Democracy in Action

by Cassie Selleck

I am a Southerner by birth, a descendant of a long line of European ancestors who arrived on the shores of the Carolinas and Georgia in the 1700’s. I cannot extricate myself from my Southern identity; it follows me wherever I go and makes itself known the second I open my mouth. My accent is not the only thing that gives me away, though. You can tell I’m Southern by the way I cook - cheese grits, sausage gravy and biscuits, tomato sandwiches, fried chicken and collard greens are staples in my home. 

You can tell where I’m from by the way I wave at passing cars, speak to almost everyone near me, and by the way I say “Yes Ma’am” and “No Ma’am” as a sign of respect. I may venture off to other parts of the country, but I always find my way back to our lush landscapes with palm trees, Spanish moss, and ‘gator-filled lakes. 

I am proud of our heritage, but not necessarily our history. Some of my forefathers fought and died in the American Civil War and, though I realize the courage it must have taken to go to war, I cannot take pride in the principles for which they fought. Nor will our genetic link cause me to rationalize or defend the fact that some of them owned slaves and sought to secede from the United States. It was wrong then, and it would be wrong to glorify it now. 

On the other hand, some of my ancestors spoke out against slavery, some were active in women’s suffrage, and some, like my mother, were vocal advocates for civil rights laws in the 50s and 60s. That is the heritage I value, the family members who called for change, the parents who raised me to think beyond myself and champion the causes of those who are suffering at the hands of the unjust.

I was recently in Columbia, South Carolina when a group of citizens scheduled a rally to protest the Confederate flag that still hangs in the courtyard of the state house, among other Civil War monuments. I confess I was surprised it still hung there. I have rarely seen the flag flown in the South for any reason other than to express bigoted and racist viewpoints, usually in an attempt to intimidate people of color. 

The Confederate flag is not a symbol of Southern pride. It is a symbol of a time when the Southern government tried to gain power, acquire land, and secure privilege and prosperity for white people, on the backs of people of color. It was a time of cruel disregard for human life. It is a symbol of a dark time in our history, NOT a symbol of our heritage.

I am politically active, and race relations have always been important to me, but I have been discouraged lately. I keep thinking the divide is too great, the wounds too deep, and the wealthy whites in power too influential to make any real progress.

So, I went to the rally in Columbia expecting to see a handful of folks demanding the flag be removed, and another handful protesting the removal. What I saw when I got there was nothing like I imagined. There were thousands of people in attendance, all peacefully and exuberantly making their values known. There were people of many cultures and ethnicities, meeting each other with the common goal of making a difference, speaking up, and participating in the democratic process that demands government of the people, by the people and for the people. 

What I saw was democracy in action. I saw politicians being reminded that government must represent all of the people, not just the ones in power. History has shown that a government based on suppression of ideas, oppression of minorities, and majority control will eventually fail. Civil unrest leads to civil disobedience and eventually civil war. 

In the days since the protest I have hovered between relief and elation at the outpouring of support across the country. Not only does it look like the flag will be removed from the state house, but huge retailers are pulling Confederate merchandise across the United States. But there are other emotions just below the surface of my satisfaction. They are boiling up in response to the deaths in Charleston, the unarmed black men and women assaulted and killed by law enforcement officers, the hatefulness expressed by white people who cling to their despicable need to feel superior, validated, powerful. 

I am sad and angry. I am tired and disgusted. I am ashamed and fearful. I am afraid we are never going to get where we need to be. I am afraid we have crossed lines and evaded responsibility for so long that we cannot recover. I am afraid for every parent who must teach their children how to be safe in their own skin. I am afraid for every young man who has been drained of hope, and who must still look at the historical monuments of his own government and know that it has not conspired for his welfare, nor supported his dreams. 

