Mad World

Organic

Being a writer is an interesting thing. Some people are awed by it, others are mystified at our persistence. Either way, there is a reason for the stereotypical, ‘misunderstood’ author who wears all black and mopes about. It isn’t a matter of depression or apathy…it’s something deeper than that—more fundamental. There is a well of emotion that accompanies the feeling of ‘creation’ in the way an author feels it. It isn’t the same as painting a picture or writing a song: We mold worlds and out of that mire, we sculpt sentient beings to populate those worlds. Yet, at the end of the day, the paragraph, the page, the story, our characters are still there. It seems perhaps a flighty emotional thing to say, but truly listen for a moment. We fall in love, we fight for truth or justice, or just another day’s breath—we hate, struggle against poverty, injustice, cruelty or we struggle with the inability to come to grips with the guilt of a character’s actions. As an author, we experience in a way—even if it be slight, everything our characters experience. We joke about it, we make light of the journey—mostly to make the path a little less jagged and the rocks a tad smoother.

Often, in the early hours of day—when the mind isn’t aware of things like ‘time’ or ‘place’, these things take on a power of their own. I will never touch Tabor’s face, or trace the lines of his scarred, dragon, skin. I will never hear Ariana or Aubrey sing. I will never taste Bronach’s tears or hold Jullian’s hand. I will never yell at Trinity to stop being so damned self-righteous. I will never walk through the ruins of the Garden of Dedication in Adoria, or brave the Goblin Keep of Koldavere in Avalar. I will never see the suns set in Sedel. I will never tuck Lucan into bed, or read him a bedtime story, or wash his worn, pilled, snoopy pajamas. I will never know the name of Bronach’s lost love because he cannot bear to bring her to mind—so neither can I. There is at least one moment, in every author’s life, where the depth of their grief is profound, and it won’t have anything to do with tangible circumstances. Those events certainly affect writers, as they would most people, but this isn’t what I mean. How do you mourn imaginary things? Places you’ll never tread, landscapes you’ll never truly feel and characters you’ll never touch. It may not have come for you yet—rest easy, friend, for it will. If not now, later. It will come and I want you to be prepared for it. I wasn’t.

It was sometime between dusk and dawn, the night air was cold—I could feel it coming from the open flue of the fireplace. I was working on ‘A Thief of Nightshade’. It was one of those sessions where all the effort is in your head and your hands move fluidly over the keyboard and you fight to keep up with your story. And suddenly, as the song I was listening to stopped, I felt it—utter stillness. The scene played on; Jullian woke from his nightmarish captivity to feel the weight of the Fae crown on his head and the overwhelming guilt of realizing that his precious love—the shy girl he’d fallen in love with and married, from our world—had somehow crossed over into Avalar and found him despite all odds. But it had cost her dearly and at that moment, that cost appeared to be her life. And as I watched him pull her into his arms, touch her face, breathe her name, I suddenly understood, in a bizarrely authentic way, what it meant to experience that particular loss. He didn’t believe that she would ever see his world. When she does, he bitterly regrets the price. As authors, we create worlds that are hard for some to even imagine, but it comes at a cost.

I’ve read that most authors experience grief at the end of a story, that a depression ensues that isn’t too unlike mourning a death. But, even that is different. This is the stark realization that our hearts believe in these worlds more than we think. Rationally speaking, we know that what we pen is false—we spend countless hours weaving things in such a way as to convince the reader to buy the lies. And yet, in doing so, somewhere along the way, we bought them too. I suppose that in all good stories, the author has bought them first. How else would we weep at fictional scenes? You could explain the empathy by using the idea of universal humanity, and this may be the case for some readers, but not for us. We are different beings in our own worlds. Changed. And once we emerge, we are never the same.

I’ve said before that writing a novel is like a relationship. If this is true, then the relationship we have with the worlds we create may be likened to a lifetime. And authors have often mused that they have perhaps lived a multitude of lives, and ultimately—those lives are lost to us all the same. Because when that moment comes, the one I am now formally warning you of, it feels like a life has been untimely taken. Most of us have experienced death, the physical feeling that sweeps over you when you remember that you’ll never see that person again—you pick up the phone to dial their number, only to realize with jarring pain, that they aren’t there on the other end. I closed my laptop that night, and whispered into the dark—cold breathed and numb, ‘were it only so.’

For readers, some worlds never die…for authors, those worlds die a thousand deaths. This is just one of many, and I pay the price gladly…but every now and then, I grieve.

