how they reacted when they caught her trying to teach another girl to read. They were absolutely appalled by the idea of educating another girl – “One is bad enough!” – and they decide they have to ‘teach Belle a lesson.’ So they destroy her invention, literally breaking it into pieces and scattering it across the paving stones.

There was so much wrong with this scene for me.

As a woman, we already face this kind of bullshit on a regular basis. Education for women isn’t prioritized as much as education for men, and if you’re at all progressive, you’re aware of the lack of representation of women in STEM. This is exactly the kind of thing that keeps women down. Showing repression in such a stark way in a Disney film? I know we’re supposed to empathize with Belle, and think the villagers are horrible – but according to Oscar Wilde, “Life imitates art.” I can’t help but feel that some people are going to take the wrong message from this.

“Crap, that woman is educated, and she’s trying to improve the lot of other women, too! Let’s break her cool stuff and teach her a lesson so she shuts up and gets back in the kitchen and makes us a pie.”

There’s just too much of this type of thing that happens in real life for me to feel easy about watching it in a Disney movie. And it takes the villagers from being simple but harmless people who can’t understand the more complex Belle, to being horrible people who are actively repressing women.

Of course, it’s exacerbated by how Gaston then tries to mansplain to her how she should handle the headmaster. “Smile a little more and be more pleasant.” As a woman? ZOMG I am so sick of hearing how we need to be more pleasant to protect fragile masculinity, or live up to some stupid masculine ideal of what a woman should be. Just… no.

Yes, Emma Watson then gets to sing that iconic Belle reprise about how she wants much more than this provincial life… and it definitely has more teeth in this version, after that chilling series of exchanges. But there’s also a sort of stark hopelessness about it, when you think about how many other women are suffering similar fates in Belle’s world, and how she herself would have ultimately succumbed to ‘the provincial life’ if she hadn’t been kidnapped and locked up by some monster.

Which brings me to…

Beef 3: The Beast/Belle relationship

This wasn’t all bad, actually. In fact, I think I’d say this was probably the best part of the movie. Emma Watson was very convincing as a Belle who was capable of standing up to the hideous monster who held her captive. And you really felt she had more agency in helping to change and humanize the Beast than you did in the old Disney cartoon.

That being said… because they’d done such a good job of setting up the horrible spoiled prince in the beginning, and the beastly Beast before Belle started working her magic on him, the progression of their relationship seemed uneven. The progression seemed reasonable in the beginning – “Oh, he’s horrible, he’s horrible… ok, ok, she’s starting to change him a little, he’s becoming more likeable…” but then there was a big jump from that to the Something There moment. It didn’t feel earned in the same way it did in the Disney cartoon version. (Or at least, there wasn’t as far to go in the Disney cartoon, so the relatively short progression was a little more believable.)

There’s also the fact that as an adult, the Stockholm Syndrome aspect of it bothers me way more than it did when I was a kid who was too young to understand it.

Plus, with how unsympathetic the prince had been before he’d been transformed into the Beast, I really didn’t want him to turn human again. I wanted him and Belle to remain platonic buddies, and she could live in the castle, and educate herself in the library, and maybe start a school for all the poor girls in the village who the ridiculous headmaster wouldn’t educate.

Beef 4: Gay lefou

I have very mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand: Yay! Inclusive representation in a Disney film! An openly gay character!

On the other hand: seriously? You had to make him a ridiculous caricature who’s in love with a straight man and too blinded by his love to see how bad the straight man is? The gay man is a bumbling fool who plays second fiddle to an arrogant egomaniac, who is the one true ‘bad guy’ in the film? There are so many things that are bad about this portrayal, and the fact that it’s this character that’s gay, that it basically undoes all the goodwill toward Disney in including a gay character at all.

I have a lot more opinions about it, but as someone who is outside the community, I don’t want to put words into anyone’s mouth – or ‘straightsplain’ something that isn’t really my issue. I’ll just leave it at: I feel really ambivalent about this.

Beef 5: the cross-dressing queen

Similar to the openly gay LeFou, there’s another moment in the film that I have very mixed feelings about. In the scene where the villagers are attacking the castle, the Wardrobe (who is Madame Garderobe in this version of the film) does some magic with ribbons and bolts of cloths, and when it’s all done, three men are standing there in dresses and wigs. Two of them look at each other and bolt, terrified to see that they’re cross-dressed… but the third turns toward the camera and ‘works it.’ He’s obviously happy with the transformation.