We are poised for significant change in the current and coming years, but there is no simple fix and no one right answer. If we are to change in meaningful, stable and permanent ways, we must be willing to speak up and to listen. Our battles should never be against each other, but in support of all. Democracy depends on diversity and inclusion, and works when people raise their voices and know that they will be heard. 

photo by Cassie Selleck

Double Nickels: My Journey Into Self-Publishing

By Cassie Selleck

Double nickels. Fifty-five. That’s the age I was when I quit my full-time job marketing for a bridge access equipment company, and enrolled in Goddard College’s low-residency undergraduate program. It’s also the age I was when I could, for the first time in the more than half a century I have been alive, list my profession as “Writer” on legal forms. And speaking of nickels, if I had one of those coins for every time I was told I should not go into writing if I expected to make a living at it…well, let’s just say I’d have more nickels than that particular advice was worth.

I’m a writer, the author of a book that is barely a novel, but that has created a passive income more than twice what I’ve made in any of my other careers. If you ask my eighty-year-old mother, she’d say, “It’s about damn time.” She’s like that: blunt, sassy, irreverent. The persimmon didn’t fall far from that tree.

Some people say my success is a fluke. Who self-publishes and makes a living at it? Others have actually said, “Don’t be disappointed if you don’t have the same results with your next novel.” Okay, I won’t. I had no expectations for The Pecan Man, so it would have been hard to be disappointed. I was surprised by its success, in fact, and I continue to be delighted by sales that grow exponentially, but my question is this: Was it a fluke, or was it just an opportunity not wasted?

But this blog is not about me. It’s about you. Yes, you. I want to tell you a secret that some people don’t want you to know. Ready?

It. Is. Possible.

Oh, wait, here’s another one:

It isn’t too late.

I’m on a roll.

It doesn’t cost a fortune, and you don’t have to settle for royalties that net you less than 15% of your list price while other folks make three times that much on your work.  

There has never been a better time, nor a more legitimate opportunity to earn a living as a writer. There are many affordable, some virtually free, self-publishing services that offer user-friendly tools to independently publish digital books, or print-on-demand services for paperback books. Are you guaranteed to make big bucks? Nope. But guess how much you’ll make on your novel, your memoir, your poetry if they are naught but files in your computer’s ever-expanding belly?

I had just two items on my bucket list a few years back. Who had time for a bucket list when I had been raising children since 1976 and had just sent my youngest off to college? I barely had time to breathe, much less dream about things I wanted to do before I kicked the proverbial bucket. So, when my husband and I talked about what we would do if we ever won the lottery he plays faithfully every week, my answer would always be:

1. Finish my college degree.
2. Publish a novel.

I’d been working on both for over ten years. I know, I’m a little slow. Slow like the tortoise who beat the hare.

I published The Pecan Man in January of 2012. And by March 2014, #2 had made #1 possible. I cannot imagine being where I am today without the success of my self-published novel. I am well on my way to completing Goddard’s BFA in Creative Writing program – the only low-residency program of its kind in the U.S., I am a co-editor of fiction for Goddard’s outstanding online literary journal DUENDE, and I get up each day and walk to my desk to write. I have an agent who found me, not the other way around. I have speaking engagements on my calendar, and have met astounding people I might never have come across if not for a shared love of reading and writing. I am living a writer’s life, something I dreamed of since I was a child.

I wish this success on all artists and writers. I hope we all make it. I hope we stop telling each other we must starve for our art. It’s not true; we must work for it. We must make it available in one or more of the many ways possible in today’s market. With countless online outlets and the rapid popularity of social media, consumers have grown incredibly savvy and have the skills necessary to find the material they want to read. If you take the time to write, edit and publish good poetry and prose, there is an audience out there waiting to find you.

Is self-publishing the only way? No. Is it the best way? Not always. Does it spell doom for local bookstores? I don’t think so. But it is one way of getting your foot in the door, of finding an audience, of having a large pool of beta-readers, of attracting an agent if you want one. It can even increase your chance of becoming traditionally published if that’s what your heart has always desired. For me, it wasn’t about having a big name on the spine of my book. It was about writing a story that bound hearts, and discovering a world where my voice was welcome and appreciated.

So, what are you waiting for? Go find your audience.

You can purchase Cassie's book, The Pecan Man, here.