Alarm, Foredoom and a Ripped-open Bag of Metaphors

Alarm, Foredoom and a Ripped-open Bag of Metaphors:

Vanessa Cavendish

“There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described. I photograph to see what something will look like photographed.” — Garry Winogrand

In her post, “Wholistic Writing, Part 2,” Breanne posed a slew of questions to get us thinking about our own writing. I personally think each of those questions deserves a post unto itself. So if she’s game, I’d like to start with the first one and see how it goes.

Question #1: Does suspense play a part in how you reveal information to your readers, or do you lay it all out on the table in the beginning?

I’ll go first. Feel free to interrupt me if you can or talk over me otherwise.

You should know two thing about me before I get going: First, I got a mind like a pack of neighborhood dogs. Seems like anything I toss into this lidless bin of a brain will end up strewn across the yard like a ripped open bag of writing metaphors. Second, I got a poster rolled up and stashed in a closet somewhere of a portrait by the photographer Garry Winogrand. In the space below an indescribably plain-faced and therefore highly mysterious woman, is that quote I led off with. To my mind, writers and photographers are the same degree of dog. We tell our stories primarily through a combination of imagery, manipulation and disregard for your landscaping. For some of us, like Winogrand and (I wish I could say with less reservation) myself, life is so full of suspense already that we see little harm in showing the cards we deal. The black-and-white school of photography that Winogrand associated with apparently felt that even color film allowed too many opportunities for cheating. They had a profound, zen-like appreciation for the world as it was handed to them through the aperture of a camera. They held sway in the late sixties and seventies. Photoshop I don’t think was even a noun yet, never mind a verb.

There’s something classic about a just-the-facts-ma’am approach to any art form. An old-school journalist will tell you to lay down your who, what, where, when and how in the first sentence of a story, if you can do it, and to get the why nailed down before you call it a paragraph. Say the word “classic” and my mind makes a beeline for Greek tragedy. Oedipus Rex in particular. If you lived in Athens back in the day, or if you got your Sophocles from a college textbook like I did, you already knew the whole story before the actors took the stage. Oedipus killed his father, answered the Sphinx’s riddle, became king and married his own mother.

Got that? Okay. Now we can get to the good stuff.

See what I mean? The introduction to the play reads like a headline from the point-of-purchase rack at the grocery store.

What follows—and what mystifies me more than anything in human literature is that the play itself—is a freaking detective story! The murder mystery to end all murder mysteries—an entire genre killed off some two millennia before it was born. I don’t know of a single thing written before or since that’s more of a nail-biter. Not Psycho, not Jaws,  not nothing. Reason being? Sophocles hid not one thing from his audience. He only withheld information from his protagonist. What we know that Oedipus doesn’t keeps us on the edges of our seats.

My life’s ambition is to tell a story that good. Which means, I have to learn to write like a journalist. Which goes against my nature.

It’s hot where I live. I can’t wait for summer to get over and be Halloween again. I like to hide in the shadows around the corner of the house when kids come to ring my doorbell. Leave the lights on inside and the curtains drawn just a little, the TV playing, everything looking copacetic. Make the little bastards think it’s all cool as shit, like they themselves are the scariest thing ever to set foot on my porch.

I’ll show them.

Why do I, a grown-ass woman, take such delight in scaring the bejesus out of defenseless children? Is it because one or the other of their mothers has probably slept with every decent-looking man in town, and I haven’t yet?

(I don’t have to answer that.)

Is it because those same uptight prisses have the gall to smile and say they missed me in church last Sunday—every Sunday of the year, in fact?

(I will answer that one: Yes, maybe.)

Is it because those kids shriek and run off, but you and I both know they’ll come back for more and bring their friends, since a terrified fit of the gibbering giggles trumps a bite-size Butterfinger every damn time?

Absolutely. But the real reason is simpler than revenge, simpler even than rotten good fun.

It is my nature to be powerful.

How do I know this? Because I pay my “authentic movement” coach good money to tell me so. And to make me repeat it out loud and promise to repeat it again to the mirror when I get home. And every morning when I crawl out of bed, looking way too much like a fact clearly described.

Repeat after me, Vanessa: It is my nature to be powerful.

It is my nature to wear big, ropy gorgon hair and to spread a look of alarm and foredoom across my brow, to carry a big stick and to scream bloody murder and, like the pop-up monster in the Tunnel ‘o Terror, to fold myself back into the darkness once you pass by, and to wait in suspense for the next opportunity. To hide. To bide my time. To keep secrets. I make it my modus operandi to obscure the facts of life from small children, the better to make them shriek and run away and turn to the Lord for deliverance from the likes of me.

It is my nature to be powerful, because I am very, very afraid of what I’ve got coming. It is my nature to be mighty, because I am brief and everything I care about is temporary. It is my nature to say, “Would you look at that bloodshot moon?” and to distract you for as long as possible from the fact clearly inscribed on the headstone of one more friend this year than last.

It is my nature to pull my punches. Not because I don’t want to hurt you or because anybody is paying me to throw a fight, you silly ass, but to soften you up and to blind you to the sledge hammer sneaking up from behind us both. Don’t look now!

Okay, too late.

My nature and my ambition have gone to war with one another. I mean to write like a Garry Winogrand photograph. To tell a story because I want to see how the world looks through the lens of a deliberate fiction. When instead, because I’m not feeling my powerful nature, I attempt to cheat the mystery out of a situation by gaming the distribution of information, it is (in my case, I am quick to italicize) either unnecessary or an outright error in judgment, like wearing a disguise in the dark room, camoflage to a debutante ball, my best poker face to a tarot reading.

I would like to step with greater authenticity into the shadows at the corner of my front porch, not in order to hide, not for the sake of a special effect or a good scare, but because I know what’s coming. Because I am and you are and those adrenaline-and-sugar-stoked children are going to die one day. I want to describe that god-awful gorgeous fact clearly while I still can, through image and the gods’ honest manipulation of light and angle and timing, because I want to see what the everyday mystery and foreknowledge of inescapable doom looks like in a fiction plainly told.

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Holistic Writing Pt.2

“Write from the soul, not from some notion of what you think the marketplace wants. The market is fickle; the soul is eternal.”  ~Jeffrey A. Carver

Take any ordinary shirt and a pair of pants, picture them in your mind, and now picture them on you. Picture that same pair of pants on someone else you know. Then someone else. Quickly, the obvious truth becomes that they look absolutely different on each person. The craft of writing is the same way. We use similar words, most of us. All of us who use the same alphabet use the same letters. The same characters that make up the words of ‘Macbeth,’ make up ‘The War of the Worlds.’ The writer makes all the difference.

I don’t expect this to be a shock to anyone, rather I intend for that simple illustration to be a lead-in to the purpose of this post: What you do as a writer defines your fiction. Let me expound on that a little. As an example, there are certain things that I naturally tend to do as a storyteller. I never, ever, show all of my cards to the reader. Some authors do, and some readers love them for it. I don’t. I am fascinated by the idea of perception and the power of assumption and how those things play into the daily lives of my characters and their relationships with others. I’m equally transfixed by the utility of a reader’s assumptions about what will or won’t happen in a story. That seems to be the driving force, not  behind how I plot, but how I show that plot … how I reveal the events. I love the gentle unfolding of things, be they awful, terrible or beautiful. I write, in a sense, how I like the stories I read to be told. ‘The Village’ is one of my favorite movies for a reason.

Consider your favorite authors and your favorite stories told by them. What are their tendencies? What is the foundation upon which they craft worlds? It’s easier to detect someone else’s ways than our own. We aren’t able to see ourselves as accurately as we see others. Why is this important? Well, for starters, it helps ground you. When things like, reviews for instance, come around … if you know who you are as an author, and what your cornerstone is, then your internal structure is less likely to come crashing down around you.

Do you write with a lot of description, or do you prefer to leave a lot to the imagination (I’ve been told my work is woefully bereft of detail)? Do you excel at dialog, or is your best work done in conveying the subtler aspects of human interaction … the slight turn of hand, or bodily gesture? Do you like drama or do you show all your cards to the reader from the very beginning?

These things are important because when they come into question later, you’ll know in advance that regardless of how the critic felt about it, you did them on purpose. They are part of your signature, per say. I was talking with a friend earlier and it came to light that as authors, we’re trained emotionally in a similar way to how our bodies are physically trained to deal with homeostasis. Right now, are you aware that your left foot isn’t hurting? If I randomly picked a part of your body that was hurting, then pick another part of your body that wasn’t and bear with me. Why weren’t you aware of it? Because nothing was wrong. Your body is designed to only send signals for things you need to pay attention to … to problems that need to be addressed.

As authors, we see criticism much in the same way. Suggested “solutions” automatically equal problems in our manuscripts. We’re trained to only pay attention to the negative, because our sense of balance and literary homeostasis tells us to do so in order to fix what’s “wrong.” Even if nothing is wrong at all.

As authors, we never believe the good reviews. There is a dark side of us that believes those people must be lying. Even the mediocre reviews are suspect. Yet, when the negative reviews come around, we cling to every sentence as if … not only is this person unquestionably a literary authority, they are suddenly keenly educated on the ins and outs of not just stories in general, but our story and all of its intents and purposes. We grant these nameless voices titles and power that they, frankly, don’t have. We’re built this way. We’re wired to see things this way. Those few of us who thrive and flourish under scrutiny should consider yourselves blessed because you are the exception. You’re able to appreciate that your left foot isn’t throbbing right now.