Now… yay? And… boo. Shame on you, Disney, for turning this into a cross-dressing queen joke. I want to give Disney the benefit of the doubt and say they’re shooting for inclusiveness, but the way they’ve done it here is absolutely tone-deaf. It’s a joke, another caricature like LeFou. And of course, in the end of the movie, this man ends up ballroom dancing with LeFou. Because the one gay man in the film, and the one cross-dresser, must end up together.

Just… no. Bad Disney. Do better. If you’re going to try to be more inclusive, and bring in marginalized cultures, do it right. Don’t make it a joke, or make the people portraying these lifestyles caricatures. Bad filmmakers.

Beef 6: gaston

Right, so in the Disney cartoon, Gaston was a bad guy. He’s probably one of the worse bad guys across Disney films, in fact – shooting the Beast in cold blood. That’s tough to outdo. But in this live action version, they’ve managed to outdo it.

Instead of being the arrogant asshat we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing, this version of Gaston is positively… evil. He doesn’t just pay off the asylum worker to lock up Maurice and get him out of the way so Gaston can woo Belle… he actually ties the poor old man up and leaves him for dead in the woods, where he (and a nervous LeFou) believe Maurice will get eaten by wolves. When the old man shows up later in town, Gaston lies about what happened, asks if the villagers are going to take a crazy old man’s word – and the woman who rescues him – against Gaston’s own, and spins it that “Maurice is a danger to himself and others,” getting the man locked up.

You know… I could keep unpacking how much more horrible and evil Gaston was in this version of the story versus the old Disney cartoon, because there’s a lot more… but I don’t want to waste more time on it. Bottom line: they went way farther with this character than they did with the old Gaston, and it didn’t add anything to the story. They were probably attempting to justify his ultimate demise, but I found it off-putting.

Beef 7: Unnecessary new music

Alright, so I know this director wants to put his own mark on the story, and Disney somehow wants to justify remaking the film… but just NO on the new music. Unnecessary. Didn’t add anything to the story. Just beat us over the head with stuff we already knew, to the form of music that wasn’t nearly as catchy as the original. Fell flat here.

Beef 8: unnecessary story/lines

There were other parts of the film where Disney added new story or new lines. Maybe to justify the way a character behaves – such as the motivation for the Beast becoming the horrible man he was as the prince – to the backstory on what happened to Belle’s mom. I didn’t feel that any of this really added to the story. And in some cases, the lines verbally explained things that we already knew from subtext. I hate when writers feel the need to do that. This is an old, beloved story – we already know what’s going on here. You don’t need to add two new lines of dialogue that state it aloud. You’re just beating a dead horse.

Bottom Line

It’s clear that Disney was attempting to update and modernize an old, beloved, classic story. But classics become classics for a reason – they’re timeless. By adding some of the things that Disney added, they’re either beating us over the head with story we already know, or didn’t need to know – or trying to force some more modern ideal on a film that didn’t need it.

Am I happy with this movie? Nah. It was disappointing.

Will I watch it again? I’ll probably rent it when it comes out, just to see whether or not my initial complaints hold up after a little distance from my first reaction.

But I won’t bother to buy it. I’ll reserve that for the original Disney classic cartoon, and all the book versions of the story that get things so right.

In the meantime, I’ll sit here and quietly muse on how a studio that can get things so right – like with Moana, or the original Beauty and the Beast, and some of the old classic Disney cartoons – can also do stuff like this, that comes off as tone-deaf and goes too far in ways that don’t add to the story, but do drive away loyal fans.

Oh, what a fickle business is publishing.

Publishing

Oh, what a fickle business is publishing.

Or at least, the selling books portion of it is.

(Well, who am I kidding? That’s really all there is to it, anyway.)

Starting from scratch with a publishing imprint and unknown pen names was always going to be an uphill battle. Building contacts from scratch, establishing a brand with the new pen names… that was going to be challenging. Is challenging. I knew it would be time and capital intensive.

I’ve got a raft of Amazon ads going right now, which is driving a steady and increasing number of book sales, but I’m still outspending the book revenue with the advertising – a LOT. Fortunately, my paying work right now can fund this growth stage, but it’s a little nerve-wracking to see the ad dollars flowing out in a steady stream and the revenue trickling in a few drips at a time.

