I Love Me …

“I see myself capable of arrogance and brutality… That’s a fierce thing, to discover within yourself that which you despise the most in others.” ~George Stevens

Everyone has them … articles that make you cringe. Things that make your skin literally itch to crawl off your bones in disgust. Pet peeves. Mine is literary elitism and I just read the mother of all posts on the subject. You can find it here. Go read it, or the rest of this post won’t make any sense. Seriously … I’ll wait.

OK, I trust you’ve read it. Here’s my problem … not only is Andrew Brown asserting that readers, who enjoy the prose of writers such as Dan Brown, are illiterate … wait for it … he has the balls to go on and on about his spotless and (worse yet) brilliant method of assuring that his style transcends the likes of Dan Brown and his ilk. “Flat prose” isn’t a new term, not by a long shot, but once again I find that intellectuals such as A. Brown are using their distaste for popular fiction as a childish weapon against feeling jealous of others’ success.

Comments are closed, no shock there, but I’ll give them some credit since the article is virtually archaic (2006). Still, it smacks of pretentiousness and frankly, I found the whole thing nothing more than a stroke-fest.

Unfortunately, A. Brown isn’t alone in his thoughts. If he read my work or anything at The Asylum, it would do nothing but verify his claims. After all, I’m sure this post is rife with dull, unadorned, and unpolished conversational fluff. But, my point in bringing this article up is that he’s gotten one thing in particular grievously wrong: what he calls flat prose, is simply elemental. Some stories are larger than the words with which they are told, and no amount of complexity is going to change that. Yes, he does give a little credit to LOTR for being just such a story, but did you catch the nastiness in his reference?

“Not all bad books would sell better if they were better written: if you rewrote The Lord of the Rings so that it did not read like a translation from invented dead languages, a lot of the book’s strange credibility would vanish, though by no means all. Its deeper credibility is non-stylistic and has more to do with the experience of war and loss than anything else.”

Strange credibility? Tolkien was a brilliant linguist and despite some of my personal issues in adoring his dialog, I’m not dense enough to wonder at the work’s credibility. LOTR is epic in more ways than one.

But, it doesn’t stop there.

“But there is a class of author where even this kind of explanation breaks down: Dan Brown, Dennis Wheatley, and some other thriller writers like Robert Ludlum fall into this category. They all produce books so aggressively badly written that no virtues of plot or characterisation – even if they existed, which they clearly do not – could make up for the deficiencies of style.”

No virtues of plot or characterization? Really. Who the hell is this guy to make such heated claims about the works of others in comparison to his own work? Five years later … how many Andrew Brown books do you have on your shelf?

Oh wait, we’re the illiterate masses. We wouldn’t have purchased his books anyway because we would be far too daft to fully grasp the understated brilliance of his stylish, yet-oh-so-humble prose. Wouldn’t we?

Or is it that something deeper within these works touches the hearts of real readers … the ones who carry those books near their souls and speak of those stories years after first reading them, as one would an old and dear friend? Perhaps there is something about the sort of narrative that transcends the overly ornamental prose of whomever it is he deems as worthy. I can’t give you names because he doesn’t bother to quantify what he thinks is relevant, worthwhile fiction. Other than his own.

But here is the real rub, and the most offensive claim he makes:

“I labour the point, but this resemblance to ordinary speech (except for the small matter of being unspeakable) is, I think, the secret of these books’ success. It is not just that they are written by people who can’t, in any interesting sense, write; they are read by people who have not properly learned to read. I don’t mean their taste is uneducated, or that they can’t spell, or that they have trouble with long words, though all those things may be true; I mean that they have not internalised the activity of reading so that it feels natural.”

Who can’t in any interesting sense, write? Wow. There aren’t words. At least not that come easily enough to rip this guy the new asshole he deserves. There are certain circles that would applaud his elitism. I hope, for his sake as an author, that those circles are large enough to maintain his livelihood. Calling everyone who doesn’t “get” your work, illiterate, does absolutely nothing for your career … as any professional publicist would tell you. Then again, maybe that small group of readers is who his writing best suites. I looked up some of his “refined” work and found it unutterably dull. But, perhaps that’s my fault for being so uneducated. He does after all hint that he believes all best-sellers to have been written for the poorly taught masses.

Andrew Brown, like so many of his professional peers, is a literary bully. His words are strong, but unlike a good cup of coffee, they have such little substance that drinking them leaves one feeling like a naked emperor just walked by, reveling in his new cloak, gloating over how it makes him look.

I’ll tell you how it makes him look. It makes him look like a jackass.

You see, there is bravery in saying precisely what you mean. There is danger in it. You can’t be misunderstood that way. Complex prose, often lends itself as its own excuse and defense against criticism because you can easily claim that you were misread or that the reviewer missed the point. Dan Brown doesn’t have that problem. There’s no cowardice in his work, because it merely is what it is. And millions of people think it’s incredible.

So, with that in mind allow me to translate Andrew Brown’s post for all of us illiterates out there. You’ve read what he wrote. But here is what he meant: “I love me. But my shit ain’t selling. So, it’s your fault because obviously you don’t know how to read. Not interestingly anyway and my work is infinitely more interesting than Dan Brown’s. Maybe when you’ve gone back to school and learned to naturally read my clumsy, clod-footed prose, you’ll understand my genius for what it really is. Until then, I pity you for your tastes.”

Nice. Good luck with that. I pity you for your arrogance.

**Brown (Andrew) is the author of The Darwin Wars: The Scientific Battle for the Soul of Man and In the Beginning Was the Worm: Finding the Secrets of Life in a Tiny Hermaphrodite. And no, I didn’t just make that last title up.


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Creativity Coaching

“Creativity is a highfalutin word for the work I have to do between now and Tuesday.” ~Ray Kroc

We’ve all been there … a brilliant idea, a manuscript that’s spilling from your mind like water from a faucet … then something happens. Your boss yells at you. Your main character suddenly takes a hiatus. Your creativity seems to dry up completely. You’ve contacted your alpha readers, and your beta readers. You even broke down and called your mother. Still, nothing helps.

