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Why Indie?

FRED TV oil painting videos by Natalie Buske Thomas

August and September are a hazy memory. I was lost in the production of Fred, an interactive and funny book featuring my oil paintings. Fred is my life story summarized in a 40 page children’s book, told in my own style, illustrated by my art, and brought to life by multimedia. I love being an indie because I have the creative freedom to do projects like Fred.

But I almost took a different path.

About fifteen years ago I was in negotiations for a publishing contract. I was sorely tempted. After all, isn’t that what I’d always wanted, to be an author? But the publisher wanted me to commit to 50 booksignings and/or author events a year. I did the math. Hmm, the last I knew there were only 52 weeks in a year. I explained that I didn’t want to travel while raising young children. Unfortunately, the travel requirement was non-negotiable.

I thought back to when I went to Bouchercon, a convention for mystery writers, fans, and industry professionals. It was held in Milwaukee that year. We were living in Minnesota then – Milwaukee is a manageable day trip from Minneapolis. My husband dropped me off at the convention hotel, armed with my self-published mystery novels and a whole lot of moxie. Then he headed off to the science museum with the kids.

I served on a panel and I signed a few books. I thought I’d feel important, but I was instead lost in a sea of well established and traditionally published authors. I was snubbed by most, and then roasted online afterward. I didn’t take it personally. After all, writing is a competitive business and I wasn’t (yet) an experienced or trained competitor. The only thing I felt foolish about was my naiveté in thinking that these people were my colleagues. No, I wasn’t ready for prime time (then).

When the convention ended, my husband showed up with the kids in tow. My son was in a stroller and my daughter was walking alongside him. My daughter had never been to a museum like the ones in picture books and on children’s TV shows, the kind of museums that feature dinosaur skeletons. When she saw me, her eyes lit up and she immediately bubbled over into a steady stream of chatter about T-Rex’s and dinosaur bones and dinosaur eggs, and… you get the picture. She’d had a big day. And I had missed it.

So, no, Mr. Publisher, I will have to pass. My requirement to be home is just as non-negotiable as your requirement that I travel. However, had he been willing (he wasn’t), I was open to compromise, and that’s the part that scared me the most. After the travel issue, how many other things would I have been willing to compromise? I’d get the chance to find out.

Later on down the road, after a third baby and a private teaching career, I was in negotiations for a publishing contract for a different book. I figured the kids were getting older and I could handle the traveling requirements. But wouldn’t you know? There was another impasse. This time, the issue was with the main plot of my book. He said he “couldn’t get past it” and wouldn’t sign on unless I either changed it or offered him a different book.

I actually considered doing it. I don’t have a fierce love for my own writing, I never do. It’s the act of writing it that excites me. Shortly after I finish a book, or even before the final page, I’m already hooked on the next project. The point is, I don’t get upset when editorial changes are suggested. However, he wanted me to change the main plot. I couldn’t do that without re-writing much of the book, making it a different book entirely. My gut was telling me not to. If he was already leveraging me for radical changes before I signed t he contract, what would he expect after I signed it?

How much was I willing to compromise? Was I comfortable giving someone else veto power over my ideas? It’s one thing to give my book to an editor to find typos, grammatical errors, pacing issues, weaknesses in the plot, contradictions in the story line, or any other suggestions for improvement. Improving a work is a far different action from approving, or obviously disapproving of a work. While improving a book is a necessary step in professional publishing, approving/disapproving is a form of censorship.

How desperate was I for a publisher? After all, wasn’t I getting the hang of this publishing gig on my own? Those early days when I was snubbed and ridiculed by traditionally published authors were humbling, but I learned from them. I trained. I gained experience. I am now a strong competitor. Had it not been for indie publishing, I wouldn’t have learned what it takes to win. Now I regularly attend booksignings, public speaking events, and conventions. Sometimes I’m the host or the guest! No one’s laughing now.

I’m grateful for that nagging feeling in my gut that told me not to compromise. Today, I’m working on my 27th book, Birds Day. Besides being an author, I’m also an artist with oil paintings on exhibit. I wouldn’t be where I am today if someone had slowed me down, vetoed my ideas, and discouraged me from experimenting. No one believed in me as much as I learned to believe in myself.

