The Story Behind Free Flying Press

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I struggle with social media self-promotion.

I have never understood ‘branding’ or ‘author’s platform.’ Every time I hear about the need to ‘define my brand,’ I cringe. It’s one thing to offer my writing as a product, it’s another to make my self into ‘content.’ That is odious to me, this image of livestock burning flesh because some poor cow or horse just got branded - pun intended.

Natalya, the illustrator I just hired for “Why Roses Have Thorns” has made me see branding a little differently. Like many creatives, Natalya wears many hats and has collected a lot of tools to make a living.

Besides illustration, Natalya collaborates with people to figure out their social media marketing plan. She is passionate about ‘branding’ and claims she can talk about it all day.

“Defining your brand is simply telling the story of who you are.”

Well, ok. I can get behind that, especially because Free Flying Press can be utilized as my ‘brand.’ What Natalya had to say spurred some ideas of what the ‘brand’ of Free Flying Press could be.

This website has been up for 5 years, and it’s been an homage to my brother the entire time. Yet I have neither filled out his In Memoriam page or deleted it. Writing this blog prompted me to do just that. Click here if you’d like to see it.

Perhaps some random readers have noticed the various drawings of skydivers in the banners, and wondered what does skydiving have to do with dark-fantasy-love-stories-with-explicit-sex-scenes or innocent children’s fairy tales?

Well, nothing obviously. At least, not directly.

Years ago, when I was trying to find an agent and editor on the pathway to traditional publishing, I always considered the self-publishing path. The original name for this indie author vehicle was Freedom Junkie Press.

‘Freedom junkie’ was my first muse, so to speak. The phrase popped into my head during my first summer in Juneau, and that literally convinced me to stay and make Alaska my home, rather than enjoying it as the last stop of my vagabond bartender phase.

I thought ‘Freedom Junkie’ would be the name of a book, but it ended up being more an underlying theme of my life for close to 20 years.

When I decided on the self-published road, ‘freedom junkie’ seemed an excellent fit for the DIY mentality. I even started the domain in cyberspace: freedomjunkie.com.

Unfortunately, I didn’t protect it, which is what we do when we don’t act on an idea.

Anyway, somebody bought freedomjunkie.com after my ownership of the name expired.

Much later, whoever had bought it sold the name to a Life Coach out of Anchorage who used the expression ‘for realz’ all over her site. It made me sad and kind of sick to my stomach. But no way in hell was I going to purchase a domain name of freedomjunkie.net with this kind of thing around. The time had come to let that name go.

And then, my brother died around the time I finished the final manuscript of “Ella Bandita and the Wanderer.” After the tailspin of grief and apathy wore off enough to pull myself together to get back on track, it was time to come up with a new name for my press.

That’s where the skydivers come in.

Robert’s 10-way team in the 90’s.

Robert’s 10-way team in the 90’s.

Robert had been a skydiving champion in the prime of his life. His team won the nationals twice in the 10-way formation 2 years in a row before he switched to freeflying.

Freeflying skydiving was very new and very experimental at the time he got involved with it. The team was a trio of 2 freeflyers and a cameraman that keeps up with them to get the best shots. It’s a very acrobatic and creative form of skydiving with flyers doing crazy, aerial stunts as they’re hurtling towards the ground at about 170mph.

Robert’s team, Z Airtime, won 1st place at the X-games their first year and 2nd place the next year. Here’s a video of their work that Brian Germain posted on Youtube recently. Robert is the one on the left in the below still, the barefoot skydiver, and the one hamming it up.

Team Z-AirTime was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I was forever bonded with two of the most amazing people I have ever met. Robert Mahaffey, brilliant wild man of the team, was an incredible athlete in everything he tried.

Lots of things happened between this gorgeous time in Robert’s life and the dark times that led to his death in November 2012.

So in late 2013 or early 2014, when I was ready to get my writing off the ground and it was time to find a new name for my self-publishing vehicle, Free Flying Press had a nice ring to it. It gave me a lot of peace to honor Robert in this way.

Besides knowing he would have loved the attention and the compliment, Robert’s skydiving years were the happiest time of his life. He had found his people, his calling, and even his portal to freedom.

Somehow that elusive freedom is a primary motivator behind this DIY press. The freedom to craft my stories as I see fit rather than follow arbitrary rules that I don’t agree with is my favorite advantage, and I’m willing to sacrifice the validation and prestige of traditional publishing in order to have it.

DISCLAIMER: For all anybody knows, my writing sucks and I’m not good enough to get published. See for yourself and decide: here are some blogs of excerpts of my work-in-progress here and here.

Besides freedom, there are other themes that informed my life, Robert’s life, and the stories behind this press. But those are subjects for other blogs.

To conclude, doesn’t the image of freeflying skydivers somersaulting through the air as they’re rushing towards earth at breakneck speed present an image of ultimate risk and ultimate freedom?

And if that isn’t the essence of an unforgettable, bad-ass ‘brand,’ then what is?

The graphic designer flipped the image, but you can see the stunt that inspired the Free Flying Press logo in the video above if you watch almost to the end.

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Tiny Victories and Tremendous Satisfaction

Storytelling

I’ve always used storytelling as a vehicle to get my work out there, but it is also an art form that I love in and of itself. So, since January of 2017, I’ve done these events called Tea & Tales where I tell a story out of Ella Bandita as well as fables, myths, and folk tales from all over the world. We lounge on pillows, drink herbal tea, chill out, and the audience listens while I talk. Sometimes I sell a novel out of this, but for the most part, donations are the only payment I get out of it. The first year, I quickly figured out that Tea & Tales 2x/month-year-round is not realistic. So Tea & Tales has since become a monthly event that happens seasonally from the fall until mid-Spring when the days are noticeably longer.

I was burned out at the end of this season. I was more than ready for the last Tea & Tales on April 7th to come and go because the light was increasing along with my restlessness, and I was more than ready to be done for the rest of spring and summer. I’m proud of what I’ve done with Tea & Tales, that I’ve stuck with it for 3 seasons, and have slowly built up a network of regulars that I can count on somebody showing up.

For the first 2 seasons, I had only 1 regular who I could count on, and Simran is fabulous. He kept me going, showing up when nobody else did. And so long as he was there, I told my stories and got some practice. He even participated as a guest storyteller a couple of times, and he painted my Tea & Tales sandwich board sign on both sides. Isn’t it fabulous?

During the 2nd season, I promoted and emailed and pushed and had larger audiences as a result, but I did not gain new regulars. I tend to find my regulars through the things I like to do. For example, I love espresso and my favorite barista came to a few of the Tea & Tales this season. A friend of mine has been coming, and a couple of potential new ones came who I met through a women’s group that I recently joined. Marc started coming in the 2nd season, and he invited me to do a skit with him through Open Heart Mic after I did a storytelling there.

And on this last Tea & Tales, a young woman showed up who had seen me last year at Open Heart Mic. This was the first she had seen of my Tea & Tales on Facebook, and she jumped right in. The fact that she came a YEAR after she had seen me perform at Open Heart Mic left me elated.

If that’s not the highest compliment to what I do, I don’t know what is. These are the small victories that keep us going. I may have to promote more next season, but I also need to get out there at other events. That was a gorgeous eye opener, and a warm glow that will last me until the fall when I do it all over again.