That’s where a Creativity Coach comes in. What we do, is the same thing that a mental health counselor does for a client: We talk things out. It’s as simple a concept as this … sometimes our writer friends and peers are simply too close to help us draw out what’s really holding us back. A third-party can do wonders at helping unblock the creative flow.

And as a Holistic Writer, I keenly believe in the integration of the creative brain and your personal well-being. Which, in a nutshell, is why I’m finishing up my Master’s degree in Professional Counseling over the next year and a half. Long story short, stuff going on in your personal life can seep into your writing and your ability to interpret what your brain is telling you. Creativity coaches help untangle the mess.

Why should I hire you? You’re an Associate Editor for a magazine and you only have a few books under contract … where are all the years and years of expertise?

Well, for starters, I have almost five years in professional writing under my belt. And because for one reason or another, I’ve always been able to cut through the bullshit and get to the heart of the issue. I have the psychology training to wade through the muddied waters of your characters’ issues and yours. Believe me, when you start talking about it all, it can get overwhelming and confusing quick. Plus, you can go to all the counseling sessions in the world, but it’ll take you YEARS to put what you learn through those sessions into your personal writing practice. I’m just skipping a few hundred meetings and getting straight to the heart of the matter.

What’s involved? Well, that depends on you and what you need. We’ll tailor a plan to fit your budget and your needs, but here are some general plans to consider:

Kick-in-the-Pants:
Accountability pure and simple. Some folks just need a face-to-face (or in this case, a Skype-to-Skype) kick in the pants. For $15 a call (fifteen minutes), I’ll literally keep your ass on schedule. You set the number of calls per week/month. Better than an app on your smart phone, I won’t take shit from you.

Basic GPS:
Just need an hour to air your frustrations with a manuscript/publisher/ agent or any other career related subject? We can go over everything from plot development and character construction, to career advice and help on queries. $50 for a one-hour session. Discounts for multiple sessions scheduled.

Greetings, I’ll be Your Guide:
Some novels are tougher to write than others and need a full service evaluation. This package includes a thorough read-through of your work, or work in progress and detailed notes on general observations (note, this is NOT editing). Then, a two-hour consultation where we can talk through the issues. $250 – $350 depending on the length of the work. Additional sessions are available to discuss the work further at the $50 an hour rate.

A Second Set of Eyeballs:
Your publisher hands you a PDF to proof, or you’re getting ready to shoot off your newly finished novel to an agent or a publisher, and you just want a second set of eyeballs on it to check for typos. Again, this is not editing, but simple proofreading.

Short stories 500-5,000 words $25.
Novelettes 5,001-25,000 words $50
Novellas 25,001-50,000 words $75
Novels 50,001 – 100,000 words $100
Novels 100,001 – 125,000 words $125
Novels 125,001 – 150,000 words $150
Novels 150,001 – 200,000 words $200
Anything longer than that we need to talk about when to end your story.

** For the record, I take Paypal and I can break anything more than $100 into payments. I will work with you financially. The only thing I can’t do is an I-owe-you. **

If you’re interested, please send me an email to batman0762@gmail.com for more information.

Maybe The Best of Us

“Fear is the cheapest room in the house.  I would like to see you living in better conditions.”  ~Hāfez

We all fear something. Some of us fear more things than others. Writers, well, most of us in one way or another fear everything, for through us, our characters surmount every fear imaginable … and in the case of fantasists, some fears that are unimaginable. That, I suppose, makes us unique among our ilk. We don’t just dread the possible or even the probable, but the unlikely and worse yet … the unfathomable. It’s a wonder we get out of bed every day.

We’re not all stark raving mad. I am … but I’m sure there is a good percentage of perfectly sane human beings out there who sit for hours on end, absorbed in the surreal, who function like normal people. Who wash their sheets as often as they should. Who water their plants, and remember to feed the dogs on time. I’m just not among them.

Bear with me here … I’ll get to the writing analogy in a bit …

I’m not certifiably insane (not on paper anyway) but I have my moments of wondering. No, I didn’t have one of those moments today, but I did mention last night to my husband that it would be nice … for maybe a day or two … to just live in someone else’s shoes. To be one of those functional people. Let me be frank (I know, when am I not frank?): I live in pajamas. From what I know of civilization, that isn’t normal.

But, I’m built for this existence whether I like it or not.

I don’t want, or know how, to be anything other than what I am. If I didn’t have a shred of moral decency I’d be an alcoholic, or drug addict, or both. I’d burn my candle at both ends, and die an early death. Lucky for me, there are people who will put up with my sorry ass.

You’d think, since I fear so many things, that I’d loathe horror movies, right? Nope. Just the opposite. Can’t get enough of them. Or horror novels, for that matter. There are some really sound reasons behind this, but instead of boring you with them, let’s take an analogy from my favorite childhood hero: Why did Batman choose a bat to be his persona? Because bats frightened him when he was a child. Why do I obsess over horrific things?

Because I live with fear every hour of every day.

How does this relate to writing? And more importantly to you as an author? Easily … your fears define you.

No they don’t! 

I hear you. I get that you’ve absolved yourself of any fears you might have once had, and made peace with their lingering remains. But, hear me out for a second. Fear leads to avoidance in most cases. If the fears are intrinsic in nature, then they’ll manifest through your writing faster than you can blink. This isn’t always a bad thing. Just like Bruce Wayne, you can find a way to use them to your advantage (if you don’t know who Bruce Wayne is, then you’re no longer welcome here … I’m just saying).

Don’t think you fear anything at all? Go ‘accidentally’ touch a hot stove and tell me that again. You don’t fear it, because you avoid putting yourself in that particular circumstance. But if you were strapped to a chair, and someone was bringing that proverbial stove to you, you’d shake, I assure you. Just because we can’t confront our fears doesn’t mean they don’t affect us. Our subconscious knows these things are out there, and adjusts, whether we’re aware of the action or not. It’s sort of how a person who has recently been in a wreck will often have trouble driving right away. These things linger. For writers, whose imaginations are always on overdrive, they linger longer than ‘normal.’