Never mind that you wouldn’t spare this guy a second glance in line at Wal-Mart. Once they’ve penned something about your work of love, they’re deemed “knowledgeable.” Or worse, “educated.” Sometimes they will be just that. Educated. And in truth, it depends on your definition of the word. But in reality, I’ve known an awful lot of quasi-intelligent morons. You know exactly what I’m talking about. The kind of people who still say certificated like it’s a real word.

And that’s part of being a holistic writer—understanding and being familiar with how we are interdependent on our writing and the worlds we create. In a sense, we’re not just what we write, but how.

Now, on another note, assuming what I’ve said is true and holds water, this means that we’re keenly apt to feel threatened when our writerly constructs are under fire. When someone says that how we’re writing is wrong, or lacks skill or interest or any number of things, we fold first. Emotionally anyway.

“Remember: Writing can get you fed to a lion whose teeth draw your whole face into its foul wet breath and cut your skull with knives. There’s no soft way to put this. A black hole swallows you up. Willpower’s no help. Getting in print is like beating cancer but losing a lung, staying in print is hopeless. Your best work goes begging…..Today’s paragraph comes, a word from the heart of the universe, and shines in the darkness, unquenched. And you ask for power, wisdom, and love as you make the anvil sing.”   ~Donald Newlove

Bottom line: Writer, know thyself. It’s the only protection you have against the instant gratification of this fast food world … this five minute mass … this three minute throng of misguided souls who are only passing through your worlds, the ones you create. They don’t live there. You do.

Bonus Round:

Here are a few questions to ask yourself. And keep in mind that your writer identity may change over time … and that’s perfectly normal. But, you’ll go a long way on that path just by knowing who you are right now.

1. Does suspense play a part in how you reveal information to your readers, or do you lay it all out on the table in the beginning?

2. What POV do prefer to write in? First, third? Present, past? Why? Would you ever try a different POV or tense on for size?

3. What genre do you prefer and why? Would you feel comfortable trying on a different genre for size?

4. Do you give lots of detail, or do you leave it up to the reader?

5. Do you plot in advance, or wing it?

6. How do you feel about sequels?

7. What kinds of themes do you weave into your work? Religion, politics?

8. What kinds of things do you incorporate into your writing that are only for you? If you don’t put anything in your work for yourself, why not?

9. Are happy endings important for you? If they are, are you capable of writing a tragedy?

10. What are your pet peeves? Do you like chapter titles, etc?

11. Are there issues that you tackle repeatedly in your narratives (child abuse, etc)?

12. Are you a social author who likes to hear the public’s opinion, or are you private? Do you read reviews or avoid them?

13. Do you work within the familiar or do you stretch to be original (both are OK, so be as truthful with this one as you can. Some authors excel at the familiar)?


A Threat to the Regulators

A Threat to the Regulators: Vanessa Cavendish

“who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you; wholly to be a fool while Spring is in the world my blood approves, and kisses are a far better fate than wisdom lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry–the best gesture of my brain is less than your eyelids’ flutter.”  — e. e. cummings

I first read that in, I think it was seventh grade, before I’d been so much as felt up, never mind syntaxed. But that didn’t stop me from knowing a thing or two about courtship and poetry, both. The first of which is that folks come in two sizes of stupid: those who know the rules and follow them, and those who don’t. I hate to break it to you, but you and I are more alike than you might be thrilled to admit.

Meaning what, exactly?

Meaning that most of the time the best of us will fail to venture out of that first category—the category of the small, of the follower, of the tell-me-what-to-do-and-I’ll-be-a-good-self-starter-I-swear-I-will-if-you’ll-just-give-me-a-chance-and-read-my-query-I-slaved-over-it-it’s-gonna-sell-like-nobody’s-business-and-make-you-and-me-rich-rich-rich-just-please!

There’s a reason why so many of us speak in such tiny and irrelevant voices.

Nothing gets regulated unless it somehow, someway represents a threat to the regulator. That’s a fact of nature, not a rule I made up, and it applies to kissing and telling stories equally. This list of regulators includes, to name a few, People Magazine and Facebook and Goodreads and your English teacher and rapists and publishers and your parents and your agent and your best friend who just wants you to be happy. In other words, regulators are not inherently evil, they just want to be in control. So add me to the list and, while you’re at it, yourself, too.

Kissing, done well, is an act of grace and power and promise. It is a prelude to poetry. When lips rhyme with lips and fingers find their rhythm, form goes out the window and in walks danger.

With a posse of grammarians to insist you wear protection.

The dirty truth is that neither fertility nor contagion will ask permission to cross your bodily or literary premises. When we’re highly charged, we neglect to think about the social, political, moral and practical implications of our speech and behavior. We are liable to shed such useless accoutrements as panties and the prefrontal cortex. We go to a deeper, stupider place where the muses do the heavy thinking. We go there in order to wholly kiss one another. To sanctify our bruises. To get with our genetic legacies and provide for the continuation of the species.

I’ll try and not speak for your muse, but mine, you may rest assured, gives not a rusty fuck for dependent clauses or the agreement of verb tenses. She grunts like a slut and bucks to fill a need that’s got nothing to do with how I define my genre or whether an agent might get me a better deal on a sequel. Because why? Do I need to point out that the poor dork who’s got one eye on your word count and another on your Twitter following has traded true mastery of the situation for a poor attempt to control the outcome? I can’t begin to tell you how wrong-headed, how mean-spirited, how downright unloving that is. You need to dump him pronto. He is not. I repeat: Not. Trainable. Simply getting tested for viruses does not make him a good match for that fine whore of a goddess that’s got you on your back again.

The thing is, you can teach a good kisser how to get the job done in 140 characters if you need to. Or iambic pentameter or whatever the form requires. But you cannot. Never could. Never will be able to teach that part of you that cares more about how many hits your blog got last week than whether you spoke your mind or, god forbid, your heart.

Let me put this in plain English for you. The minute you float a question about your plot twist in your Facebook group or ask your writer friends to vote on whether your heroine should have green eyes or amber, you have entered the zone of the incorrigibly little. Want to take this to the mat with me? If your muse works at Surveymonkey, I am here to tell you, you are both in the wrong line of work. You are making out with a little boy who took a dare to prove himself to his buddies, not to you. He is only dimly aware that you exist, he is the worst kind of liar, and everyone around you knows that he’s lousy in bed to boot. So why do you keep him?

If I tell you why, you might hate me. I can live with that if I have to, but I can’t abide him correcting you all the time for your own good.

You keep him because you are afraid. (I almost said, “of your big girl voice,” but let’s not get cute.) You are afraid that your reputation will suffer if you once fuck like you mean it in a public place. If you take down your defenses and dismantle your readers’ armaments in the process, they might take offense at you.

And what? Look the other way? Talk about you? Not read you?

Listen to me. You were not put on this planet to write a best-seller. No one was. That’s the god’s honest truth, no matter how much you can think you know better. If you’ve bothered to read this far, you might be here to figure out how to observe and tell the truth in the form of a story that gets down and dirty with the reality of pain and the beauty of kissing. Or the beauty of dying. Or the terror of loving. And you might, in the process, agonize over the possibility that the protagonist you got naked with last night might not show up for a second date. And if he does, you might legitimately wonder whether he will pay for dinner this time and provide for the children you neglected to mention—those brats from your first marriage, if you can call it that—or at least keep you entertained enough to want to support his good-for-but-one-thing-and-one-thing-only ass—on a contingency basis.

Your writing life is a private party, I know, and I don’t mean to invite myself and my advice for no cause whatsoever, so let me tell you why I care.

Because when you get naked, you begin to think not for your puny self—which is another way of saying, for your career, for the marketplace, for the sake of your imaginary status as a literary figure or popular icon or whatever passes for cool in your circle; all that shit is truly none of my affair. No. You begin to think and behave the way a human being is born to think and act: for the species, for the tribe, for the long-term survival of the gene pool. You begin to tell stories with the mind and heart and spirit of a moral and social animal, a shamaness, a fertility goddess intent on keeping order in a universe whose rhyme scheme has a deeper, longer, holier scansion to it than we can imagine with our pants up and our skirts down.

Hemming the Bone Veil

Yannick Bouchard

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed in my years of blogging that once an author snags an agent, the focus of their blog usually changes. Once they sell a book, it changes even more. Once their book is close to its release date, they start to seem distant. They talk about publishing a lot. Their posts contain carefully planned honesty. Something seems like its missing, and more often than not, that missing piece is never shown after they are published. A sort of veil goes up. A wall, even, and thus we come to the division between the published and the unpublished.”  ~Michelle Davidson Argyle

I was going to blog today. No, I mean really blog. Not whine and then take the post down less than 24 hours later. But, then I read my dear friend Michelle’s post and realized that she’d eloquently laid out what I wanted to talk about today. We’ve been talking in-depth about this subject for days (months really), so I suspect that it is keenly present on both our hearts.

Here is that post. And I want … nay need … you to read it and even if you’re not where we are right now, at least if you’re destined to wind up there, you’ll understand what’s in your future. Then, come back and let’s talk about it a little. I think there might be more truth in that post than in anything else I’ve read in years on what it truly means to be a career author. And it’s worth a discussion.

Yes, I’m not kidding. Go read it. I’ll wait.

OK, do you understand now why I wanted you to read it? The analogy of the veil is anything but mere analogy, and I want to expound a little on it in a personal context. Or rather, how I see it beyond the beginning stages of its placement … the “why” of the veil, if you will.