Even when it was hard to keep the faith, I followed each creative twist and turn. One thoughtful Christmas my husband gave me a beautiful artists’ easel. I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I put it to use. In 2010 I painted my first oil painting and submitted it to a juried competition. I got in! My painting Savannah Reading in a Butterfly Garden was on a 14-month tour, part of a traveling exhibit to libraries. Encouraged by that warm reception, I painted several more works of art that were featured in gallery exhibits: Ron and Joy before the War, Irish Angel, Life Sustaining, and We are the Angels that He Sends.

Today I’ve painted dozens of gallery-sized paintings and dozens more story-board illustrations. I’m doing what I love to do, what I was born to do! If not for indie publishing, I wouldn’t have had the freedom to explore new ideas. And that’s not all! I’ve taken my book adventures a step farther: I’ve made them interactive via videos to watch me paint the illustrations. The art comes to life when the videos are sped up, like a short animated film. I love dabbling in film!

Well, as much fun as all of this sounds, as you might already know firsthand, being an indie is a lot of work. Coercing a computer to cooperate is a joyless ritual. And there’s always an unwanted-guest-who-never-leaves elephant in the room: that pesky issue of money. It’s not enough to create the work. I also have to SELL it.

Life was especially hard when my husband was unemployed for a year. The pressure on me to produce income was cranked up to “boiling”. But I’m not alone. Every entrepreneur and small business owner has this worry. Sure, the worry for some might not ever reach the boiling point, but few people can afford to dabble at being an indie publisher. And those of us who are full-time indies without a “day job” have a strong motivation to sell books!

As I write this blog post I’m multi-tasking. After every few sentences a notification alert tells me that there’s another message from my son at this college campus. He wanted me to remind him to bring his earphone cable. The chat moved on to other subjects. Shortly afterword I got the message “it was here the whole time”. I realized we were back to talking about the earphone cable. Then, he wanted to me to install a chat room on my computer. I followed his instructions. My computer went bezerk. The keyboard failed, making my cursor drunk with power. I lost control of the wheel. I had trouble even re-starting. Just now I was able to get back to this blog post.

Communication with my son resumed. “Did you try it?” he asked. I told him what happened. His response, “Oops.” See? I would have missed all of that, had I taken the other path. Who knows where I’d be right now; would I have had time to talk to my son on a Tuesday morning? What would my day have been like? Later this afternoon I’ll be cheerfully painting a goldfinch for my new book project Birds Day. I also have a lunch date for macaroni and cheese with my daughters. I want this day, my day.

I want it all: creative freedom to push books to the limits of my imagination, mac & cheese lunch dates with my daughters, and disjointed chats with my son. There are no limits, there are no rules. The ugly days challenge me. Well, if I’m honest, some days I’m defeated. But I get back up, even if it’s a slow climb. The good days inspire me. Whenever one project ends, it means that another can begin. I think I’ve plead my case to you long enough.

Why indie? Because I love it!

Dream big, God bless, xoxoxo - Natalie
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Comfort Zone

Brent’s teaching journey will take several months to play out, and until it does, what can we do to prove that we have a purpose in Ireland? More specifically, what is my purpose for being in Ireland? It isn’t good enough for me to simply want to live here. I need to have a reason. Otherwise, my odds don’t look good for getting permission to stay here after our three month stamp runs out. It’s time to break out of my comfort zone and promote myself with everything I’ve got!

It’s interesting how “carrot and stick” motivation works for me. I’ve managed to get pretty far with the carrot (imagining success and working toward it), but it’s funny how much harder I’ll push myself if my back is against the wall and I’m desperate to avoid getting struck by a big, big stick–a stick with barbs on it. I wish I could have been this ambitious when I wasn’t running out of time and descending into chaos, but, hey, the stick is effective. My 2016-2017 calendar is already filling up! Ireland has to keep me now, right?

Here I am before meeting Caoimhe at Friars’ Gate Theatre in Co. Limerick (thank you for the contact, Marie O’Halloran!).

Natalie Buske Thomas before meeting in Co Limerick Feb 2016I’m happy to announce that I’m now scheduled for my own show at Friars’ Gate – a month long exhibit of my art in February 2017!

