Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines success as “favorable or desired outcome.” That’s like trying to eat a large designer cake in one bite. There are as many interpretations of that as there are people on the planet. And there are traps within personal definitions of success—traps where you give the responsibility away to others. As a result, it’s hard to pin down what success means to you. If you don’t define success for yourself in a realistic way, you may inadvertently say no to success. Think of success in simpler terms. What flavor of success do you want?
What does it look like? How do you measure success? Is success a book published, a book sold, a certain number of books sold, a certain amount of money earned? All the usual definitions may leave you unsatisfied. Why? Because most of those things are not in your control.
What You Can’t Control
You can’t control readers Not how many you get nor how they respond to your book. Even when you do mega-research on your genre, you have no control over a single reader.
You can’t control sales. Certain marketing maneuvers will increase the possibility of sales, but you cannot control the number of sales you get in a day, a week, or a lifetime.
Winning awards or gaining best seller stickers aren’t in your control (or you shouldn’t be able to control those things.)
What You Control
As a writer, you can control how much time you dedicate to learning and plying your craft. You can control the number of words you write, the skill with which you write, and how you publish a book. (Fortunately, there are more options for publishing your book today than ever before.)
You can even control (within the limits of your fiscal abilities) how much advertising you do.
Best of all, you control your definition of success.
How Do You Define Success?
Your definition depends upon why you write. And your why won’t be the reason any other writer writes.
Better yet, is the recent post on SFWA’s website, Story Cake by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley. In her post she admits to having different definitions of success for different pieces of writing. She compares the success of a story (or novel) to the success of baking a cake. That cake brings delight and enjoyment to a small group of family and friends.
Give Yourself Permission
Allow yourself to enjoy small successes–no matter what “job” you’re doing. Give yourself permission to celebrate the mixing of the ingredients, the baking, the icing and decoration, and in delivering the confection to a single person. Take pleasure in that smile from the person who ate a slice of your strawberry cake.
Think about each story or job as a different recipe. What flavor of success do you want for that story, that job? Give yourself permission to enjoy all the flavors of success.
It’s Friday. Time for another sneak peek at Paladina a WIP (work-in-progress). Paladina is a back-burner story that I work on a little here and there while I finish the Fellowship Dystopia series. Read the first scene of the story. It’s a story I really like and can’t wait to dive into more deeply. Perhaps you’ll feel that way too.
The Story Sentence
A protection specialist, sworn to defend a tiny Greek village, discovers they are pawns of treasure-hunting alien knights whose game pits her against her long-lost brother to save all of humanity.
A Story Within the Story
The story, Paladina, takes place in contemporary Greece. But Greece is a land of myth and mystery. This except is the tale told to our protagonist. Will she believe it?
In the ancient world, in the city of Githeon, there lived a man named Theolytas. All Greece knew him as a soldier with strength bested only by Achilles and with cunning to equal the great Odysseus. And so when Agamemnon needed warriors to defend Menelaus’s honor, he came to Theolytas of Githeon.
But Theolytas did not raise his shield without Apollo’s approval. And so he consulted the soothsayer, Vasileios. Vasileios foretold Agamemnon would raise a glorious army, the largest in history. And prophesied that Theolytas would find glory in battle and treasure during the sacking of Ilios.
So Theolytas made love to his wife and kissed his children goodbye. He strapped on his armor, loaded provisions and his men-at-arms onto ships, and sailed to the port of Aulis where he joined Agamemnon’s fleet of a thousand ships. Never had Theolytas, nor anyone, seen such a fleet before. And they sailed for battle.
But at Aulis, no breath of wind filled their sails for weeks. And when the winds blew again, they fell victim to Apollo’s plague-carrying arrows. Ill winds blew them off-course to Mysia. After many months they sailed into Ilios.
The Battle for Ilios
Theolytas distinguished himself as a courageous and formidable warrior against the sons of Priam. But the sons of Priam retreated to within the impregnable walls of Ilios. And Agamemnon lay siege to the city. And the siege lasted nine long years.
Theolytas’s men grew weary of the wait, and his treasury and armory thinned. Finally, Odysseus and Theolytas devised a plan.
And the Princes of Ilios welcomed the great wooden horse into the city. And so lay open the city to Agamemnon, Theolytas, and the soldiers.
In the last hours of that battle, Theolytas followed a glint of gold and found Paris, lying dead on Mount Ida. He clutched a plain metal box to his chest. Theolytas wrested the box from the dead man’s hand and opened it. The sight of the golden apple, the sculpted quince, that lay within took his breath away. An inscription on the apple blazed with the words ‘To the Fairest.’ He beheld the apple long after the sounds of battle had ceased. And deep inside Theoloytas a desire, nay a need, grew. He had given ten years of his life and all the wealth of Gytheon for the war. He deserved this one small trinket. It would be his forever.
On the journey home through the cities of Greece, Theolytas could not resist the urge to open the box. The apple’s glow drew men to his quarters. But each man who saw the apple fell ill, or crossed blades with Theolytas, or had a misstep. And each met untimely deaths.
And word of the apple’s beauty passed amongst his men. To protect the apple, he drew his sword against his soldiers, the ship’s slaves, and even the men of villages they passed through.