We’ve taken an artery, a thing that feeds our hearts and minds, and we’ve made its homeostasis a public matter. We’ve taken our somewhat protected world  of alpha and beta readers (whom we trust) and blown it all to hell, by introducing a third party. The Public. And to me, it feels like the equivalent of introducing a third person into my marriage bed.

In other words, it might sound to some of you like a blast in the moment, but the long-term consequences are reprehensible when you consider how they affect that initial relationship. Nothing is the same. Nothing will be the same, and if you’re going to keep your ‘marriage’ solid, you need to know this going into things. You are, in effect, taking another lover.

The veil is your only protection. Imagine it, if you will, as a separation of your lifelong commitment and your illicit affair. No, you can never fully reconcile with your soul mate, but if you must exist in this way, then do your best to devote 100% to each when you are with them. It’s the only thing you can do. I liken it to an affair for a variety of reasons, but the most important of them is this: The unspoken rules of your affair will change dependent upon the participants, but your marriage vows never will. If you are a wholistic writer, as I suspect a great many of Asylum readers are, then you will always be true to that first relationship. You will always be tied to that fiery love of writing and that dogged determination when it was all about the story, that Michelle spoke of so beautifully in her post.

But, like me and like Michelle and so many others, once you’ve changed the dynamics of that relationship, it will change you. How it will change you, and your craft, is entirely dependent upon you and your intimate details. But, don’t ignore those subtle shifts in the flow of your creativity. They can, and have in some cases, proven fatal and I mean this literally.

Why do you think so many authors suffer from depression, anxiety and why so many creative individuals wind up taking their own lives? Because this one thing … this private endeavor, is not something many of us can afford to lose to public scrutiny. To many of us, this relationship is the very fabric of our beings. It is in a sense, our truest God. We would never seek to harm it or do something to dishonor it. Yet, the world and especially the media and the consumerism of that world, forces those of us who are not independently wealthy to do so if we are to write full time.

I’m not saying that getting published is wrong. Or that I regret it. Physically, financially and realistically, it isn’t. But, to my real soul as an author, it’s more than an abomination, it’s disillusionment at its core and regrettably, has shown me for what I really am. Human. It was bound to happen, but did it have to happen quite like this? With this symbiotic of a relationship? For me, and for a good many of you … yes. It’s meant to be this way.

We don’t live in the world of Dickens, or Tolstoy or any of the greats who had to purposely go buy a paper to hear how people responded to their work … to be reminded of just how crudely commercial the literary world has become. They didn’t know what a book trailer was, let alone a blog or book review websites or the soul-sucking darkness that is Goodreads. Their veil was firmly hemmed to their being. I’d even venture to say that it might have been a tad easier to read reviews in some cases because once you walked away, assuming the author didn’t keep the review, they could really walk away from it.

We can’t. It’s blogged, cached, eternal. That infiniteness of our criticisms does not escape our subconscious. It festers and works at moth-holing that veil. So, the bottom line is this: If you find yourself there … with a wad of fabric in your hands and no clue what to do with it … start sewing it to your foundation. Hem it firm and keep the remnants. You’ll need every last stitch because this fast-food, instant gratification society that we exist in, will require you (if you’re to stay sane) to mend and patch those weak places.

Good news is, we are all hemming the veil together and once you’ve reenforced a hole, it’ll never tear in that exact place again. That’s why I’ve called it the Bone Veil. It isn’t just fabric, since I firmly believe it’s a part of our being. And once torn, the fabric threads back together like a bone, ever stronger for the strain.

The Role of Author Identity

“Father was the eldest son and the heir apparent, and he set the standard for being a Rockefeller very high, so every achievement was taken for granted and perfection was the norm.”  ~David Rockefeller

How do you identify yourself as an author? On your blog, FB page, Twitter … do you specify whether you’re published or not? When you’re introducing yourself to other authors, do you quantify what you mean by “author” by prefacing your title with a ‘published’ or ‘unpublished’? Someone sent me a note on Twitter a short while ago and thanked me for the follow, then said that they were an unpublished author with one completed novel and hoped to “one day get a publishing deal.”

Not to downplay the achievement of publication, but does it really matter? I don’t mean utterly. Does it matter in the context of how you should be seen by others? Frankly … no. Why do I say that? Well, let’s think about this for a minute.

What did I do before I was published? I wrote. A lot.

What did I do after signing my first novel? I wrote. A lot.

What am I doing now that I’ve signed six novels? … you seeing a trend here yet?

In other words, it makes no difference. None at all. Maybe it would if I were bringing in millions of dollars a year. Maybe. But, actors don’t normally specify their calling with “working” or “out of work.” They do in movies, but not in real life. In real life, if they say anything at all about their status, it’s “I’m between roles.” Better yet, artists don’t quantify themselves at all. None that I know does. It would seem absurd for an artist to say “I’m an unknown artist.” Starving maybe … but not unknown. Why don’t you ever hear that? Because they’ve figured something out that a great deal of authors haven’t.

When was the last time you heard a mother say, “I’m a successful mother of two,” or “I’m a mother of two who hopes to one day be good at it.” Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?

It doesn’t matter who validates your stuff. You’re still an author. Your personal validation is all that matters at the end of the day. I’ve read a lot of posts on this subject lately and for the most part authors seem to get the general concept, but there are still a few who struggle with their identity as writers. Who am I and what am I worth?

You’re worth a lot.

I know. I know. We’ve all felt the opposite of that statement. Keenly felt it in some cases. But, was Lewis worth any less before he was published? Tolkien? Woolfe? The very thought seems trite doesn’t it? Then why give yourself so much crap? Or is it that you’re not sure where you fit in? You don’t know who you are yet, so you can’t quantify how much your worth is? Let me say it again … with a bit more emphasis this time.

You’re worth a lot.

At the end of the day, there is only one thing you have that can never be truly taken from you. Your name. The worth of your name is directly correlated to the worth of your word. Do you mean what you say? Are you dependable? In that context, if you claim your name as an author, and you state your existence as an author with the authority vested in such a bold act, then you’re cementing your future. Think of it as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you start every session with those high expectations, you will find out how closely related to input, your output really is. You’ll find out that your worth is a lot more than you’d suspected.

My name is _________ and I’m an author.

There is power in a name. There is even more power in claiming that name as your own. You aren’t unpublished, or pre-published, or even published. You’re an author who happens to fit into one of those categories. You’re also an author who prefers your toilet paper roll either over or under, but you don’t bother attaching that to your name as an author, so why attach anything else to it? Why cheapen its value by weighing it down with unnecessary baggage?

It’s especially important, in this changing industry, to learn to identify yourself outside of the institution and its limitations. Don’t hedge yourself in, in an attempt to hedge your bets. It doesn’t work that way. A business doesn’t become successful because it waits for others to deem it worthy of success. It becomes successful because it started out with an identity and a goal and didn’t stop every five minutes to check up on itself. A healthy, thriving business model is one that, while keeping a finger on its customers’ pulse, keeps its eyes and ears on its mission statement. Its goal.

So, what is your mission statement as an author? What’s your purpose? What do you want to see from yourself, regardless of critical success or failure? Only after you’ve determined the answers to these questions, concretely or abstractly, will you be able to see the path marked before you with any sort of clarity.

Who are you? What are you worth?

Why it Doesn’t Matter How Your Novel Opens

“He was one of those inexplicable gifts of nature, an artist who leaps over boundaries, changes our nervous systems, creates a new language, transmits new kinds of joy to our startled senses and spirits.”  ~Jack Kroll

The way your novel opens is totally meaningless in the larger scheme of things.

Holy smokes, did she really just say that?

Yeah. I did. Here’s the painful reality: If your book is great, nobody will give a rat’s bald ass how your book opened because … well, as previously stated … the book is great. If it isn’t great, then nobody will give a rat’s bald ass how your book opened because … well, as previously stated … it isn’t great.

In other words, NOBODY CARES EITHER WAY!

“Don’t open with a prologue.”
“Don’t open with your protagonist in thought.”
“Don’t open with your main character waking up.”
“Don’t open with the weather.”
“Don’t open with dialogue.”
“Don’t open a novel with immediate action.”
“Don’t open with tons of description and backstory.”

Why don’t you just go ahead and say, “Don’t start your book with sentences … because um … only the good ones work and you may not be able to write any of the good ones.”

I’m SO over the number of authors who blog about this drivel. Seriously, stop with the rules and the strict as iron guidelines. Have you learned nothing from the success of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing?’ It worked, not only because it was Stephen King, but because he didn’t talk down to his audience. He assumed a certain amount of competence.

“But what if the beginning makes or breaks the novel?”

What? Are you hearing yourself? If the opening reeks that critically of the bowels of hellish prose, then nothing can save you. NOTHING. Do you have any idea how many books are on my shelves? Do you know how many of them were good, but not great enough for me to give a damn how they opened? The ones that were great, that stood out, were great because the author chose the opening that best fit the book. And that’s the difference.

There is no universal right and wrong in how to open a novel.

There is, however, a right and wrong way to open YOUR novel. Instead of freaking out over what not to do, why don’t you worry about what you should be doing instead. What does the story tell you? What do the characters tell you? Open your creative mind a little—just a tad—and eavesdrop on what your muse is doing. Deep down, below the industry blogs and posts you’ve got pinned on your FB wall, below all of that … you know how to proceed. You’re not giving yourself nearly enough credit for being the strong, confident author, that I know you are!

Allow me to assume a higher level of competency for you, than you have for yourself. listen to me. YOU. You are capable of writing the best opening for YOUR story. And do you know what’s more? No one else is.