Friars Gate Theatre Brochure

But wait, there’s more! Library events are in the works, I have complimentary tickets to the London Book Fair, and… I’m just getting started! I won’t make the cut for all of the things I’ve put in for, but I’m confident I’ll have a few more wins that I’ll be able to announce soon. Some of these opportunities are located in beautiful coastal areas and I’d love the excuse to go!

To add to all of this, I might be starting up a book festival in the upcoming year. I’m good at starting new programs and events, and I’d love to help. The book festival idea came about during a conversation with Marie when we were sitting at the car dealership, eating biscuits (cookies) and drinking coffee (temporarily breaking my ban on coffee).

Well, one thing led to another and Marie invited three of her friends, all named Mary, to our house for a party… where I blind-sided them with my stack of flyers, my hyper-organization, and my rabid enthusiasm. If I haven’t scared them off, the book festival will go forward and I’ll have another event to add to my calendar!

I might have won them over with the absurd amount of food I made (six platters of three different kinds of baked fold-overs: BBQ beef, cheeseburger, and pizza — homemade) and my magical from-scratch chocolate cake.  Hopefully the food distracted them from the committee planning chart that cast a glaring light on how much work it is to host a festival. We shall see!

Here’s the cake I made for the book festival planning party:
Book Festival Cake

But… As exciting as these live in-person events are, I won’t get far if I don’t create new projects, if I don’t market my work, and if I don’t keep up with the administrative part of being an artist/author entrepreneur. So, I’m plugging away with all of that as well.

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • I’m working on my first Irish landscape called “Tree on Rock Hill”. This is what the oil painting looks like so far.

Natalie Buske Thomas art studio

Natalie Buske Thomas oil painting in progress Tree on Rock Hill

  • I finished the first chapter of Mol, the next book in the Serena Wilcox Mysteries spin-off saga (sequel to Fender). Little Free Library Tour Natalie Buske Thomas River Falls
  • I’m planning to start on Dramatic Mom 2 for March. I look forward to putting that together. Writing the silly poems is a fun break from the intense work I usually do.
  • I wrote the story for a new picture book featuring my oil paintings. The book is called Fred: The Real Life Adventures of a Little Girl with a Big Imagination, about my childhood. For the Fred project I’ll need to complete 19 separate paintings. This feels a bit overachieving, but I know I can do it. I plan to start the first painting for the Fred book project next week.

I tell you, my brain keeps me awake at night. The money will follow as long as I take one project at a time, one day at a time. When things happen slowly, I need to practice the art of patience, persistence, and tenacity. I need to dig in my heels. I need to be stubborn. I need to keep going, no matter what. Most of all, I need to fight! How bad do I want this? The future is mine, if I want it. No excuses!

If I put my whole heart out there, good things will happen. I’ve slowly come to the realization that stepping outside of my comfort zone isn’t enough. A life of quiet confidence, stepping out on faith, and believing that the right people will appreciate me, is my new normal. Promoting myself IS my comfort zone. Because if I’m not comfortable sharing my time, talent, and heart with people, what is my purpose for being here?

I should be UNcomfortable with playing it safe and keeping my thoughts close to the vest. I should be UNcomfortable with underachieving and allowing myself to be snubbed, overlooked or forgotten. The time for a new comfort zone is long overdue. From now on, I am comfortable being fearless, I am comfortable being bold. My new comfort zone is UNstoppable!

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Seeing Butterflies

1 houseYesterday I was prepared to write a blog post about the 100+ year old house that we’re renting. The post would have been joyful, inspirational even. I was planning to include pictures of the butterfly garden near the front porch, like the ones you see here [taken a few days ago at our new-to-us house].