Knowing what you fear will help you know how to look for it in your writing. It will help you channel that energy. This extends to everyday fiction writers just as well as fantasy-fiction writers. So, don’t think I’m ignoring you.

It will also help you to see where you’re holding onto imagined pain. For example, oftentimes writers who pen stories of great tragedy will hold onto the grief their characters feel for weeks or months after the manuscript has been completed. This can seep into our daily lives if we aren’t careful. It makes us cranky, irritable, and moody as hell. It can also leave use emotionally crippled.

Think about it. We cry at times with our characters. We get enraged with them. We feel their love, their hate and their … you guessed it … fear. Do you honestly believe that those emotions never carry over?

They do. They do. They do.

It defines us in a way … those emotions. But the strongest of them all, is fear. Why? Because no other emotion carried over has the potential to create the kind of perverse relationships that fear creates. It wreaks havoc on our sleep and our sanity. At least, it does for some of us. Maybe the best of us. Perhaps that’s a stretch, but there has to be some benefit in all of this, or what do we suffer for?

Call it depression … for what else is depression than a sort of resignation to the inevitability of fear. Call it anxiety. Call it whatever you’d like. Hemingway had a few names for it. As did Sylvia and quite a few others. Woolfe comes to mind. But whatever you do, don’t call it ‘nothing.’ It’s there. And it’s best dealt with in the daylight, while we’re all nearby. While we’re all there for each other in this rabbit hole we share as writers. In one form or another it’s taken some of us.

Maybe the best of us. But, the thing is … it doesn’t have to …

It won’t go away, not entirely, because like I said before, these things, these emotions, these fears, make us who we are as writers. But we can’t ignore them. For some, this is a relatively easy task. For others, such as myself, it’s monumental and will take the breadth of my life to fully grasp. But, there is power in a name and in a beginning. And in saying all of this openly, I’m not only laying claim to my fears, I’m bringing them into the light. And, I think, perhaps that’s the most powerful option we have as writers … community. Not to network, or share links, or whine about agents and publishers and so on … but to really fellowship with one another. Because really, at the end of the day, no one knows you like another writer. After all, we’ve not only walked in each other’s shoes … we’ve carried each other.

We’ve been carried.

Even the best of us …

Two Pronouns and a Funeral

“Barring that natural expression of villainy which we all have, the man looked honest enough.” ~Mark Twain

The word anti-hero has been thrown around a lot lately. The concept of a mandatory likable protagonist has also made its loathsome rounds. Both proponents have aspects of them, and applications, that are correct. In the wrong context, and paired with the wrong character, however, they can be devastating to fiction. Allow me to expound.

But  wait … won’t an unlikable protagonist kill the narrative?

No, not unless you’re writing a romance novel. In that case, one of your two leads has to make up for the other’s initial likability issues. But barring that sole exception, no … this is a myth.

But wait … doesn’t your reader have to care enough to read on?

No shit. I mean, really, does anyone NOT believe that? Come on. I can think of TONS of horror novels whose main characters weren’t the least bit likable, but the story/plot/secondary characters were all interesting enough to propel the narrative to the end. Likability has nothing at all to do with whether or not a reader will carry on reading. Compelling is the word you’re looking for.

Hate me or love me … doesn’t matter whether you love the lead or hate them in the beginning, the motivation has to be there in enough measure to make you either want to see the character get his/her ass handed to them; Or, you have to like them enough to see them triumph. There is a breadth of psychological reasoning behind why merely ‘liking’ a character isn’t sufficient motivation to care what happens to them.

Think of it this way … how many funerals have you not attended for people you liked, but didn’t love? We’ve all been there. A distant relative, a neighbor, a classmate, a sort-of-co-worker … you liked them, but not enough to feel comfortable going to their funeral.

On the other hand, and be honest here, how many people have you known (directly or indirectly) whose death (untimely or otherwise) brought a tad bit of … dude totally had it coming? Keep in mind, this includes famous serial killers who were put to death.

So really, you have to create one or more of the following emotional environments:

1). Interest enough in the plot to compel your reader to rubberneck the impending train wreck.

2). Love enough for one of your leads to compel your reader to weep at the figurative funeral.

3). Hate enough for one of your leads to create an urgent sense of heroism (justice needs to be done here) and compel your reader to emotional action.

Still think I’m full of it? OK, fair enough, how about some examples from books that have done well? And keep in mind too that these aren’t anti-heroes. Not by definition anyway.

* The Shining, Stephen King: “Here’s Johnny!”

* Just about anything Jane Austen has ever written: Can we say, Mr. Darcy?

* Just about anything Bentley Little has ever written: The Resort anyone? What about The Vanishing?

* Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment (Dostojevsky): If anyone did like him right off the bat, please enlighten me as to why.

* Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray: Come on … you can’t argue with this one. You KNEW he had it coming.

* Becky Sharpe from Vanity Fair by, William Makepeace Thackeray. She grows on you eventually.

* Just about everyone from Lolita by, Vladimir Nabokov.

* Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights by, Emily Bronte: And Catherine for that matter. But who’s counting?

* (I’d be remiss not to include this) Garren from Son of Ereubus by, J.S. Chancellor (ahem … that’s me).

And what about movies with unlikable protagonists?

* The whole cast of Blair Witch Project: No, really, go watch it again.

* Just about anyone in the whole of Stanley Kubrick’s portfolio: Brilliant characters, but … likable? I suppose it depends on your definition.

* Napoleon from Napoleon Dynamite: He rocked … he was a train wreck … but again, likable? Not really.

* Martin, from Martin: That’s kind of a trump card, I know …

I’m slowly realizing that this movie list could go on forever. There are too many horror movies to name them all, and a whole host of science fiction flicks. Frankly, I love Star Wars, but Han, Luke and Leia were all kind of a pain in the ass to start off with. Just go back and watch the scene where they’re about to get squished in the trash compactor and listen to all the whining and screaming. They become likable, but for me … definitely not right off the bat.