No one else is.

That’s right ladies and gentlemen. Your story’s fate is in your hands and yours alone. You can’t put this off on other people. You can’t blame its success or failure on the weather or rules or Donald Maass. I know … frightening isn’t it? Along with competency comes responsibility.

And it’s your responsibility to focus on only what is true and necessary to the work. Nothing else matters.

Passport Please

“There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.” ~Buddha

Ever have one of those days where you feel like any average exposition class, in any average college classroom in the world could take your novel and use it as an example of how NOT to write fiction?

Yeah … me too.

You read other people’s work and you marvel at their adept prose, their adroit pacing, and their irreproachable characterization. Their adjectives are just the right adjectives. The amount of description they’ve coupled with just the right bit of telling, has you salivating. It has you wondering how you could possibly have ever picked up a pencil (because surely that’s where this misguided calling to be an author started, right?). It has you doubting, with no wounded hands to pick at in your search for hope that what you suspect about yourself is wrong.

And all the blogs you read confirm it. Ten Ways to Plot A Bestselling Novel. You hadn’t thought of a single one of them. Why Your Scene isn’t Really a Scene. And your scene apparently isn’t a scene. Does Your Protagonist Suck … if so Here’s Why. He meets three out of five characteristics for a totally unlikable protagonist. Five Ways To Spice up Your Dreary Ending. Didn’t even know the ending was dreary till now, thank you. Nine Ways to Drop  Your Adverb Habit. Terribly true …

You read all those ubiquitous, helpful, posts … the ones that are followed by nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine comments (that have been featured as Fresh Pressed on WordPress AND by Nathan Bransford himself) … and you feel humbled. No, not humbled. Down-trodden. If you drank, you’d head for the whiskey. If you smoked, you’d have a head-start on half-a-pack for the day. If you gambled, you’d bet yourself right out of a career.

Here’s the thing … those posts, and those books on writing that read more like technical manuals, and all those guest speakers (the ones who tell you that without an agent you’re nothing), they can’t tell you what makes your fiction totally unique and therefore, worthwhile. Do you want to know why?

Because they don’t know.

That’s why I usually refrain from posting specific advice on writing. I could, I’ve got loads of it. But, I can’t account for the subtleties of your individual creativity and style. I can’t just tell you to add some tension to your last scene, without having read your last scene. I can’t tell you to just amp up your pacing, without knowing the rhythm of your novel. I can’t tell you any of these things with any sense of reliability because in some cases, I’d simply be wrong.

But, as writers … especially when we’re feeling that oh-so-familiar downtrodden pseudo-depression, we seek consolation in rules and tips. We want to know that we can get better if we just know where to put our right foot first. We want direction. We want guidelines. We want assurances.

In brave writing … there are no assurances.

Everyone in your critique group can whittle away at your manuscript till it’s a different novel altogether than the one that got rejected 34 times, and yet … when it’s sent out again it can still get rejected. Multiple times. And probably will be. But, we do these sorts of things because we want to share the burden. If you get rejected on your work alone, then you can think to yourself, “God, I must suck at this.” But, if you let a group (and this can be agents’ blogs too) tell you how and what to write, and that work gets rejected, then, “It’s OK because isn’t me or my writing. It’s the market.”

We do that, because our doubt is often stronger than anything else we’re feeling. This isn’t always the case, but when we feel it … we feel it.

In this world we live in as authors, we’ll have more than a handful of ‘guided tours’ available to us. But the fear doesn’t completely go away even when you sign up for one of them instead of the solo trek. All I can tell you with any measure of certainty is that the solo trek, while positively the scariest way to go, is the most  beautiful. It’s terrifying because at the threshold, you’re not just handing over your passport to be stamped, you’re trading it in for citizenship. You’re making a decision that will mean, there is no going back.

That’s not to say that you have to travel alone. I’m not guiding anyone anywhere. As a creativity coach, I’m damn good at motivating others to keep on, to keep exploring. But that’s not the same thing as a guide. And perhaps that’s the biggest difference: We’re all traveling together, my footsteps just as unsure as yours are. I find comfort in this. More so than having to stand behind a huge crowd and listen to some schmuck ramble on for hours about the local vegetation.

But, there are no assurances. I chose to take that chance and while it looks appealing from where I stand and eavesdrop (read those posts like gospel) … looking at that group of tourists all taking pictures of whatever the hell that spikey thing is … I wouldn’t be any more confident over there than I am here. And right now, for me, is one of those moments where I’m sliding on pebbles and having to stop every five minutes to empty shit out of my shoes. It’s OK though, because you’re with me.

And because I have no choice, but, for it to be OK. I’ve handed over my passport.

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 …

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 …

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 …

Natural Selection: Writers Edition

“Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.”
-Oscar Wilde

Oscar, I love you, but for once … I don’t agree with you. Not after reading about an author’s book review meltdown on Best Damn Creative Writing Blog. I took a good, lengthy read, and couldn’t get over how simple a discussion this could have been had Ms. Howett kept her cool. If you go and look at Amazon, that book has gotten (as of 9pm my time) nine 1 star reviews TODAY. Ouch. {Update: 4:20am. There are now 20 1 star reviews} {{second update 4/28 9:55pm 46 1 star reviews}} {{Third update 4/29 7:23pm 64 1 star reviews}}

And what’s worse, is that the review wasn’t particularly scathing. In fact, there were places in the review where the reviewer pointed out what he liked about the novel (I think it’s a he).

At this point I don’t read reviews. I try my damnedest not to go over to Amazon or Goodreads at all. I am aware of a handful of not-so-awesome reviews for Son of Ereubus, and that’s totally normal and to be expected. It isn’t my place to whine or complain. In fact, if you don’t have any negative ratings or reviews, I would wonder if you’re getting enough exposure. Meaning, is your novel getting reviews beyond friends/family members and FB friends?

I shouldn’t have to remind you that every author who makes it will have readers who will loathe them. Period. Almost every major author who has become vastly successful has been sued—for something or other—so go ahead and get used to the dark side of this industry. None of this is changing anytime soon. If you can’t handle a couple negative reviews with dignity, then there’s no way in hell you’ll make it in the long haul. Natural Selection will throw you out of the game before you’ve had a chance to score a single point.

Don’t ever do what Ms. Howett did. REALLY. It isn’t worth it. Not even a little bit. Controversy sells, but not nearly as well as a well-written novel will sell. In my not-so-humble opinion, this was a career-killing move. If I were an agent or publisher, I wouldn’t touch her with a ten foot pole. And yes, I know she is an indie author. But, considering how she responded to anyone who commented, I’d gather she’s this fiery with readers. Who wants to deal with that?

Further, who wants to support that kind of nastiness? Reviews are important to writers. Even though I don’t read most of them, that doesn’t mean that I don’t deeply appreciate each and every one of them. I will occasionally comment—if a friend or my publisher sends me the individual link. I did so just a few days ago when a reader who’d downloaded the book from our free ebook event gave it a fantastic five star review. But, I will ONLY say something, if that something is positive.

SO, writing tip #327: Don’t tank your writing career by biting the hand that feeds you. Say unto others, as you would have them say unto you.

Paper Crowns and Battle Cries

 

“It started out as a feeling

Which then grew into a hope

Which then turned into a quiet thought

Which then turned into a quiet word

And then that word grew louder and louder

Until it was a battle cry

I’ll come back

When you call me

No need to say goodbye

Just because everything’s changing

Doesn’t mean it’s never been this way before

All you can do is try to know who your friends are

As you head off to the war

Pick a star on the dark horizon

And follow the light

You’ll come back when it’s over

No need to say goodbye”

~Regina Specktor (from ‘The Call’)

If you’re going to dream, dream big. If not, don’t waste your time. You’d be better off painting your house, or doing your taxes, or trying to nail jello to the wall.

No, seriously, think about your average kid playing make-believe. Do they do it halfway? Do they adjust their creations to fit with what is likely or plausible? I sure as hell didn’t. Not only did I not account for reality, I’m pretty convinced that I lived life until I was in my mid-twenties under the assumption that magic was, in some way, real. I don’t mean literally, per say. More like that vague feeling that all young people have where they are under the impression that *they* can live forever. That sort of thing. Maybe there really is another world out there. Maybe this isn’t it. Maybe my lost socks are on to something.

There is a point where you lose that blissful ignorance though. For some of us, this moment comes earlier in life than for others. I’m always the last one to know. I was eleven when I found my Easter basket in my mother’s bedroom closet, and I’ll never forget the hit to my gut when I realized that this meant that Santa Clause wasn’t real either. It was a very dark day in my household.

Some of us have that same sort of, innocence, when it comes to being authors. Some of us go on to live eternally through our words. Others, give up and let go of the dream and move on to “adult” things—rational and likely things. As usual, I’m still holding on here. I have no misgivings about reality, don’t mistake me. But, I believe in more than what is probably going to happen. I have to. What good is life without goals, or destinations, or a future to spend time imagining?

Planning and being wise, aren’t bad things. I don’t mean that either. You’ve got to have your head on straight and a game plan. But, if we spend SO much of our efforts working towards specific objectives (uber fame, being J.K. Rowling, etc), then we will lose the magic that makes those things possible in the first place. There are no magic formulas, only magic. This goes back to a comment Anthony made on my ‘Sex and the Art of Author Marketing’ post a week ago or so…all of your extra-writerly stuff has to be done for the right reasons, or else it is purely for naught. I couldn’t agree more with him. This might all sound like common sense, at least it does to me as I type it out, but damn, it certainly doesn’t enter my mind when I start to worry about the pace of my career, or how my books are selling, or how the media/public perceives me.