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Top Ten Gifts for Writers

Christmas Time is Here Again!Has your beloved writer friend/spouse/relative, gotten tired of that bookstore gift card yet? What about all those blank journals you’ve been buying them? Or those fantastic pens? While they are never bad things, there are certainly some better options out there. And while foregoing a ‘tried and true’ can be unnerving, here are 10 gifts you can be sure they’ll use.

Keurig Coffee Maker: This little gem rocks my socks off. I can’t tell you how many times my coffee, before the dawn of this genius invention, got cold from sitting in the pot. Most coffee makers these days have an auto-shut off; which if your writer is in the middle of a session that time will have run out and then some, by their second or third cup. Yeah, they make stainless steel carafes and what not, but why wouldn’t you want all of the options that come with a one cup wonder like this? Your writer can move from dark roast to decaf with the flick of a wrist and the touch of a button.

Writer’s Aid Kit: This is going to take a bit of effort, but you’ll reap the rewards for much longer than the time it’ll take to throw this kit together. Writers, like sports players, have odd ailments. Achy hands and wrists from typing and jotting notes; lower back aches and headaches, not to mention neck pain and a sore rear end. So, what do you put in a Writer’s Aid Kit? Here are some, unique—but well worth it, ideas:

  • Arthritis Cream: No, I’m not kidding. Just ask the writer how their hands feel after a long session.
  • Heating Pad: For back pain.
  • Icy Hot: Again, no I’m not kidding. This stuff is fantastic for weird muscle pain (ask the writer—you’ve got muscles you wouldn’t imagine having an ache in until you’ve sat in one position for nine hours solid).
  • Tylenol and Advil: Headaches, and of course all of those other aches I’ve been whining about.
  • Candle: Check with them on which scent is appropriate. Invest in a good, high quality, candle that will last. Woodwick and Yankee are personal favorites of mine.
  • Gel Cushion: Imagine this as the gel bicycle seat for novelists. Biking in a marathon isn’t too different than writing a marathon session. You can find these in different materials and shapes: Check Sharper Image, Brookstone or even Ebay.
  • Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul
  • Chocolate: You didn’t think I’d leave this out, did you?
  • Microwavable Neck Pillow (rice or bean filled): These may come in different scents or totally scent-less. You’ll need to check with your writer to see if they are sensitive to certain smells or not. Ideally, look for one that can be micro-waved for heat or placed in the freezer.
  • Eye Drops: Looking at a computer screen for hours on end will dry out most anyone’s eyes.
  • A Million Dollars: Sorry, just wanted to make sure you were still paying attention, though if you’ve got a few million hanging around…
  • Slippers and Loungewear: Throw in some comfy slippers and a lounge outfit, maybe yoga pants and a sweatshirt—or if your writer is a bit more on the classy side, you can go with a sweater/leggings combination (check http://www.shopreddress.com). Remember every writer is different. If your writer is a guy, look into a smoking jacket and some moccasin slippers?
  • As a tip here, you may want to place these items in a basket, book tote or even in a nice box. If you have the funds, you can make the basket itself part of the gift by investing a little into it. Longaberger baskets, made in Dresden Ohio, are well made, heirloom quality baskets that anyone would love.

A Weekend or Week of Solitude: This may very well be the most wonderful thing my husband has ever done for me. He sent me off for a 5 day stay, to Callaway Gardens Spa, in Pine Mountain, Georgia. It was wonderful and worthy of an entire blog post on its own.  This may be especially poignant if your writer is a parent. The basic idea is to give them more than a few minutes on their own, uninterrupted.

Massaging Back-Rest: You can find these everywhere now, but one of the best ones can be found at Brookstone. It has an LED reading light and plugs in for heat and massage. It comes complete with side pockets and a cup rest. Now, if it would just finish writing my novel…

Writer Inspired Jewelry: Not that we need reminding that we work for nearly pennies on the hour, but there are some really fantastic ways to commemorate the calling. I’ve found everything from charm bracelets on ebay, to quill ink pen necklaces. Just type those three little words in google and hang on.

Levenger: And I mean, anything, from Levenger. They have bookends, lap desks, and kitchen sinks…ok, not that last bit, but you get my point. They carry EVERYTHING a writer covets.

A Shadow Box: What? You know how good your writer is, how talented they are. They need to be reminded and nothing tells them how much faith you have in their work, than by buying a shadow box for their acceptance letter…because it IS coming.

New Music: Do they have an ipod? Or Mp3 player? Then buy them a gift card for iTunes or whatever site they frequent.