I’ve been experimenting with different ad copy for different target audiences, and tweaking the book description copy on the page, and my conversions have steadily improved. But I’m still missing the very important Gold Stars. That’s right – Reviews, baby.

Without review data, it’s that much harder to get someone to click the “Buy” button. Even the best-written book descriptions in the world don’t mean much until we see “Oh, 109 people have rated this and it has decent reviews, so at least someone likes it.”

As a reader, I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. I’ll pass on books that don’t have many reviews, by unknown authors, even if the writing looks decent or seems like something I might enjoy. I can’t blame other readers for doing the same now.

I feel like if I can just get some reviews, the conversions will go up drastically. Some of the ads might even start paying for themselves. It will also jump-start Ye Olde Online Bookseller’s algorithms to market the book more effectively even when I’m not paying for ads – should boost the organic search results.

It’s just getting past this initial hurdle of getting the books into enough people’s hands to get reviews on them that’s the hard part.

In the meantime, book sales come in fits and starts. In the beginning, I wasn’t really marketing, so there were no book sales (while I was trying to clear up some problems with the listing pages). Since the beginning of March, though, sales have steadily increased – first one, then one every day, then a handful of days with none, then a few… currently, in the past seven out of eight days, I’ve gotten at least one sale every day… multiple sale days are becoming the norm, versus days with none or only one. But that makes the days like today, with no sales, worse.

“Why did I sell five the other day, then three, then one, then four, and now none? Why no sales today? Is there something wrong with the page? Have the ads stopped serving? Why? Why?

The changeable uncertain nature of this business is tough. Plowing ahead when I don’t necessarily understand all of the variables involved, or when my sheer stubborn will isn’t enough to just make it work, isn’t always easy. I wonder if I’m doing the right thing, spending the money to try to get over this hump, or whether I should go back to something ‘safer’ and put the money toward household goals, instead. It feels kind of selfish to just be pouring this money into a dream just to try to make it work.

On the other hand, I’ve gotten kind of accustomed to pushing at something long enough to make it give way and make it work. Pretty much everything in my life has been like that. “Hard, hard, hard – oh, wait, there we go, this is actually a thing that I can do.” Whether it’s starting my own business when I started freelancing a decade ago, or losing weight and exercising, or learning how to ride a motorcycle, or even just turning a wrench… there’s a point when you get the leverage just right and the thing becomes easy.

I guess being stubborn isn’t the worst personality trait. So for now, I’ll just keep trying different things and see what it takes to make this publishing thing work. It would really be nice to get to a point where it doesn’t take quite so much time, though, so I could get back to the thing I really love – writing.

Who would have guessed that starting a second business on top of my regular full-time business would leave me less time to do my hobby?

*laughs*

Personal

Welcome to my new home

If you’re here, it’s because you’re looking for Dachary Carey.

(Or maybe you’re here because you found me through one of my projects, or one of my old articles.)

Welcome!

This is a long-overdue overhaul of my old site. When I decided to stop focusing on client work and work on my own writing, I took down my old website. It was really focused on ‘selling’ me as a writer to potential clients. I used it in job proposals, email signatures, on business cards, etc.

I don’t wanna do that anymore. I want to focus more on my own writing, and on my burgeoning publishing empire. So this page is all about me – the person, the writer, the publisher, the traveler, the adventurer. It’s basically a glorified blog, with a little background on some of my various projects.

Well, ok, it wasn’t quite that much of a straight line from there to here… I was having some deep thoughts on Saturday about writing, and wanted to blog them somewhere. But I don’t have a blog anymore. There was one attached to my old site, but I took that site down when I stopped focusing on client work – and it was mostly focused on topics that clients would find relevant.

So I embarked on what turned out to be a lengthy relaunch of my personal site just so I could jot down a few notes about writing.

And of course, here it is the following Wednesday, and I’ve gotten the fancy new site, and written hundreds of words about various things… but that post on writing? Nowhere to be found. (Yet.)

Hah. So this is me. Someone who will set up and populate an entire friggin’ website on a whim because I want to blog something.

Welcome to my little corner of the Internet. I hope you’ll find it… entertaining? Amusing? Thought-provoking? Relatable? Many things.

I promise to start filling it with content soon.

But not too much, because I’m also busy writing, and running a publishing empire, and podcasting, and (hopefully someday again) traveling, and, and…