It’s like the lyrics to the song I posted above…it’s a battle cry that we’ve got to keep on our hearts. This dream, of living our lives as authors, is larger than any set of rules, or fenced perimeter, or glass ceiling. There is marketing to be done. There are details to attend to. But don’t ever, ever lose track of the bigger picture of what you want. Be that child in the yard who is building a castle of sticks and stones, living life as a king or queen…even if your crown is only paper for now.

The gold will come later, I promise…

Unless you give up on it, and file that dream away with other lost things. Socks, for example. Or discarded ideas. Or ambitions.

Where is all of this talk of battle cries coming from? My time on Facebook this past week. That’s where. I hear so many writers talking about absolutes and how “things are,” and “conforming to the industry” and so on. God, it’s like hearing two children in the yard discussing the weight bearing properties of a cardboard box.

Hello, it’s a cardboard box. Chances are, you won’t have it forever.

I won’t be in this place in my career for the rest of my life. So why stress out about what is expected of me right this moment by an ambiguous, man-behind-the-curtain, kind of “Industry”? That’s useless. And for all my day dreaming, I’m still fairly pragmatic at the end of the day. The dreaming makes these things happen, therefore, that’s what I do. A query has never once in the history of the “Industry” sold a book. Period. No, hear me…THE BOOK sold itself once the full was requested, signed, pimped out, or sold directly to the publisher from the writer. I’ve seen stellar queries, that receive one request for novels after another, and yet…the books never get picked up. Know why? Because it was never the query that they were looking for in the first place.  You can argue semantics till you are blue in the face, that the book would never have been picked up had it not been for the query, but you’re missing the forest for the trees. THE BOOK, the story, the make-believe, the magic, is what was signed in the end.

So, that’s where our focus should be. Everything else, will work itself out. How can I say that? Easily, because I still suck at queries. I’ve got five novels under contract, and I can’t write a query letter to save my damn life. I can write them for other people (at gunpoint), but never for my own work. I doubt I’ll ever have that skill.

All I am capable of, is dreaming—of wearing paper crowns and carrying that battle cry like it’s burned onto my heart. That’ll just have to be enough.

The Biggest Lie of Them All

“I grew up in a place where everybody was a storyteller, but nobody wrote. It was that kind of Celtic, storytelling tradition: everybody would have a story at the pub or at parties, even at the clubs and raves.”  Irvine Welsh

It’s visceral, isn’t it? This calling that we’ve entered into?

It’s no wonder we take things like criticisms, rules, guidelines, reviews, and the like, so seriously. I posted a link on my FB page several days ago that led to a post written by a good friend of mine over at The Lit Lab. The heart of the post was centered around the lies we’ve allowed ourselves to believe about writing and about being a professional author (you can find that post here). Reading that inspired list led me to start thinking…what lies have we told ourselves, or allowed ourselves to believe, about what it means to BE an author—a storyteller?

*You can’t develop your voice as an author until you’ve written for years and nothing that you write prior to your first published work will be worth holding onto.

Um…shall I list all of the famous works of literature that were the author’s firsts? I’d rather not, since it would take me more room than a single post on WordPress allows. This is utter bullshit, I don’t care if an agent (or any other authoritative figure) has told you otherwise. Think of it like this: Not everyone needs to date around before finding the one they’re destined to spend their life with. Some do. Others know the moment they meet them. Some authors spend years in silence, never penning a thing, then suddenly they find their voice and set off writing like their keyboards are on fire.

*All advice from reputable sources (agents, publishers, editors, critique group members, alpha & beta readers), is good advice.

Need I mention again, Tolkien’s advice to Lewis to nix Father Christmas from the Chronicles of Narnia? Even as I type that it sounds like good advice doesn’t it? Except for all of those children who listed it as their favorite part of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. And the fact that Lewis, in his heart, knew that Father Christmas couldn’t be cut from the story.

*You MUST know everything about the craft of writing, in order to be a good storyteller.

Have you never been to a bar before? Have you never sat around a campfire and heard Uncle Whoever retell his childhood escapades in such a way that has the whole crowd dying with laughter? Have you never been to summer camp and been huddled beneath your sleeping bag in dread terror while some counselor (me), or fellow camper (also me) told you the scariest story you’ve ever heard? Do you live under a rock? Storytelling, to some folks, is second nature. I think I can safely say that I’m one of them. You likely are as well, but haven’t gathered the guts to state that you believe that for the record. And before you go there, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t learn the basics. All I’m saying, is that the first guy or gal who told a story, likely didn’t know the parts of the story by what would become their “proper” names. Those are merely formalities. Imagine it like two people who speak different languages, meeting and falling in love. Sure, there might be a little fumbling around in the beginning, but eventually you develop your own method of communication and everything else falls into place. If it’s meant to be, you don’t have WORK at it that hard. It. Just. Is.

*In order to be a great author, you have to be able to write outstanding queries.

I’m sorry, I can hardly type from the tears I’m shedding in laughter over this one. I’ve read this on more than one agent’s blog, and a couple of publishers, but ironically, I’ve never seen it on an author’s blog. Wonder why? Gee…hmmm….give me a second. ‘Cause it’s…you guessed it….total shit. Some of us, just aren’t short-winded. Period. Yes, it’s a fault. Yes, it sucks. YES, it means it’ll take longer to get someone’s attention if you’re in that category and you’re unpublished. Does it mean you won’t ever be successful or famous? No. Not at all. And frankly, I have no idea where this idea came from. Queries and novels are not the same thing for a reason, and the pervasive idea that if you can’t sum up your novel in 300 words or less, then you don’t know what it’s about, is LUDICROUS. And I don’t mean the band.

Seriously, this one is one of the worst bits of writing “truth” I’ve read. It’s terribly discouraging and does nothing but make writing a query harder for those of us who struggle with writing them in the first place. So, do yourself (and me) a favor and don’t spread that horse manure. If you only knew the number of NYT bestselling authors who hired a ghost writer to write their queries for them…(how do I know this? Because I know a handful of ghost writers who have written them for NYT bestselling authors).

*The difference between authors and writers, is that authors have been traditionally published.

I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth. Really? I’ve read that one on writers’ sites. Shame on you! You ought to know better. Do you think that because you are published that you have the right to make others feel less worthy than you? No, writers are folks who write. Period. This encompasses everything from obituaries and classified ads, to text books and personal weblogs. Authors, tell stories. That’s all. That’s the distinction. Check out Webster if you don’t believe me. Now, I will give you the caveat that in order to be an author, you do have to have actually *finished* a novel, short story, or novella. Publication has nothing to do with it. That’s merely recognition for having done something, it doesn’t have any bearing on whether you’ve actually done the thing or not. If you’re still “researching” that first novel, and have been for the last ten years, then you’re still a writer. Only when you’re done do you get to call yourself an author. Even if your cat is the only sentient being to set eyes on it after that.

I think even Donald Maass may have stated that in one of his many manifestos on how to be a bestselling author.

How ’bout I’ll just settle for being an author, and let the cards fall where they may. Hm? K. Thanks.

*But, the biggest lie of them all is this: As an author, I am worth the value that others place on my work.

Nothing, nothing, nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve told myself this one. I’m willing to bet that at some point in your writing life, you will too. There are two kinds of authors: Those who’ve bought the bullshit, and those who will. Not a single one of us is exempt from taking a reviewer too seriously, or a crit partner, or an agent, or an editor. Not a single one of us is exempt from wondering, at some dark moment, has this all been worth it? Not a single one of us is exempt from feeling, in a moment of weakness, like our hold on the English language is a tad more tenuous than we’d suspected.

Truth is, we’re all learning, and no work is perfect. No work is without its quirks. No author is free of them either, but isn’t that what makes our calling so great? No other profession in the world is quite like it. Some might come close, but they’ll never reach the heights that being an author will show you. You’ll never take another path and reach a higher summit.

Whatever lies you believe…don’t believe the biggest of them all. At the very least, do yourself, and the rest of us who will (or already do) love your writing, and your characters, and your worlds, do us the favor of having faith in your natural instincts.

The Winds are Shifting

The only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions.  ~Ellen Glasgow

If there ever comes a time in my life where I don’t have nine hundred and ninety-nine things going on at once, you might need to check my pulse. There probably won’t be one.

While I was on Major Writing Hiatus #2, we stayed with two dear friends at our family lake cabin. While there, we saw that my husband’s grandparents’ old home (which sold five years ago) was back on the market after being beautifully restored and updated. Now, after just a couple weeks of being home, I’m packing boxes and advertising our house for rental. In other words…we’re buying the house and moving to the country. Talbotton GA to be exact. Small town America.

How does this relate to writing? Why should you care? Well, this shift in my world is going to allow for some rather large changes in how I go about my day to day, including the ability to focus more on doing things for the website that I’ve secretly been working on for awhile now, mywritershaven.com (still in construction so don’t bother looking yet).

You see, I’ve noticed something—a big gap in the sorts of things on the market now–and I intend to provide a place for writers to go and fill that gap. What kind of gap? The kind of gap that deals with the emotional, unavoidable part of BEING an author. I’m halfway through a master’s degree in counseling and it’s damn time I put some of my skills to work. We’ll be hosting webinars and eventually those webinars will be sold as course downloads. No forum, no critique circle, none of the typical stuff. No job boards, or what nots. Some of the course titles we’re playing with are:

“I’m OK, They’re OK: The art of dealing with rejection.”