Now, Theolytas was a soldier and a little blood on his sword in the time of war did not disturb him, but the blood on his blade as he journeyed home weighed upon him. Still, he could not let go of the apple.
He returned to Gytheon and hid the box with the apple in his home. He vowed to leave the box unopened. But his heart ached, so in the night Theolytas crept to its hiding spot, and opened the box. His wife came to see what disturbed her husband’s sleep and glimpsed the apple. By sunrise, the madness consumed her.
Theolytas prostrated himself with grief. So great was his grief that he took no notice when his men elected another commander. Nor did he hear his children when they wailed in hunger. Finally, Athena took pity on him and sent him a dream.
To Break the Curse
Theolytas sought the soothsayer to interpret his dream. Vasileios told Theolytas that Hera cursed the apple of Eris. The curse of discord fell upon all but the one who held the apple. To break the curse, he must take the apple to the five-fingered mountain and find the giant white toad turned to stone. Behind the toad stood the opening of a cave. He must enter the cave with nothing but a lamp, a flask of water, an offering of the finest wine and roasted lamb, and the apple. Theolytas must partake of only the water and follow the cave to its end where he would find a rift in the wall. He must place the apple in its box deep in that crevice, make the offerings and pray to Zeus for five days. Only then would Zeus lift the curse from Theolytas and his seed.
But when Theolytas retrieved the apple from its hiding place, he opened the box and its beauty overcame him. He could not bear to never see it again.
One night as he gazed at the apple, his eldest son entered. The madness struck down his son, and Theolytas rent his clothes in remorse. In mortal fear for his daughter and his youngest son, he prepared for the journey.
He bound his eyes with a cloth and retrieved the box, wrapped it in an oilskin, and tucked it in the bottom of his pack. And so he departed for the five-fingered mountains.
The White Toad
After a year of wandering, Theolytas begged Apollo for guidance and he found the white rock shaped like a giant toad and behind it, the cave. For three days he walked deep into the side of the mountain. His heart yearned to see the apple one more time, but he dared not fail. And stumbling, he found the end of the cave. And with the apple still in its box and wrapped in the oilskin cloth, he thrust it deep into the crevice there. He gave the offerings and prayed.
After five days of prayer, weak with hunger he fell unable to rise. He cried out to Zeus that he had done all he, a mere mortal, could do. And Zeus saw what Theolytas had done and withdrew the curse from him. And Theolytas heard a river gurgle and fish leaped into his hands. He regained his strength, left the cave and returned to his home.
Free of the curse, Theolytas and his kin prospered. His daughter married a governor who led Gytheon in peace for 30 years. His son became a potter, famous for his kylix painted with the presentation of the apple at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. He painted one, just one, with the story of his father and the apple. He gave that one to his father. When Theolytas would yearn to see the apple, he would gaze at the kylix and the story painted there and the feeling would pass. And so, Theolytas lived a long and peaceful life. And the apple and its curse remained deep beneath the five-fingered mountains within the cave of the toad-shaped rock.
Obviously, the inspiration is Greek mythology. I’ve been enamored of all things Greek since childhood. In this story I get to mix Greek gods and aliens and heroic female protagonists. What could be more fun?
And the Story will Continue
Readers of My Soul to Keep may have noticed that I love telling a story within a story. If you’re unaware of the Greek mythology behind the golden apple, or need a refresher, you might want to check out MythMan. I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek at Paladina a WIP. Did you remember the myth of the golden apple? Are there other myths you enjoy?
No matter what we experience in life there is always someone who has shared a pearl of wisdom that we can apply. The same is true of our pandemic life today. Here are some pearls of wisdom from science fiction books and authors.
Or at peace,
More people die
Of unenlightened self-interest
Than of any other disease”
― Octavia Butler
Nobody dares to solve the problems-because the solution might contradict your philosophy, and for most people clinging to beliefs is more important than succeeding in the world.
― Michael Crichton, State of Fear
The monsters don’t live in the belly of the world like they all say. The monsters live inside of us. We make the monsters.
― Kameron Hurley, The Stars are Legion
All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.
― Frank Herbert,Chapterhouse: Dune
Arrogance and Conceit are the mother and father of a closed mind.
― Richard Nance, “Journey of the Chosen”
Just as every villain imagines themselves a hero, few heroes see when they’ve become the villain.
― Nicholas Tana
Fire is catching!” I am shouting now, determined he will not miss a word of it, “And if we burn, you burn with us!
― Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay
Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.
—Isaac Asimov, Foundation
We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real,
—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
I, for one, bet on science as helping us. I have yet to see how it fundamentally endangers us, even with the H-bomb lurking about. Science has given us more lives than it has taken; we must remember that.
—Philip K. Dick, The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings
You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.
Robert A. Heinlein, The Green Hills of Earth
“If you think this Universe is bad, you should see some of the others.”
—Philip K. Dick
Now it’s your turn. Have you found a quote or quotes that give you some guidance or encouragement in this time? They don’t have to be science fiction pearls of wisdom for pandemic life. Add your quotes below. Let’s string a necklace of wisdom.