Bottom line, is that regardless of whether or not he/she is likable, so long as your protagonist is compelling your reader to either attend the ‘funeral’ or cheer at the ‘execution’ … then you’re good!

Shit My Muse Says Pt.2

Neal McDonough (Tin Man)

“I decided that it was not wisdom that enabled poets to write their poetry, but a kind of instinct or inspiration, such as you find in seers and prophets who deliver all their sublime messages without knowing in the least what they mean.” ~Socrates

Why is there a picture of Neal McDonough in this post? Well … that’s easy … because my muse LOVES Neal McDonough.

I have no idea why she picks certain actors, but Neal, Christian Bale and Liam Neeson are repeat offenders. They seem to always be showing up for casting calls in my head (you know, auditions for my characters. Doesn’t everyone have those??) and they always manage to get a part. Or two.

Without further ado, more shit my muse says:

“That left foot … yeah, curl that beneath you till it falls asleep. That right one … move … yes, this is totally necessary. Now, pay attention or you’re going to miss something.”

“Oh please. You were going to have that second glass of wine anyway.”

“Young lady, use one more pronoun, just one, in this paragraph and I’ll turn this whole novel right around!”

“I don’t care if everyone else’s muses let their writers write about Zombies. Don’t you give me that look!”

“YOU wanted this novel. YOU promised me you that understood that it’d be your responsibility to feed, water and take on walks. And now you want me to pick up after it? I knew this was going to happen. Next time I’m getting you a gerbil instead. It’ll cost less.”

“You’re spelling that wrong. No, really, look it up.”

“Told you so …”

“I’m sorry, I just can’t let you see him again. He’s a bad influence on you and I don’t like how you act when you’re around him. I don’t care if he loves you, or that you love him. You’ll grow up and this will pass, I promise. Vampire Smut will find someone else to fall in love with and he’ll move on without you. Just wait … you’ll see.”

“Yes, but this COULD be a horror novel. You’re just not giving it enough credit.”

“She could die in this scene. A really gruesome, frightening, Stephen-King-creepy kind of death. Are you sure?”

**kicks dirt**

“Fine damn it. The main character will make it till the end of the novel in one piece. But her head would look SO cool if it exploded. OK, OK, I’m shutting up.”

“Kaboom … OK, no really, I’m done.”

“Ka … just kidding.”

“Eeeew, spit that plot out RIGHT NOW! Don’t put stuff like that in your mouth, you don’t know where it’s been.”

“Haven’t I told you before? Don’t take candy from agents. There isn’t really a puppy in the van either, they just want you to feel up their blog.”

“You’re not done editing yet. I know it hurts, but this hurts me way worse than it hurts you.”

“I brought you into this industry young lady, and I can take you out of it!”

“You don’t want to listen to me? Well, we’ll just see about that when your editor gets home.”

“It’s all fun and games until someone dangles a participle.”

And here’s a word for the wise: Don’t let your muse write a check, that your ass can’t cash …

Guest Post: Jolina Petersheim

Today we’re joined by a delightful writer I met over on Twitter, whose blog I fell in love with (and I’m sure you will too). Her name is Jolina Petersheim, and I hope you guys will make her feel welcome here!!

“Hope is the thing with feathers – / That perches in the soul – / And sings the tune without the words – / And never stops – at all -“
~Emily Dickinson

This week I attended an author luncheon in Nashville. Over the course of my hummus wrap, I quietly listened to the realities of the writing life: backs aching from hunching over a keyboard or toting suitcases and laptops hither and yon; flying into beautiful cities that are never seen beyond a smattering of bookstores; the royalty checks that never come when they’re promised–or, even worse, those that do but aren’t worth the paper on which they are printed; the terrible book reviews; the end of the hardback book; the end of the tangible book, period….

Although the authors interjected a few jokes while discussing the publishing Apocalypse, the weight of their words resonated long after the bills had been paid and everyone had said their goodbyes. After I’d said mine, I drove toward Vanderbilt and parked near the coffee shop where my best friend and I were to meet after her class. Gathering 20 pages of my manuscript and a green Sharpie, I crossed the road and found a bench on the sunny side of the park.

But for a while I couldn’t even edit.

In that moment, with the authors’ words still echoing in my mind, editing that manuscript felt like building a kite when I know there will be no wind to take it up. I could edit and edit until I was blue in the face and my fingers stained green, and if there were no agents to represent my work and no publishing houses to receive it, what was the point?

But when you have time to kill, you do not want to spend it marinating in dramatics; so, I stayed in the park for two hours, doggedly editing. I only stopped when a straggly-haired homeless man came and sat on the bench next to me, took a long draw on his cigarette nub and rasped, “Sorry, you looked comfortable.” Trying to gauge how fast I could run in my boots and prairie skirt should he sidle closer, I decided it’d be best if I left the darkening park, for I was suddenly colder than I knew.

I crossed the street again and walked up to a local bookstore my best friend and I used to frequent that summer Vanderbilt Hospital became our second home. Strolling up and down those aisles, I felt like I should be holding my breath, clasping my hands at my sides like a child told not to touch–treating the interior of that place with the reverence of a shrine. Dust motes sparkled in the fading afternoon light streaming through the front window; the musty scent of books wrapped around the tiny space with a comfort of a grandmother’s quilt. The numerous shelves seemed to bow beneath the intellectual weight of their authors: Dickens, Hawthorne, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Lewis, Hemingway, Austen, Chekhov, Steinbeck; newer writers like Ann Panchette, Lee Smith, Joanne Harris, Natalie Babbitt, Edward P. Jones, Frances Mays.

Sometimes I would take a title down and flip through the deckled pages; test the heft of it as a doctor who is convinced their patient is shrinking before their eyes. I stared at the book cover art. At the jewel-like tones of the older books embossed with gold; at the newer titles, all jagged fonts and glowing fluorescence. How can all this change? I wondered. How can we toss all this history, this tangibility, in exchange for a tiny, strolling screen?