“Office Politics: All authors are equal, some are just more equal than others”

“Sculpting the Ether: Crit groups etc.” (Learn the value of funneling external feedback from alphas and betas)

“Where’s Waldo: Social network survival skills for your emotional sanity”

In addition to that, there will be a section of the site where a P.O. Box will be listed. There, authors will be encouraged to send pictures of the creative things they’ve done with rejection letters. Or, if they are legally (and morally) able to mail what they’ve done with the actual letters, they may also do that. What am I talking about?

A paper mache toilet, made entirely of rejection letters (this would clearly be a picture, unless you just REALLY wanted to send me a toilet). The best ones will get posted. Who knows, maybe we’ll host a contest every year if enough authors participate.

The idea with all of this is to draw together a community of writers that has nothing to do with the nuts and bolts of becoming better writers. There won’t be talks on grammar rules, or how to get an agent, or how to format a manuscript submission. This is about true fellowship and communion in the purest sense of the words. This is about becoming better storytellers through listening to each other’s real stories. Those are the most important ones anyway. This is where you can come and get things like…accountability. There are months where I KNOW I would pay someone to kick me in the ass every couple of days. We’ll be providing that. Need a phone call? Done. Need a nastygram texted to your phone to spur you on to keep to that schedule you’ve been dodging? Done.

Ien Nivens, my partner in crime, will also be listing services such as editing, manuscript evaluation, etc. I’ll be doing mainly the webinars, ala cart stuff (such as the accountability service) and one on one coaching. But, we’ll keep you informed on the details as they solidify. This isn’t one of those “good” ideas that doesn’t come to fruition. I’ve already purchased the domain and registered the business name as an LLC.

So, long story short, there are cool things on the horizon. The winds are shifting for me professionally and personally and THANK YOU GOD, I’m finally able to put some of that property management training into use for my own profit. Know anyone who needs a CUTE rental house in Columbus, GA?

There’s a Monster Under my Contract

“I came here to tell you the truth; the good, the bad, and the ugly.” ~Oliver North.

 

Before you read this, you need to read this. Done? No, really, go read it or else this won’t make nearly as much sense.

Now…what do you think? I think that the whole scenario “Allison” has gone through, is for the birds. And she has a good agent. Some agents aren’t worth the paper their birth certificates were typed on, but there are others who work hard and give a damn. Can you imagine her situation had she been with one of those guys?

Reactions to the original post were varied: I saw everything from denial, to acceptance, and everything in-between. More than a few authors reacted with some measure of (hmmm…what’s the right word) surprise(?) to the situation. Others stated that they don’t care what happens to it, since all of it is out of their hands anyway. Some stated that it didn’t surprise them in the least and that Rachelle’s example only served to show why self-publishing is always better than the traditional model (then they proceeded to launch into a long-winded rant on ‘The Industry”).

Truth is, there’s nothing out there to bite you unless you let it.

 Now, before you go accusing me of talking out of my rear-end, let me state for the record that I changed my title because my publisher asked me to. Guardians of Legend was originally Fable. I changed it (with guidance), no problem, because the logic was solid behind the request and I wasn’t attached to it. I had the same request for a different book and declined consent. A Thief of Nightshade will remain A Thief of Nightshade. Period. I’m not negotiating on that. So, we came to a compromise and worked around the issue and chose a later publication date for it (there was a conflict, etc…long story, it would bore you). Bottom line is that when it mattered, I stood my ground. Was I willing to walk away from a contract over it? To put it simply, yes. Though, to be fair, there is a little more to it than that. Would I have balked had it been Del Ray? Yup–You bet I would have.

Here is a post that will show you most succesful authors have title changes and that the great majority of them get input into what the titles will be. This is important because I’ve heard a few people lately make the assumption that the publisher will, in all circumstances, not give you any input into things.

See, here’s the thing…”the finished work with cover and title isn’t mine and I know that,” ummm…yeah but it has your name on it. YOUR NAME! Let me say that one more time…it has your name on it! There are a lot of things that have diminished in value over the years, but a man or woman’s name and their word, should still be worth something and in my book—they still are! I don’t care if you’re buying the rights to my work: If you’re giving me credit for it, then I need to be involved in how it comes out in the end. I just wrote a post a short while ago, in which I stated to not be a pain to work with, and to choose your battles. Most large publishers are going to consider your feelings and what Rachelle says is absolutely correct, Allison’s experience is NOT the norm. But, it’s just one example of how something that can look innocuous and even entertaining, can turn out to be nothing but a nightmare. 

$5,000. That’s the average advance for a decent sized press. I am guessing that to be the amount Allison could have opted to pay back if she were able to break her contract and do so. Is her agony worth that much? She thought it was. I applaud her patience and ability to be professional and handle things with grace and dignity. But, my point is that clearly she didn’t choose the right battles because she sounds miserable. Her first novel’s publication isn’t the stuff of fairy tales, or even the bittersweet reality of most of our experiences. Still, its lack of fairness concerns me: The Author is again put second to everything and everyone else related to the project.

The cover and title aren’t the book? Like hell they aren’t. If they weren’t, you’d never title your manuscripts. You’d simply label them ambiguously; Manuscript #4, or POS #45, or what have you. You name them, like you name children.

“But you’re romanticizing again—my work isn’t my child.”

Bullshit folks. I’m calling this one just like I see it. Bullshit. 

“Listen J.S., you’re being a know-it-all ass. My work really isn’t an integral part of who I am. I love it, but it’s not….my baby,” you whine.

OK.

For some folks sure, I believe you—your work isn’t your child. You’re merely babysitting it. You don’t care what happens to it once you send it *home. But, it’s still a growing thing that needs nurturing and support and a foundation. (* Home being whichever house you sell it to.) Whether you like it or not, it’s a fluid thing—you’re either taking responsibility for it, or your aren’t.

Now that we’ve got that at least somewhat settled, let’s consider the same scenario with other authors…before they made a name for themselves: V.C. Andrews, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Dean Koontz, etc. Would The Stand, or Carrie, or The House of Thunder, or Flowers in the Attic, be the same under other names? Depends on the names. Names—titles—are words. And words, after all, are what this whole business is about and a title isn’t anything more than a careful selection of the most important words in your entire story. You’re summing it all up. If someone suggests something that has nothing to do with the novel…they don’t deserve to publish your novel.

There it is again…that word…deserveYour work is worth more than you give it credit for. It’s worth more than a measly 5 grand. Yes, that’s a lot of money for most (it’s a LOT of money for me). But in the long run, your creativity and your time is far more valuable than that. Don’t just accept things because “that’s the way they are.” No, things are the way they are because they’re allowed to be.

I am NOT saying that I wouldn’t sign a contract for that kind of an advance. At all. You’re missing my point if that’s what you’ve gotten from this post. What I’m saying is that “Allison” wound up in her predicament because of what we, as authors, have allowed as a whole. WE DID THIS FOLKS!

What if every author stood firm? What if every author refused to sign unless they had more say in the cover art and title? What if every author refused to sign unless percentages were higher? It’s an all or nothing venture isn’t it? We all agree to it, or not. And it’ll likely never happen. It can’t…there are too many authors who will do anything, give anything, for just the sliver of a chance. I can’t blame them, not really. I suppose, to some, unless their work is approved by the masses, then it means nothing—not even a measly $5,000. You already know how I feel about the masses…(woe is the writer who mounts their merit on the masses)

The monster under the bed, the overbearing influence of major publishers/editors, are things that if you are destined to become one of the greats, one of the well-knowns of the world, are things that you’ll outgrow in time. Stephen King doesn’t have to worry about this. J.K. definitely doesn’t have to worry about this. So, all I’m saying, is that until you reach that stage, there will be a certain amount of peering through the darkness, upside down, with a flashlight in your hand—hands trembling, clutching the sheet with sweaty palms. Just know that the attitude you approach the monster with, is the attitude you’ll be met with. The funny thing is though, as I stated earlier, there is no monster. Not really. Yet, this process is integral to our development as authors. It molds us professionally and in some cases personally.

I would have been respectful. I would have picked my battles with care. But, I wouldn’t have allowed myself or my work to wind up in a position where just thinking about it broke my heart. I can say this without doubt because I know that the concept of “marketing and sales” hasn’t suddenly rendered authors sterile when it comes to things like titles. I’ve heard more than one author state that they aren’t in the business of selling books.

Really? And hookers aren’t in the business of making love….in a way, you’re right about that. You aren’t writing your book merely to be a “product.” Unless, you are, of course, writing it only to be a product. In that case, maybe you aren’t capable of choosing a title for your hard work. Maybe you don’t know what image might best display the meaning of that hard work. Tolkien lamented once that the original cover of The Fellowship of the Ring had nothing at all to do with the book. Psssh. What did Tolkien know? I mean….he’s considered the father of modern fantasy…who the hell was he to think he should have some say in how his work was packaged?

Oh…wait….

I have a friend who turned down a contract from TOR because they wanted to change more than he was willing to. I’ve read his novel and it’s brilliant. What they were asking for would essentially rip the guts from his work. His actions in that instance made me respect him even more as an author. He knows what he’s worth—what his name and word are worth, and he won’t compromise. Bravo J. You embody this post.

What would you have done? Honestly?

P.S. Don’t even think about getting into a smart-assed, snarky, heated battle with me on the whole not my baby thing. I won’t approve nasty comments here. Period. It’s my party and I’ll deny your rant if I want to.