Wine and Such: So maybe your author isn’t a coffee fan. If this is the case (or they like both, like me) then invest in a nice bottle of wine and a set of glasses. Or, even better, buy a REALLY nice bottle of wine in anticipation of their impending ‘publication’ and tell them it is for that specific occasion. This might pair nicely with that shadow box I mentioned.

The Amazon Kindle: What’s the best part about this electronic diamond? The writer can read their own stuff on it. AWESOME. That way, the next time someone asks them on the commute home, “What are you reading?” They can say with no little enthusiasm. “Me!”

Here are some great places to start looking for those gifts:

http://www.shopreddress.com (For that sweater I was talking about!)

http://www.inkygirl.com/gifts/

http://www.shakespearesden.com/writing1.html

http://www.levenger.com

The Etiology and Treatment of ‘Authoritis’

Authoritis is an unfortunate syndrome, which has only recently begun to receive attention from mental health professionals. It has, however, been in existence for ages and was only considered to be more than merely an ‘inconvenience’, with the invention of the Gutenberg press in 1440. With the dawn of the information age, it is now a recognized syndrome (Gore, 1983).

Those suffering the condition in years gone by were told to “take two aspirin and see if the urge passes (source anon).” Despite a history of clinical neglect, it is estimated that more than half of all books found in brick and mortar stores, were penned by someone suffering some form of Authoritis, also called an ‘author’. According to the DSM V-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), American Psychiatric Association (2009), there are five characteristics required to warrant a proper diagnosis of Authoritis.

  1. Adolescent onset
  2. Cyclic anti-social behavior
  3. Cyclic psychosis; to include hallucinations (auditory and visual)
  4. Obsessive behavior; to include insistence of imaginary creatures called, ‘agents’ and ‘publishers’
  5. God complex; consisting of claims that one has ‘created whole worlds,’ and ‘characters’.

Clinical Features of Authoritis

ADOLESCENT ONSET

Clinicians aren’t certain why the syndrome begins in adolescence. It has been recorded in some children, as early as the age of six—though it is usually a less severe form of the syndrome and studies have shown that 78% of children, who demonstrated three or more characteristics of the disorder, would later develop full blown Authoritis (R.L. Stine, 1990). Typically, adolescents will begin by writing in what is called a ‘diary’: Recent research has shown that diaries are ‘gateway’ perpetuators and may serve by their use as an early indicator of the syndrome. Curiously, some adolescents may throw the term around loosely in reference to their identity, though it has been proven that while children showing signs are more likely to develop the syndrome, only 35% of adolescents claiming the diagnosis, ever go on to develop more than the characteristic God complex.

CYCLIC ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOR

This aspect of Authoritis, despite the hallucinations and psychosis, is the single most prevalent symptom reported by the friends and family of those with the syndrome and is typically what prompts interventions and eventual medical treatment. The author will be perfectly social one moment, only to sink into a depressive anti-social trance. This trance will often find the author sitting in one place for extended periods of time, often more than five or six hours straight, sometimes staring at nothing but a blank sheet of paper or computer screen. Phone calls, visits from friends and family, personal hygiene and health are all abandoned in favor of engaging in a trance or a trance-like state. Any attempt to break the author of this behavior has proven to be detrimental to the concerned friend or relative, and in some cases, fatal.

In the most critical cases, this anti-social behavior becomes what is known as a ‘writer’s block’. Hygiene is said to be at a critical low and will typically be accompanied by crying, cussing and screaming fits.

CYCLIC PSYCHOSIS

For those living with an author this may be the most unsettling characteristic of the syndrome. The author is often seen speaking to themselves, sometimes repeating the same sentence in a variety of tones or voices (King, On Writing, 2001). At times, particularly after a lengthy trance-like state, the author will even use more than one voice and appears to be conducting entire conversations between multiple personalities. Any attempt to question the sanity of this action results in a blank look, followed by aggression or the abrupt closure of the psychosis—which will only resume later with greater intensity. Clinicians recommend, in order to minimize the severity of the episode, that the author be left alone.

OBSESSIVE BEHAVIOR

This is reportedly the most curious behavior of authors. Despite habitual assurance that ‘agents’ and ‘publishers’ do not in fact exist and even if they did, they wouldn’t have any desire to see the author’s penned psychotic episodes; those suffering Authoritis press on and insist that their delusions will prove true by the achievement of ‘publication’ or representation by an ‘agent’ or some other ephemeral creature (Critique Circle, 2006). While half of all books are rumored to have been penned by an author, this is believed to be a classic situation of correlation not equaling causation (Miss Snark, 2005). This shared delusion among authors has even held its own against the adversity of being shown without doubt that books are indeed created and placed in brick and mortar stores by monkeys.