Once I’d been up and down every aisle, I rolled my manuscript up like a newspaper, took a deep breath and moved toward the door. But then I paused, looked over at the silver-haired woman reading a book behind the cash register. Both the woman and the cash register looked like they’d seen better days.

“What’re we going to do about the eBook?” I asked.

She didn’t say anything at first, just set her hardback book down, took off her glasses and looked up at me with clear blue eyes that reflected the weariness of her soul.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Take it as it comes, I guess.”

“Has it been very hard on you?”

“The dawn of the eBook, you mean?”

I nodded.

“Well, it’s certainly not helping matters, but we were hit long before that. In this economy, people just aren’t buying books.”

I unfurled the papers in my hand, showed the green stains marring the script. “Before I came to your store, I was in the park revising my novel. But…well, it seems kinda foolish when books are coming to an end.” I shrugged. “At least books as we know them.”

“Hey, maybe these changes won’t all be bad….You remember LPs?” The woman smiled, shook her head. “Never mind, you look too young for LPs. Well, I remember my husband saying that LPs were going out. That these little disks about the size of our hands were going to replace them. I couldn’t believe it, but then — within a couple of weeks — LPs were completely gone, replaced by CDs. Now, CDs are gone, too…replaced by iPods.” The woman sighed, ran short-nailed fingers over the glossy cover of her book. “Change is the way of the world. Always has been, always will be….We just have to learn to change with it.”

A dark-haired woman stepped out of an aisle and looked between the two of us. The curious expression on her face made me think she’d been listening. “Do you all know any good classics?” she asked, pointing to the rows and rows of jewel-toned, gold embossed books. “There’re just so many, and I want–I want one to put on my bookshelf. It’ll look so nice. Especially one like these.”

The silver-haired woman and I shared a secret smile. She then stood, adjusted her dangly, stone earrings and walked over to the classics. I suggested a few titles as well and touched the silver-haired woman on the back.

“It was nice talking with you,” I said.

“You, too,” she replied, looking over her shoulder. “Good luck getting your novel published.”

“Thanks, I think I’m gonna need it.”

I walked out of the door with the bell chiming and crossed the street. I went into a store known for its stationary and unique invitations. How long until they go out of business, too? I thought, staring at the shelves of graduation, birth and engagement announcements; old-fashioned red wax seals and onionskin paper tied with burlap string. Who even sends cards anymore?

Then something in the display window caught my eye. A desk. A towering, scarred wooden desk I couldn’t have sat behind unless boosted by a library of dictionaries. On top of it was a typewriter. An old typewriter. The kind that cherrily ding! whenever you reach the end of a row. The kind used in movies so the aspiring authoress can wrap her arms around it and sob into the button-like keys.

Behind it was a toppled pile of books as ancient as the typewriter. If opened, it seemed the covers would waft the tobacco smoke and brandy used by The Inklings; shimmering silverfish would fall out from between the pages like odd, pressed petals. I must’ve stared at that desk and typewriter for a moment too long, for one of the employees came over and asked, “Can I help you?”

I turned around. “No, no…I’m fine. Love your display here.”

She waved her manicured hand. “Oh, we’re getting ready to change it out.”

“I think it’s beautiful, just beautiful,” I breathed. I wasn’t about to burst into tears, but I did feel like wrapping my arms around that worn typewriter, kissing each of those faded keys like a mother kissing her newborn’s perfect fingers and toes.

I’d probably get thrown out if I did either, and this gum-popping girl didn’t seem like she was trembling at the dawning of the eBook age, so I just smiled and left.

Walking toward the coffee shop where my best friend and I were to meet, I passed the dark-haired woman from the bookstore with her little boy in tow. On her arm was a white sack. I could see the square contents inside it. The books, the classics. I looked over at her and grinned as if she’d just handed me a pot of gold. She smiled and nodded in a I-know-you way.

In that simple exchange, hope fluttered back to perch in my resigned soul, and I almost started skipping and swinging on a lamppost à la Singing in the Rain. But I didn’t. I just kept walking toward that coffee shop, clutched my rolled manuscript a little tighter, and wondered if I could revise a few pages before my best friend’s arrival.

For, regardless if my work will be placed in a jewel-toned hardback embossed in gold or a tiny, scrolling screen, the weight of the medium doesn’t matter as much as the weight of the words. And I must keep editing and editing until I am blue in the face and my fingers stained green, so those words — that story — can bring a smile to someone’s face, put a spring in their step, and a joy in their heart that regardless of the changes of the world, hope in the midst of uncertainty will always, always remain the same.

**Jolina Petersheim’s blog, The Happy Book Blog, at a year old has been featured twice on Southern author River Jordan’s Clearstory Radio. Currently it is featured under author Jessica McCann’s “Stuff for Writers,” award-winning freelance writer Melissa Crytzer-Fry’s Blogroll and numerous other creative writing sites.

A graduate from University of the Cumberlands with degrees in English and Communication Arts, Jolina’s short story, “Security in the Shadows,” and article, “The Support System,” were the university’s 2006 and 2008 Creative Writing Award recipients. Her current publishing credits include Muscadine Lines, Tales of Kindness, Cicada Magazine, Maypop, Waiting Room Magazine, Washington Poets Association, Pensworth, Branchwood Journal, The Patriot, and The Robertson County Times. She lives in the mountains of Tennessee with her Mohican-man husband, their 40 acres of untamed territory, and one unruly but lovable Southern novel-in-progress set on a tobacco plantation in northwest Tennessee that is in the final editing stage.

Bizarre Behavior (and other revolutionary concepts)

 

**If you don’t care for profanity, or get offended easily, or if you already have your panties in a knot, I’d suggest you skip this post and go find something else to read … maybe something about puppies … or the Junior Women’s League.**

“No matter how calmly you try to referee, parenting will eventually produce bizarre behavior, and I’m not talking about the kids.”  ~Bill Cosby, Fatherhood, 1986

And I’m not talking about literal parenthood.