Welcome to Fight Club

“The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.”  Robert Frost

It’s no secret that being published changes you. We’ve covered that here—at the Asylum. What we haven’t delved much into, amongst other things, are the dirty sides of the industry. Yes, there is more than one.

And no, I don’t mean smut…

I’m talking about politics. Don’t think there are any? Don’t think this will apply to you once you get published because a) you firmly believe you’ll be J.K. Rowling, b) your novel is beyond reproach, or c) you self-publish your material and call your own shots?

Let’s say for the sake of argument that a & b are unlikely. If you think you’ve got a get out of jail free card for c, then you’re in for a HUGE surprise. Whether you sign with an agent, a large publisher, small press or set-up your own outfit….the same politics that plague the corporate ladder, plague a writer’s career.

There are rules of etiquette. There are rules for even getting to enter into the game, let alone win. But, you hear all sorts of contradictory things about breaking rules, or the consequences of being a follower. SO what’s the answer? How do you know what to do and when to do it?

Here’s a few places to start. Though, I don’t profess in any shape, form, or fashion to be an expert on any of this. I have learned some things these last few years and just feel like sharing them with you. That’s all.

1. Don’t burn bridges. I don’t give a damn how unstable they look, how pissed off you are, or how much you want to flame someone. It isn’t worth it. You don’t know where that bridge could lead later on. This industry is all about networking and the stronger, and truer, your connections are the better off you’ll be when you need a leg up. And believe me when I tell you, every writer has more than a few moments when a little help would go a long way to stabilizing a career.

2. Don’t bad mouth other writers. Published or otherwise. Really, really, really, REALLY think through everything you put out there for the public—especially when it concerns your own ilk. I’ve read a ton of blogs lately where one author or another decides to suddenly go off on a rant about famous writer X, semi-famous writer Z, or unknown writer M. Why? Because if your career goes half as well as you think it will, you may very well find yourself sharing a publisher, agent or hell…in some cases a dinner table (yes, this has happened. No, not to me). It’s EASY to feel like an authority on writing right after you get your first book deal (yes, this has happened. Yes, to me).

3. Pay it forward. Sounds easy, huh? It is. I was blessed so much last year by a few folks, but one in particular who inspired me to do everything I can to repay that kindness and encouragement by doing exactly what he did for me, for fellow authors. Lend a helping hand, pure and simple. Don’t forget where you’ve come from and how you got there and especially don’t forget those who are still treading that pre-publication path. Don’t lose track of how frustrating that felt to not know and to wonder what the future held. I still wonder what the future holds, but it’s a different kind of wondering. I can’t explain that…it’s just one of those things.

4. Don’t, don’t, DON’T be a pain in the ass to work with. Don’t whine, complain, demand more than you’re owed, or act like a diva. I’ve seen this happen and the results ARE NOT pretty. Whenever you work for someone, or under them, or with them in a publisher/writer sort of situation, you want to make yourself indispensable. Do everything you can to help those who have invested in your future, to succeed. This means some time and effort that you won’t be paid for. Be prepared for this—it’s part of the deal if you want to get anywhere. If they win, you win. Easy math.

5. Shit happens. Even if you sign with one of the big five. You need to be prepared for this too and you need to handle it with dignity and grace. Publishing companies, distribution centers, printers and literary agencies are all run by…gasp…human beings and humans make mistakes. There is no getting around this. Folks who don’t realize this will give you crap for it. Put on your big girl panties (or big boy briefs, whichever the case) and deal with it.

6. Celebrate the success of your fellow authors any way you can. When you’ve got 5,000 Facebook friends, most of which are other writers, you obviously can’t rejoice with everyone…but don’t neglect those closest to you. Don’t ignore their achievements. This situation is especially tricky when you’re in a critique circle, or have an online group of writer friends. Bridges get burnt this way. They can also be built from scratch this way. Kind of like tea in hot water, you see the strength of your friends when any sort of success engulfs your group. In layman’s terms (forgive my crassness here): Don’t be a douche bag. If you’re a writer and you’re relatively close friends with other writers, whether you like their stuff or not,  don’t pick and choose whose victories to highlight based on social stigmas or literary status. Give equal blog footage to the indie author and the six-figure author. You’re asking for hurt feelings and resentment otherwise.

7. Don’t begrudge the success of others. If you just signed a half-a-million dollar contract with Random House (have I mentioned how great you look today?) then you won’t have this issue. But, for the rest of the writerly population, be mindful of the green-eyed monster. Don’t get miffed if your book has less good reviews than someone else’s book. Don’t block their status updates on your FB feed because you can’t stand looking at their awesome cover art avatar. Don’t bad mouth publishers, especially when you know authors who have signed with them (vanity presses don’t count here. You can bad mouth those guys all you like).

8. WATCH YOUR MOUTH ON FORUMS! Can I say that again? Watch your mouth on forums. I can’t say it enough. Don’t get into heated arguments or circular logic type pissing contests with other writers, agents, or god forbid, publishers. Just like your Facebook page, your name WILL show up in forums on a google search. You also need to watch your comments on blogs. ALL OF THIS can, and will, come back to haunt you if you aren’t careful. In this industry, unless you’re too rich to care (you really do look amazing today) then you might as well date your calendar 1984.

9. You aren’t J.D. Salinger, Hemingway, or C.S. Lewis. Or Tolstoy for that matter. You can’t afford to pretend that the cyber universe doesn’t exist. I’m not saying to totally conform here…but unless you have a publicist to do it for you, there is a certain amount of damage control that you’ll want to watch out for. Misconceptions or misunderstandings can be quickly fixed if you’re aware of how people are seeing you as a public figure.

10. Did I mention not to burn bridges? Those bad boys go up in flames right quick and it doesn’t take much. The more surface your connection is, the faster your ties will burn. Tread lightly. You can’t afford to be ignorant or naive here. Second chances are for sentient beings and though it has a pulse, this industry doesn’t have a conscience and therefore can’t grant you forgiveness. See, I just caught you thinking that bridges being burnt between two people, or groups of people, are related to emotions alone. They aren’t. And you’re not just cutting the cord between you and whoever is on the other side. You’re cutting the cord between yourself and all of the places their bridges lead. In a way…when you burn down one…you’ve burnt down fifty. So, bottom line here….better to be safe than sorry.

The biggest one, is too big to assign a number to and it’s this: Pick your battles carefully.

This applies to everything in your career as a writer. You will have to bend a certain number of times with your agent, publisher, or both; then your editor(s), then your cover artist(s), then your reviewers, and non-professional readers/fans…lastly….your family and friends. If your book deal is perceived as being “big enough” then both of those last two parties will suddenly grow in both numbers and their interest in your life. Don’t let that take you by surprise. You won’t be offended if you know in advance. It’s your choice how to respond to all of it. There have been numerous blog posts, on too many blogs to name, that address professionalism in dealing with reviews and readers. The most important thing is to remember that at some point, something will come along, that will REALLY mean something to you. So, don’t cash in your chips every time you get the chance.

SO, if I haven’t scared you away from the industry…welcome to Fight Club. For those of you who have been here for more than five minutes, have you got any stories? Any lessons learned? Feel free to share!

And have a great and SAFE new year!!!

If Lies Were Cats…

‎”You will never get the crowd to cry Hosanna until you ride into town on an ass.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Anyone who has ever dealt with the public, on any level, will appreciate this post. Why? Because when you are in the public eye, you’re toast if you don’t watch what you say and do. But, this is a catch 22 because on that same token, what good is exposure and popularity if it’s based on a falsehood?

What good is it to have fans (can I use that word? I don’t think I can, let’s say ‘readers’ instead) if they don’t like you for you? I sound like an afterschool special now and it makes me wanna yack, but really…what good is it? For example, what purpose is there in toning down the prologue in Son of Ereubus, when a large portion of the book has violence and mayhem? It would be nothing but false promises.

 As an author, our public appearance, IS linked to our writing, just like a prologue’s tone is linked to the rest of the book. What do we want to portray? What do we want to promise? 

But how seriously do we take this? How seriously SHOULD we take this? I’ve often joked about being a publicist’s worst nightmare since 99% of the stuff that comes out of my mouth is filter free. So, do I button that mouth and mind my manners for the good of my career? I’ve been told to. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve set several of my posts to private soon after publishing them. This is why. I haven’t changed my mind on any of my previously stated opinions.

Now, before you go thinking that I give a damn what other people think (I don’t, just for the record), you should know that I am only debating this issue because my actions affect those who have invested time and money into my career (my publisher, for example) and I want to be fair to them. Past that…anyone else who gets offended by what I say can take comfort in the fact that I have two cheeks (nothing better than variety) they can choose between when they kiss my ass.

Part of the problem with deciding whether to keep soap on hand or not (to clean your mouth and your public appearance) is that you’ll hear such drastic differences in opinion on this. Some people will tell you, “To hell with the world, be yourself!” Others will say, “Your career and therefore your livelihood depends on how others see you. If you want to succeed, you have to play the game.” It all makes me wonder what people really think—who they really are—because at the very least, a fraction of society, MUST be pretending.

I’m currently undecided on what to do from here. Do I continue with the fire and sarcasm? Do I curb the enthusiasm and start being politically correct? I shared a meaningless joke on facebook and apparently shocked more than a few folks (really guys?) hence the reason for this blog post (that and my sweet & talented author friend Michelle Davidson Argyle wrote a post on a similar issue here that got me thinking).