*As a side note, the CLC, or Coalition of Literary Chimps, is outraged by the publication of this article and is threatening libel, claiming that this will project their members into the spotlight and out of obscurity where they have remained since leaving NASA (CLC, 2009).

GOD COMPLEX

This is the easiest symptom to identify, merely by the author’s own need to habitually tell others about the worlds they have created (Facebook, 2006-2009). It manifests very early in the syndrome, and is seen by medical professionals as progressive in nature, sometimes leading to multiple worlds, characters and volumes of written or printed material to validate the author’s creative and God-like abilities. It is said, with no uncertainty, that this characteristic is directly related to the psychotic episodes, though some authors have been found to record words amounting to nothing more interesting or ‘creative’ than the phone book (Left Behind Series, Jenkins & LaHaye, 1999).

Causes of Authoritis

With the official, medical, recognition of Authoritis, there has been a concerted effort at identifying its cause. So far, there are several models to consider:

Sociological Model

Most authors are woefully bereft of gainful employment. Some individuals who were discovered by the monkeys and had their books created, make the incorrect assumption that it was because they are authors and thus subsequently they report that this is their livelihood. This has been shown as unfounded time and time again with little or no impact on author’s claims (Harlequin, 1994). Other authors may be so incapacitated by the syndrome as to be unable to do anything else but write, which leads to poverty, eventual hermitism and in the most severe cases, suicide (Hemingway, 1961).

Biological Model

So far, cross-culture and regional studies have shown that while creativity may run in families, there is thus far no evidence that parents suffering the syndrome pass it on to their children (Tolkien Jr., 2007).

Psychological Model

There are a significant number of psycho-social and psychiatric based theories explaining Authoritis, the most notably being: Organized Schizophrenia. There are several more that claim the syndrome is not of any biological origin at all, but due to a lack of attention in early childhood; evidenced by the presence of imaginary friends and need to color on inappropriate things (Sesame Street, 1987).

Treatment of Authoritis

Treatment of Authoritis has proven most elusive. There have been centers created for the practice of group therapy (Also called MFA’s), and many institutions are offering classes in an attempt to help those suffering the syndrome cope with it .They are usually referenced as ‘English’ degrees, though very little evidence may be found relating their existence to effective management and in some cases may even cause the frequency of the psychotic and anti-social behaviors to increase significantly. They have however gone on to serve as more proof that being an author is not actually required to write books, as many non-author students have gone on to be discovered by the monkeys (Harlequin, 2005).

Prognosis

Prognosis of Authoritis is bleak. Medication has shown absolutely no effect whatsoever on the lessening of the syndrome’s most cumbersome manifestations. Authors can expect, however, a normal life-span. Despite this positive revelation, most authors will write for years or even decades before Alzheimer’s sets in or the syndrome mysteriously disappears. There is said to be some correlation between the loss of ‘agent/publication’ delusions and the remission of Authoritis.

This article was written after reading the brilliant ‘Etiology and Treatment of Childhood’ by Jordan W. Smoller, which you can find here: http://www.pshrink.com/humor/Childhood.html

Foundations of a Writing Life

This will likely translate to another article for Examiner, but I’m going with the casual side of things for now (for this blog anyway). After being stuck on the last few chapters of ‘Nightshade’, I broke ground. Once I voluntarily walked away from gainful employment back in September, I struggled to overcome depression and heartache and to really write like I once had—with total abandon and dogged perseverance.  I realized today, just like I realized after my first really bad block, that all it takes is the promise of a deadline. An immediate deadline. You see, I sat down in my kitchen this morning and proclaimed to the dogs (I mean this literally), that I wasn’t going to get up until I had the rest of Nightshade plotted.

They laughed.

And yet, I emerged triumphant, despite my own fears and doubts (and those of my hairy companions). 1500 words of plot, fully fleshed out and ready to be written. Tomorrow (or likely the very wee hours of tomorrow), will bring with it an excitement that I haven’t genuinely experienced in over a year. I wrote Icarus (the vampire novel that I’ve been working on and no, that isn’t the title…consider it a nickname) while I was working in the dredges of hell. Ok, that was a tad dramatic, but you’d understand if you worked there. And while I love the characters and their story, it wasn’t the same as Nightshade and the Fable trilogy. It’s a matter of urban vs. epic fantasy. Even though Nightshade is a stand alone piece, the stakes involved are epic indeed. So, the bottom line is that the emotions involved in those works differ from one to the next: Icarus is gritty and harsh—bloody, gruesome, gratuitous sex and violence (and inappropriate humor). Nightshade and Fable, are light and while there are most certainly darker scenes in both (this is me we’re talking about here), they don’t translate the same to me emotionally, as an author.