This quote perfectly explains how I feel about being a career author. If you’re going to get anything out of this post, then you might as well get over the fact that I use children as an analogy for my writing. Or else you’ll find the next few minutes an utter waste of your time.

You see, I just finished getting my second child ready for graduation. We’ve been through birth, the terrible twos, the worse threes, and all of the educational, meet-with-the-teacher kind of stuff, and here we are, a few months away from taking the final exam (the final exam being the moment where the novel gets sent out into the world). It’s all over. The fat lady has sung. I’ve had my last chance to wipe lint from his shirt or smooth down his unruly hair. And funny enough, I don’t feel like I did with the first one.

Like with children …. you mellow out a little with time. I’ve noticed this more as I speak to fellow authors whose first novels are releasing this year. They’re hyper-sensitive. I was hyper-sensitive … though I didn’t know it at the time. Now, I’m kind of … well … over it. I’m excited, enthralled, and all of those other buzz words. But, I’m OK with everything. I feel a tad less neurotic this time around. It’s nice. It’s a pervasive feeling of, “I’ve been down this road before.”

By the time June 30th rolls around, I will have turned in my third and fourth novel. Come March 2012, numbers five and six will have passed on as well. What then? Will empty nest ensue? Who knows. That’s new territory. I’m looking forward to finishing that horror/dark fantasy novel that has been DYING to be written (Of Blood and Bone). If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to write it a little bit at a time between revising and polishing and proofing everything else.

But, the point in sharing all of this with you, is that if you’re destined … correction … if you work hard enough to make a life out of this calling, then most likely you’ll be where I am as well, and I wanted to tell you that it’s a nice place to be. There is peace to be had. And I think a lot of this comes from steering clear of reviews and media-hype. What am I talking about? I’m talking about getting caught up in blog-talk about the industry, reading reviews of other books (which we’ll invariably relate to our own work), Facebook, Twitter and all of those other, totally-useful-yet-insidious time traps.

I swear a little bit of my soul gets sheared away with every hour I waste ‘marketing’ and ‘networking’ on those various sites. I don’t give a great goddamn what the authorities on this stuff have to say about how valuable all of that can be. It depends on you personally. It’s the same idea as this drivel you read in parenting magazines … not every concept will work in every situation, or with every child. There are thousands of theories on parenting … this isn’t without good cause. The idea of pimping yourself and your work in order to make a career out of your writing, may work for some folks, but I’ve got to be careful how much involvement I have in that aspect of things. Because the separation between my writing life and my personal life is non-existent (see Holistic Writing), I can’t shut off my emotions like a lot of authors can. Believe me, I wish I could. I’d be a better marketer.

What I mean by all of this, is that ever since I made a firm decision to step back … I’ve written more and been more productive than I have been in YEARS. It doesn’t have anything to do with stars on a calendar (though, I’m still doing that because it’s a cool idea). In other words, I stopped giving a flying frack about how other people see my work. Or me, for that matter. I didn’t realize how much I’d started to care. But, after taking a lengthy emotional inventory, my give-a-shit meter was set on ‘high’ and it shouldn’t have been plugged in at all. You catch my drift here?

Two dear friends, Vin and Michelle, came to visit us in January. Vin knows how to do handwriting analysis (among many other really cool things … and you should SEE how gifted his wife is. AMAZING peeps). Anyway, he analyzed my handwriting … and months later, two things that he said still ring loud and clear in my head.

“Wow … you really don’t give a fuck what people think. I mean … I knew you didn’t, but … you really don’t.”

“You aren’t living up to your potential, {insert lengthy dramatic pause for effect}, and heaven help us all if you ever decide to start.”

No, I’m not paraphrasing. I actually wrote that down in the journal I had in my hands right after he said it (yes, all the way down to ‘insert lengthy …’ cause that’s totally how I roll).

I thought long and hard about that. Especially the latter part. And I had to ask myself what was going on that was preventing me from deciding to go down that road, and came to the startling conclusion, that nothing was keeping me from doing what I want to do with my life. I was putting roadblocks up by doing everything in my power to make myself give a damn about acceptance and peer approval. I guess, somewhere down inside, I thought I was supposed to … give a damn that is … that maybe I was a bit inhuman for not caring.

Then it dawned on me, that such a crotchety attitude, is what allows me to write the way that I do in the first place. If I take that away, then I take away everything that makes my life worth living. And frankly, whatever I deem to be a life worth living, is all that should matter to me.

No more crap. No more ploys or gimmicks or wasting time with useless ‘strategies.’ I’m focusing on my craft alone, and sharing what I learn with others here, and that’ll just have to be enough. It’s the only way I’ll keep living that life worth living.

What does this mean, literally?

For starters, I’m not doing another blog tour. Sorry. I can’t slow production down to a crawl, which is exactly what happens whenever I do stuff like that. It isn’t worth the five extra copies that it will sell of whatever book we’re pimping. I’ll still do guest posts and all of my stuff at Best Damn and Suspense (especially Suspense, which has given me some newfound sense of purpose and responsibility). But as far as drawings, or contests, or whatever … sorry … not happening. You’ll have to win an iPad2 somewhere else, from some other really-way-too-excited author.

I’m also done soliciting reviews. If you want to review my stuff, the right people will find you. Or you’ll find them, I’m sure. Or you’ll flat out ask me. Why would I go this route? Because what really, really, really sells a book anyway? Great writing. I can’t give you great writing unless I’m .. gasp … writing. Yeah, I know … all writers must market: **cough cough** I get it. I was there for the memo. Truth is, I can’t remember the last book I bought from a blog comment, a review, or a stupid contest. I buy books because people recommend them to me, or I like what I read of the excerpt. That’s it. Occasionally, I’ll look into a book because the cover is too awesome to bypass, or the title. But past that, it’s sheer dumb luck if I come across a book and buy it without being prompted to. There are all sorts of reasons to argue this, and there is plenty of ‘proof’ that certain strategies sell books. Look at James Patterson. He’s a brand.