 It’s funny to me that a good majority of people will respect and appreciate brazen sarcasm until it flows in their direction. You either like my sharp wit, or you don’t. I’m an equal opportunity offender: I don’t care who you are, or why you think you’re special. I’ve certainly had my rear-end handed to me on numerous occassions. Consider it a character-building experience.

This is a subject that will affect all of you writerly folk at some point, so even if you’re not published yet, you’d better start thinking about it now. I’ve been told that it can affect how agents and publishers see you when they are deciding whether or not to sign your work. Clearly it didn’t affect me all that much because I believe my publisher read through some rather snarky blog posts here at The Asylum, before signing me—though, I don’t know this for sure, you’d have to ask them.

Why is there a zombie picture to the right of this little rant? Well, what qualifies a zombie as a zombie?

No pulse
No brain
No sense of humor
No sense of taste (braaaaiiinnnss)
A tendency to eat other people for dinner
A tendency to repeat things
A tendency to mindlessly wander after people with brains 
A cold heart
Cold-blooded (OK, it’s more like jello…but you get the point)
Damn near impossible to discourage from attacking

Soooo…do I need to explain?

I think Scissor Sisters said it best, “It’s a bitch convincing people to like you. If I stop now you’ll call me a quitter. If lies were cats you’d be a litter.”

Cinders Blog Tour!

 
 

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Hey folks! We’re lucky to have Michelle Davidson Argyle, author of Cinders, as a guest today at The Asylum. We’ve asked her some questions and I have it on good authority that if you read the answers and comment you’ll be entered into a drawing to win some really awesome stuff!! So, read, comment, and if you win you’d better come back here and brag about it 🙂

If you comment you’ll need to fill out this form in order to be entered into the contest: https://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?formkey=dFNiQVlrY0RBVXNMT24zaTVUcUg0T2c6MQ  

P.S. This was originally scheduled for the 22nd, but I’m hanging out at the beach and I’ve got spotty internet, so just pretend that today is the 22nd and we’ll be good!

1. What scene from Cinders sticks out in your mind the most?
 
That’s a really interesting question! I’d have to say the scene at the end where Cinderella throws the white flowers off the cliff. That, to me, was a climactic point I had in mind during the entire time I wrote the story. To me, that scene sums up many things using symbolism. I always hope my readers catch it all. 

 

2. Is there a character who was more interesting or fun to work with than the others?

 For some reason I absolutely love Fortune, the head cook. She was so alive for me, and I had no problems writing her or envisioning her at all. These types of characters are the most fun because it’s like they almost really exist – they are that real in my mind. Fortune isn’t even a secondary character, really, but does serve as a sort of “safe” character for Cinderella. 

3. Do you have a favorite? (character)

 My favorite character is Cinderella. Usually I love the villain the most, but there isn’t a true villain in Cinders, in my opinion. I love Cinderella the most because she is very complex and real to me. Although she makes mistakes, I can relate to her the most. This may be why the book was easier for me to write than other books I’ve written. 

4. What is the biggest challenge facing self-published authors?

 I must say the stigmas against self-publishing – at least for me. I constantly find myself comparing myself to others and making myself think that sales are everything. I think most self-published authors think their book’s worth is based on sales. It’s sad when I don’t sell any copies one day and I get gloomy because of it. It’s like I’ve completely forgotten all the great reviews and support of my readers.  

5. Do you share your work with friends and family while you are in the writing process or do you limit feedback to beta readers?

 When I first started seriously writing again 3 1/2 years ago after a 5 year break, I shared everything with my immediate friends and family. They were the only network I had. Then I discovered blogging and I’ve built up a network of writer friends who are spectacular. I still share my work with immediate friends and family, but not like I used to. I don’t think they’re interested in reading all my rough drafts. I think they’d rather just buy a finished book. 

6. Being a mother and an author isn’t easy, what helped you to manage your time?

 I am literally stuck at home with no car every single day. This helps me focus on doing things here at home with a loose, but efficient schedule. My daughter is getting older and about to go into preschool, so that is going to help. Mainly I just make sure I do a little of everything every day: play with my daughter, clean the house, do laundry, prepare meals, and write and network and market all in between. My computer is in the living room, right in the hub of everything. That helps to go back and forth. 

7. Do you have any writing rituals?

 Nope, not really. I’m pretty easy-going when it comes to writing. I do write best when it’s quiet and I have chocolate nearby… 

8. Where is your favorite place to write?

 In my bed with my netbook. 

9. Do you outline a story before beginning or do you wing it?

 I used to not outline, or at least I would only outline a little at a time. For Cinders, however, I did a complete outline first. And a synopsis. That sure made things a lot easier. I think I’ll try this with every work from now on. My outlines stay very loose, though. I like to let the story go where it needs to go. 

10. What question do you wish that someone would ask you about your book, but nobody has? What’s the answer to that question?

 Uhhh, hah! I’d have to say nobody has asked me if I want Cinderella to end up with someone different at the end of the book. I’d have to say my romantic sensibilities would love to have her end up with her elf. He’s just so romantic and sweet and magical and I’d love to see her happy with him, but when I got to that point in the story it felt wrong and I couldn’t do it. Sorry if that spoiled the end for anyone. I’ve worded it as vaguely as I could!

Guest Blogger: Ien Nivens

Chasing the Source: Ien Nivens

Sinner Identity

Creativity happens.  It is a fact of nature, and you, as another natural fact, participate in it whether you will it or not, whether you witness it or not, whether you write, paint, sing, dance or sit idle.  Creativity flows ceaselessly through us in the form of unbidden dreams, spontaneous thoughts, ambitions, intuitions and paranoid ideations.  We invent ourselves and the world we inhabit moment by moment without pausing for inspiration.

We often speak of The Source as if it were a synonym for God (or a code word, maybe, for Goddess) and we seek to align ourselves with Its Purpose, as if it were an entity apart from us, a higher form of sentience from which we find ourselves somehow separated against our individual wills whenever we don’t feel like writing, painting, singing, dancing.  While this view is not entirely baseless (we are able, after all, to see ourselves individually as a part of the whole of creation and therefore both less than the whole and distinguishable from the rest of it) the concept is misleading nevertheless in that it continues to misrepresent the whole as a hierarchical system that flows from a single, grand, unified Source.  We like to have something to worship.  We like to feel awe.  And we get nervous when we begin to suspect that we are not only the adorers but also the adored.

If we think of ourselves as channels through which creativity flows and if we look for the source of that flow, we might imagine a spring bubbling up through the ground.  We want to encourage that flow, naturally, and so we try to be pleasing to it in order to curry favor with it.  Or, if we are New Age in our thinking, we seek to align ourselves with the spring in order to invite its flow into our lives.  This is propitiation, whether it is dressed in Christian, Bhuddist or Wiccan robes, and I do not say that it has no effect.  It works.  At least sometimes, for some of us.

But the spring is not, in fact, the source of anything.  It is just another conduit that links us to a deeper channel or repository where the flow has collected, as in an aquifer or an underground stream, and has now moved to the surface.  We have been fooled by appearances.  It is tempting then to imagine that deep space underground as the source of inspiration and to try to get in touch with it through dreams and trances, tapping into the unconscious as one drives a well in order to maintain access to the flow.  This, too, works.  Sometimes.  For some of us.

But the flow does not originate in the unconscious, either.  It is not created out of nothing.  It does not issue from the void.  We realize, when we stop to think about it, that we have confused a repository for a source.  We know that, just as rain falls and soaks into the ground to nourish the soil and trickles its way under or over the ground to join with other tricklings to form little streams that run into larger and larger ones, so inspiration seems to fall into our laps like grace from above, and we cast our eyes to the heavens, seeking faith in something higher, better, nobler than ourselves.  We walk with our heads in the clouds, thinking that at last we have seen clearly that the source of inspiration is to found in the formlessness of visions bestowed upon us from above.

Then the skies clear, the bright sun beats down, the stream dwindles and leaves a bed of caked mud, and our tongues turn to dust again, because heaven–even heaven–it turns out, is not the source we thought it was but only another vaporous form that inspiration takes sometimes, for some of us.

So we look to the sea, to the vast terminus of life.  We imagine that death must represent the ultimate source of invention, that our mortality is the cause of all our explorations, after all, the force that drives us to create, to leave behind us something of value.

But we know better, even, than that.  Death is, in fact, just another impermanent change of state, like water to ice and back to water again, another expression of the onward flow of life.  Creativity does not cease.  We come to the conclusion, sooner or later, that there is no source.  And yet, true to the cyclical nature of all that is, even that hard-won conclusion unravels.

We see that everything is source material.  It works to go deep, and it works to stay on the surface, to pay religious attention to detail, and it works to look high and low and to feel the pressures of time and change and to know that death stalks us, and it works to align ourselves with a higher sense of purpose.  But no one thing, no single approach works for all of us in the same way every day or under all circumstances.  And so we have to supply our own consistency, and that consistency is to work.

The flow is always there.  It exists in the way a drop of sweat glistens on the back of a mans’ neck.  It soaks into the crew collar of his red pocket tee and it leaves a rime of salt behind as it evaporates.  It is in the dream he had last night of a woman not his wife but with the same kind eyes and the same way of leaning on a door into the light of day.  It’s in his parched waking from that dream, in his thirst and his need, at the same time, to relieve himself.

Inspiration is in everything we do, and if we want it to take the form of writing, then we have to take it where we find it, in the images that flow ceaselessly and without source or meaning or the validity that we seek in them unless and until we invest in them the equity of our time spent dragging ass to chair and pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, understanding that we do not, cannot, never will command the flow of inspiration until we realize, as we live and breathe, that we are it.