All of this got me thinking about what it means to be a writer. We’ve discussed writing rituals and how isolating an experience it can be, but those are different things. I am talking about the decision to become more than merely a writer by title, but by practice. You are essentially laying down a foundation for your life as a writer—unknowingly, you are setting a cornerstone into place that will determine how you deal with frustration, sorrow, relationships and ultimately, how you will see your writing in light of publication or lack there of. You’ve got to ask yourself the question, “Am I writing for recognition, or for the craft of it.” This is not the same thing as asking if you wish to be published or not. Don’t confuse the two. The former question is simply clarifying your motives. The answer is the cement of your foundation. It is the thing that glues it all together and not unlike a story, it is what gives you strength while you are still learning and developing. Consider this: If you knew, right now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that your work would never be published, would you write it anyway?

Would I? You ask. Without any hesitation, my answer is yes. Yes, a thousand times. When I started, I feared what all new authors fear—not being talented enough. But, I’ve come to learn that while I will always fear not being ‘good enough’, you only lose this battle when you quit. So what if you suck right now? Most authors who write for a living will admit to sucking worse five years ago (assuming they were writing then), than now. Some claim to still suck, though we as readers know better. What was their answer to that question? Agents tell us all the time, that the chances of getting published are akin to winning the lottery. Friends and family ask why we don’t take up something more, profitable? But if you love writing enough and believe in your characters and stories enough, there is no other option but to spend time with them and work on putting down a reasonable resemblance to what we see in our heads.  It may take much, much longer than you expect. It may flow better than you dreamed possible. But you will never know until you begin.

So, lay those foundations. Set a goal, find someone to hold you accountable. I’m always here. Have a great Monday tomorrow!

J.S.

Concerning Waffles…

 

DeadlyNightshade_Gerard

Deadly Nightshade

Or rather, I should say, concerning waffling. See, I am sitting at my desk at an absurdly early hour (3:42am if you must know), feeling more than a little guilty about not finishing Nightshade or Icarus before beginning yet another project. I thought I could get over the minor annoyance that this guilt was proving to be a couple of days ago, but you may consider this my white flag of defeat. Instead of committing to pen 50,000 words of a new project in November—I will pen the rest of Nightshade, which lacks about that much. I wrote a couple chapters and a prologue for ‘Of Blood and Bone’ but the story simply isn’t ready to be written yet. I’ll know when it’s time. You can’t force these things…

 

I know what brought this on. I reread Nightshade and afterwards, sat and listened to a play list that I’d created for a second epic series that I’ve dubbed ‘Beggar King’ and remembered what it felt like to be inspired in a creative sense. That sounds more simple than it is. See, there are a few choice scenes for the aforementioned epic series that I’ve already fully fleshed out—and I haven’t committed anything more than a couple of maps, character sketches and a prologue to paper for it. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that when Fable is finished (revised and proofed–they’ve been penned for more than a year), Beggar King will be the next large scale piece I work on. I know this because of how intense those few scenes are. I can taste the sweat of my main character as she sits, wounded and mute, in the dungeon of her beloved’s kingdom, accused of a crime she couldn’t have committed—her own murder. I feel equally his grief when he realizes what he’s done, only to bring her back from the edge of death and find out too late that the spell cast on her was two fold–undoing it may grant back her speech, but it will erase any memory she has of him or her alter ego (who she was accused of murdering).

Icarus and Nightshade are stand alone pieces, as I’ve said before, and for whatever reason—I like to work on smaller projects like these in between the larger, more exhausting ones. While I like the ideas, and certainly the title, for ‘Of Blood and Bone,’ I don’t feel the characters yet. I still have faith in it, but any story you write is a relationship of sorts: You can ruin things by going too fast and lose them by going too slow. I need to finish Nightshade. I have been avoiding it because of how hard some of the subject matter is—most of my work is somewhat dark in nature, especially the fairy tale stuff. Nightshade is no exception. So, I will heed my own advice and dig my heels in. It’s easy to start something else, dive into that honeymoon phase when everything is easy and flows without the woes of queries or edits or revisions or any of the things that make writing in a professional sense such a nightmare sometimes. What is difficult, is staying the course and seeing your story through till the true end.