I don’t want to be a fucking brand. Allow me to rephrase. I’m NOT a fucking brand.

And besides, the majority of the ‘evidence’ for low-level marketing hype reminds me of television ratings. Have you ever had one of those boxes in your home? I sure as hell haven’t. Who ARE these people who are buying books out of the great blue nowhere? Who are these illustrious individuals who buy into these gimmicky strategies? Talk about bizarre behavior. It’s like the father I heard behind me with his son a few days ago at target. I’m SURE he sounded like a rational, sane, human being before he had children. But by the time he was there in line behind me … he’d lost at least 50 IQ points. How do I know this? Because he said to his seven year old, “You betcha, sodas are yucky ucky!”

Ahem … yucky ucky? Wow. You’re wearing a suit and tie … and not a cheap suit either. Somehow I don’t get the impression that you use that phrase in your day job. What the hell comes over a parent?  And before you say anything, my parents never baby-talked me. Because of that sound parenting decision, I had a better vocabulary at seven than most fourteen year olds.

What comes over writers? When did writers first get roped into the whole media, one-liner, catch phrase bit and start sounding like total douche bags? We’re not used car salesmen folks! We’re already at the very, rock bottom of the food chain here. No, really, we’re the ONLY part of the equation that can’t be removed, yet our percentages are the lowest. We make less off our own books than anyone else involved in pushing them in the marketplace, INCLUDING the twenty-two year old chick who rings you up at the register at Barnes and Noble. Yup, she makes more than most published authors. **smacks gum to paint a mental image of Obnoxious Register Girl**

I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in …

Take away agents, and publishers would be forced to deal with authors directly. Take away publishers and agents, and authors would become their own publishers and would still continue to write and distribute their stuff. Take away authors … do you see where I’m going with this? Yet the average percentage an author gets for a novel is what? The average advance (assuming you are lucky enough to get one in the first place) is what? And yet … there are some well-known publishing houses who require authors to put a percentage of that advance back towards marketing? Even those who don’t require it, expect it. Most expect it. All of them expect you to market your stuff like hell online, in-person, and on the radio.

I’m not saying that I’m not going to help market my stuff. On the contrary, I’ve decided that I’m going to do what I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the ONLY thing that will help my career and assure longevity in the marketplace (brace yourself for this revolutionary concept): I’m going to be a writer.

A real honest-to-goodness one, who writes more than markets, and who only engages in the kind of bizarre behavior that comes naturally to a Holistic Writer.

Consequences be damned …

Holistic Writing Pt.1

“General Systems Theory, a related modern concept [to holism], says that each variable in any system interacts with the other variables so thoroughly that cause and effect cannot be separated. A simple variable can be both cause and effect. Reality will not be still. And it cannot be taken apart! You cannot understand a cell, a rat, a brain structure, a family, a culture if you isolate it from its context. Relationship is everything.”

– Marilyn Ferguson
The Aquarian Conspiracy

I’ve finally found a way to explain how I view writing: In an interview for Suspense Magazine, Shannon Raab asked me about my writing style. For whatever reason, it struck me then, that in addition to being what I consider an elemental writer, I’m holistic in my approach to fiction. Well, and writing in general. Take, for instance, the titles of my blog posts and the addition of a quote (normally) at the beginning of each one. The titles are usually taken from the end somewhere … this post being an exception since I’m talking about a general concept. This is a good example of looking at something as a whole, instead of piece by piece.

And with that simple admission, I realized more about myself as a story-teller, as a Fantasist, than I have through the reading of countless books on the mechanics of writing, the creative self or on the craft of fiction.

What is a Holistic Writer? Well, considering that after googling it, I came up with nothing (save some bits on quantifying English-as-a-second-language students), I suppose the burden rests with me to define it. So here’s the world according to Garp … er … Chancellor …

Five Key Aspects of a Holistic Writer

1. A Holistic Writer views a story from the outside in; not chapter by chapter, or line by line, but first as a whole. Like Holistic medicine, everything is integral. Everything works together. Visualizing your fiction in a completed state, even before you begin, is no different than visualizing the brain/body connection.

2. A whole is the sum of its parts. Sentence structure, cadence, plotting, characterization, even if all of these things are mastered on their own, they are nothing unless you know how to use them all at once. Each is a cog in a machine, and without perfect timing, you’ve just got a bunch of really pretty, yet utterly useless, gears. As the saying goes, ‘You can teach me how to write, but you can’t teach me what to say.’

3. A Holistic Writer, when he/she does look at the individual parts, he/she looks at them in relation to how they work within the system. For example: If something feels off in your characterization, it helps to look at how the other variables are affecting your ability to properly work with those characters. Is your plotting rushing your characters’ needs to develop naturally? If your cadence is off, could your sentence structure be the cause of the discordant rhythms in your prose? If you continuously run into plot holes, instead of immediately reworking your entire plot, check your dialog and see if the problem isn’t how your characters see the plot, and therefore how they’ve conveyed it to the reader … the problem could be perception.

4. There is more to being a Holistic Writer than just how you write, or how you view your writing. It also encompasses how you relate to your work on a personal level. Your personal life and emotional well-being will affect how productive your are, how in-tune you are with your fiction, and how easily you will address issues when they come up. Your eating habits, what you feed your body and brain, will also correlate to your level of ability. Yeah, sometimes a writing binge will follow on the tails of a night of heavy-drinking, or staying up for several nights in a row … but remember, we’re looking at this as a large picture. Even Hemingway reportedly wrote while sober.

5. Speaking of notoriously disturbed, brilliant authors … does it seem like the most skilled authors were/are connected to their writing in ways that the hobbyist isn’t? This is what I’m talking about. A Holistic Writer, is never not a writer. At the grocery store, he/she takes note of the tantrum of the five year old in front of them because it relates to a hissy fit thrown by Jane Doe in WIP#45. The Holistic Writer doesn’t take off, or compartmentalize their life, in the same way that a gymnast is always a gymnast because what they eat, how they sleep, what they do in their off time, and how they organize their schedule, all affect performance. And don’t be mistaken … as an author, Holistic or not, you are performing. We have an audience, a stage, and a whole cast of characters. The only difference is that as an author, you’re the stage manager, the actor, the playwright, the costume designer … you get the drift.