1 butterfly garden6 black eye susans
Those of you who have known me for a while know that butterfly gardens hold a special meaning for me—my husband Brent had planted one when we were blessed to have a hobby farm. Those were some of the happiest years of my life, when my children were little and we were living in a beautiful place.
My butterfly garden and my youngest child were the inspiration for my first oil painting, “Savannah Reading in the Butterfly Garden”. I submitted it to EASEL and the painting was accepted for a 14 month tour. It was the beginning of my career as an oil painter.
Becoming an artist changed my life. It was one of many transitions. Mom died, my dance school ended, we moved away from the hobby farm and my kids were no longer little. Some seasons move slowly, with no big changes from month to month. Others are a blur, with so much to process that it’s hard to keep my head above water. Eventually though, I accept my new normal. Life moves forward.
It has been over four years since I’ve enjoyed a butterfly garden. I was distracted when we first looked at this house and I didn’t realize that the flowers behind the white picket fence were the same varieties from “my” butterfly garden. Nor did I remember that I’d always wanted to live in an old house with a white picket fence. No, all I thought about was how desperate we were to find a rental that would allow us to sign a short term lease. Would anyone? Only one property was offered to us under those terms. Would we take it?
What choice did we have really—we sold our house! Did it really matter if I liked the house or not? It would only be for a few months. I could handle anything as long as I knew what I was in for; especially if I knew that it would be only for a short while.
But it does matter if I like living here or not. Every day matters. None of us knows how many days we have here on Earth—isn’t that a truth that I understand by now? When I finally gave myself permission to look at the flowers I understood that I’ve been given a piece of happiness back. Yesterday may be gone and tomorrow may feel uncertain, but I have today.
That’s when I looked for the butterflies, and I found them. I saw a gorgeous Monarch with a wingspan that took my breath away. I saw white butterflies and colorful ones. I enjoyed bumblebees too, from a safe distance. What a precious gift this was! Surely this was a sign that life was going our way.

5 colorful butterfly 4 colorful butterfly 3 colorful butterfly 2 white butterfly 1 white butterfly
And then… well, then came today. It’s been a horrible day full of stress and bad news. Brent’s unemployment benefits are messed up. Somehow the government doesn’t have any record of his almost 19 years of employment. His account is going through an audit and there will be no payments until this is resolved—which will take at least a month, if not longer—and we don’t know if the result will be retroactive or if he simply won’t get any benefits for this first month of unemployment. We are living on a prayer.
I didn’t find out about this until the last few hours of an excruciatingly long day that I’d spent cleaning the house we’re closing on. I also found out, just when I felt that I couldn’t go on, that we have to be out sooner than I’d expected because the buyers want to do work on the house for two days, and they also want a final walk-through. That means that the house will be occupied for part of the day for the next three days before the closing. This is very short notice. I know that this is how things happen sometimes when selling a house, but the stress is getting to me.
I was blindsided by the abrupt change in plans. I felt kicked out of our own house, the house that we have paid to live in! We are temporarily paying for both this rental and the mortgage on the house. I also found out today that the dryer that doesn’t work at this rental requires a part (a fuse) that won’t come in until at least Friday. I’d planned on using the nice washer and dryer that we’d bought and paid for, in the house that we’ve paid to live in, up until the close. But now knowing that the house will be a hub of construction, I don’t want our laundry in progress. No, it’s time to move out completely even if it means that our laundry piles up. Well, I could go on here. The day really was THAT bad. I admit that I lost my cool more than once.
I thought about cancelling my blog post. I don’t have time for it anyway. Then I thought about how quickly my grateful “butterfly attitude” turned ugly. My new butterfly garden is shared with my now-teen baby girl, Savannah. Yesterday she was faster than I was to get out her camera and take pictures. And this same sweet girl was with me today at the house we’re closing on, cleaning at least as well as I can. She may be passing me by.
Isn’t it a test of my character if I can manage to deliver my happy post about the rental house and butterfly garden when it’s not easy to do so? Of course I can write a cheery post when I’m having a good day, but could I remain positive when I’m having a bad day? What kind of inspiration am I if I only post positive things when I’m feeling positive? Why do we need faith if every day is a butterfly day?
Isn’t faith about believing in good things to come even when everything is falling apart? Today I felt as if the world is against us. Today I felt as if nothing would ever change. I’d always be that sad little girl, no matter how hard I tried to rise about my circumstances. But yesterday I saw butterflies when I chose to look. I saw my life and the people I love—and I embraced the changes. Have I really forgotten that lesson already?
I was so certain. I knew that life was good. I knew that I was loved by God, and that I’m special. Nothing has changed between yesterday and today—nothing important. So, I’m sending you my beautiful pictures because life is good. God bless, and may every day be a butterfly day… whether you see one, or are peacefully waiting…

7 house