I’m not done writing about this … it’s a concept I’ve only begun to explore, and it fascinates me. But, it’s late and I’ve had the most productive writing day I’ve had in YEARS. So, needless to say, I’m wiped out. But, those are the top five components of being a Holistic Writer. Here they are again, summed up this time. A Holistic Writer …

1. Sees their work from the outside in.

2. Understands their work as the sum of its parts.

3. Sees those parts only in relation to each other and the whole.

4. Sees their fiction in relation to their person.

5. Cannot separate their writing life and their everyday life, because they are one and the same.

Any Way But Lightly

“Success isn’t a result of spontaneous combustion.  You must set yourself on fire.”  ~Arnold H. Glasow

No matter how you measure it, writing has to be done on a regular basis. Like any other art, it has to be practiced. Yeah, you already know this. It wasn’t news to me either, but for one reason or another, my motivation has been lagging ever since I signed my first book deal.

So, a decision was made today and I figured hell, why not share it with you guys?

The picture to your right is my bulletin board. I added the calendar on the bottom. If you look at it closely, you’ll see stars. I’ve decided that each day I write, I’ll mark the day with a color-coded star (beginning today). At the end of the month, they will all get tallied up and however much money I’ve earned will go into my little “writer” savings account. What do the stars mean?

Gold = 3,500 words or more   $5.00
Silver = 3,000 words                 $2.50
Purple = 2,000 words                $1.00
Green = 1,000 words                 $0
Red = <1,000 words                  $0

Dumb … yeah, sure. I should be self-motivated. I write full time, why is there this ridiculous need for an accountability chart? No clue. Maybe it’s the lack of a schedule. Maybe all those hours writing through lunch breaks and after work conditioned my creative brain like Pavlov’s dogs to a bell. Who knows. But, I’m not going to sit around and wait for inspiration. Oh, and editing won’t count toward stars … only new material. Revision might in the case of added scenes, but only in those instances. So, we’ll see how it goes.

Now, you didn’t think I’d just end this post here did you? No, this got me pondering about other writers and their habits—how they manage their time. I’ve often heard the, ‘thousand words a day’ thing tossed around. Here are some famous authors and their particulars:

Stephen King: In his book On Writing, he said that he writes 10 pages a day, even on holidays. If you average 350 words per page, that’s about 3500 a day.

Ernest Hemingway: He wrote 500 words a day, no more, no less. It’s also been said that he only wrote in the morning and never wrote drunk. One fact might beget the other.

Here is a GREAT post on writers and their rooms of choice, weapons of choice, and times of choice. Really, really, it’s a post worth reading so do yourself the favor and read it.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a  quote from King himself on the act of writing: “You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.”

By the Power of Greyskull!

“My heart, the garbage disposal of my soul, should it ever demand any less of me, I’d cease to exist. Still, there are times when the damn thing just stinks of decaying waste. Let us hope this is not one of those times …” ~Breanne Braddy

Does it freak you out that I just quoted myself? I hate it when people do that … but this one time I’ve made an exception. I mean … I am technically writing under my pen name here.

So why now? Because today, my friends and fellow authors/readers/bloggers … I turn 30. Bear with me, I promise this will relate to writing.

That quote was something I said in a status update on my wall, nearly a full year ago. It was attached to a post entitled, “No Small Measure,” originally written here April 11, 2010. The post was about depression and madness, and all of those things that seem to dog our heels as creative souls. That isn’t meant to sound melodramatic or self-absorbed, rather, bluntly realistic. Our world isn’t like everyone else’s. It will never be. And I think, personally, it’s taken me 30 years to get used to that idea.

We’re often asked where our ideas come from. Books have been written on how to conjure the muse (mine is a bitch, but generally complies with promises of chocolate or vodka). But … where do our ideas come from?

Really?

What leads us to chose a certain character’s name in particular, out of the multitude of reasonable options? What causes us to take note of the brownish grime on our mother’s friend’s stove, or the yellow hue of the doily on the nearby coffee table? Why do we notice the patterns and lyricism in the actions of our family and friends? Are we born this way?

We’re old souls who have lived, if but for a moment, some part of each tale we pen. This is no less a feat than those composures who begun their toiling work at the tender age of 5—still a youth—or those who recount great battles and lives from times they’re far too young to have been educated on. Somehow … we know these things like a mother knows the sound of her child’s cry, like a sailor knows the temperament of the sea. They are, and we cannot ever recall a time when they were not.

Think back on your childhood … despite any traumas or upsets … was there ever a time when you weren’t creating something?

You could perhaps say simply that we just never stopped playing make-believe. But, it wasn’t quite that … simple, was it? We saw, experienced, something altogether different from our peers. We told stories even then, with every available method, at every opportune time.

And some really inopportune times (say, retelling dad’s dirty joke in the middle of children’s church at First Methodist).

But, we’re not normal. And … I’m OK with that. Really. If I weren’t neurotic, and believe me I am, then I wouldn’t be able to write the way that I do. And despite how anyone else sees my work, I’m happy with that too. Maybe that’s what growing up is all about—coming to terms with one’s self and making peace with the demons. Who knows.

SO, why is there a picture of She-Ra in this post? Because I lived, ate, breathed and slept Masters of the Universe when I was a kid. And turning old has me thinking back on all things retro. That artistic rendition is as grown-up a version of my childhood favorite as I could find (that wasn’t ridiculous). My deepest apologies if you’re not familiar with who She-Ra is.

But, the question of the day is this: What word/name in Guardians of Legend pays tribute to Masters of the Universe? Winner gets a free signed paperback of Son of Ereubus. No, I’m not kidding. I’m feeling generous. Leave your answer in the comments. And this isn’t a marketing ploy, I’m morbidly curious to see if anyone caught it.