Got Writing?

“I try to help people become the best possible editors of their own work, to help them become conscious of the things they do well, of the things they need to look at again, of the wells of material they have not even begun to dip their buckets into.”  ~Tobias Wolff

If you’ve been a regular follower of The Asylum, you’ll know that at one point we’d had the ambitious idea of producing an anthology. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a serious lack of publishable material, we decided against it in the end. One reader, whose story had been accepted, responded that this move on our part didn’t surprise him and that for future reference, we shouldn’t promise something that we can’t deliver.

Frankly, we never promised anything. Sometimes, believe it or not, shit happens. I was heart broken over the decision. I’d previously extended the deadline for submissions because I didn’t want to let the idea go (this is likely why said reader responded so negatively. I suppose he thought I was pissing my time away, when in reality, the fact that I pushed the pub date out was my polite way of saying that all I’d received was unpolished material). He wasn’t alone in his negativity. Several contributors were curt in their response to my email. Why do I mention it now?

Because I was just graciously offered the position of Associate Editor at Suspense Magazine.

In other words, there is a lesson to be learned here: Be professional no matter how much something disappoints you. I recall those names quite clearly and I assure you, I’ll remember them if they show up in my inbox. It isn’t retaliation. It’s my unwillingness to work with that sort of an attitude. If you can’t grant me grace during an experimental project (which I was CLEAR about up front when it came to the anthology), then I’m not going to extend you any grace, whatsoever, now.

There are some folks, whose stories/essays were accepted, who I will likely solicit material from because of how they handled themselves.

It’s kind of like those kids in High School who were picked on, only to become their bully’s boss later on. You never know where you’ll run into someone again. You never know what bridge you’ll need to cross back over to reach your goal, so it is in your best interest to refrain from burning them.

I responded as gracefully as I could to the negativity. I’d already apologized for any disappointment I’d caused, so I went on to assure one writer in particular that there would never be a next time. I wasn’t ever going to attempt an anthology again. And I meant that. I’m not. I am now, however, involved with a well-known, established, magazine that needs good writers … with good attitudes.

Oops … guess who I won’t be emailing?

SO, what am I personally looking for? (disclosure alert: if your feelings get hurt easily, stop reading now)

Damn good short stories in the thriller/horror/mystery/dark fantasy genres: And when I say damn good, I mean it. My name is now attached to this stuff, so unless I’m excited about giving my recommendation, I won’t accept it. Period. I might love you like a sibling. Doesn’t matter. So, don’t send me stuff unless you know it has a clear beginning, middle and end. If it doesn’t, then the writing itself must be strong enough to carry the narrative. I’m OK with excerpts from larger works so long as they can carry their own weight. Teasers are fine too. But don’t send me some random snippet of whatever from your unfinished work. If it’s an excerpt, I want to see a publication date attached to it (it’s OK if you’re publishing it yourself, I’m cool with that).

Pieces on the craft of writing. I LOVE stuff that looks like it ought to be a guest post here. If you’ve got something genuinely inspiring and helpful to say, then PLEASE send it my way and let’s make me look good, lol. Don’t send me the stuff you read everywhere else: The Pitfalls of Praise, etc. I HATE that crap. If it’s glaringly obvious, then leave  it in your ‘filler content’ file on your computer.

Interviews. Right now, anyone who manages to track down Bentley Little, will be on my hero list for life. I’m working on it, but if you can track him down first I will owe you a serious favor. Will I accept interviews from debut authors? Sure! But please remember that I need really thought-invoking stuff. It’s in their benefit and mine for you to ask the tough stuff. Dig deep. Make it interesting. If they sound like stock questions (where do you get your ideas from?) then don’t ask them!!

Artists. You’d better be Oliver Wetter or Eve Ventrue calibre if you send me stuff for consideration. Just because your grandmother bought you colored pencils for christmas doesn’t mean anyone else wants to see your stuff. Oliver and Eve work their hind-ends off, so don’t expect to do a half-ass job and have it work out for you. This, above all else, annoys me the most. Why? My mother is a professional artist. I’ve grown up in a house full of oil, acrylic and water color paints. I know what good art looks like and if you think your stuff is high enough calibre to submit it to me, then you’re tough enough to hear me tell you it isn’t. SO, before you hit submit, check your pants to see if you’ve got the balls for this. I won’t be kind if you send me one of those anime/manga sketches that you drew in chem class. And for the record, I’m OVER wolves. So unless yours has Red’s cape hanging out it’s realistic-looking mouth, I don’t want to see it.

Opinion/Essays on the industry, your experience as a published author (successfully self-pubbed or traditional), or on being an author in general. This is a little different than the whole, ‘stuff on the craft’ bit because it deals directly with you, not the craft. In other words, if you got shit for years from family and friends, before becoming a full time writer, I want to hear all about it—juicy details and all. Got an, I Told You So that you want voiced to the world? Let her rip.

What do I NOT want to see?

Stuff that hasn’t even been spell-checked. I don’t care about your learning disability. I’ve got one too, but I’ve learned how to deal with it. If you can’t turn in a polished, professional piece, then you won’t get my recommendation. End of story. I’m not talking about typos. Hell, I make typos ALL THE TIME (I’m sure there are some in this post). I’m talking about consistent issues and laziness. If I see it, I WILL tell you it’s unpublishable.

Poetry. Yeah, I know … there is a trend right now to crank out story-length dark poetry, ala Poe. But unless you are Poe, then I don’t want to see it. No, I mean this utterly. You aren’t an exception.

Graphic erotica, tons of cursing, or anything else I’m not allowed to turn into my own publisher. Look, I just spent two hours taking most of the F-bombs out of Icarus. I’m not saying you can’t curse or slip in an act of gratuitous violence here or there. But, it has to have a point. The fewer words you have to impress a reader with, the stronger your narrative has to be to hold their attention. In a short story, you can’t waste 15% of your verbiage on pointless vulgarity.

So, where do I submit?

jschancellor@suspensemagazine.com

I’ll respond to you within two weeks. I WILL RESPOND. To everything. If you don’t hear from me, don’t bitch about it, send it again. A lack of response means there is something wrong with the correspondence. I’m not ignoring you. If you don’t hear from me after sending your sub a second time, track me down on FB or here. On FB you can reach me under my pen name J.S. Chancellor (fan page) or my real name, Breanne Braddy.

Thanks guys! I look forward to seeing your stuff!

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A Conversation With Jack Ketchum

“Who is the scariest guy in America? Probably Jack Ketchum.” ~Stephen King.

It’s been a damn good week for me.

Yeah, I know … I just posted. I’ll likely lose a subscriber or two for posting twice in one day, but the good news is … you’ll live. You oughtta be stoked that the reason I’m posting again today is because I’m bringing you a conversation with one of my all-time favorite horror authors, Jack Ketchum.

1. As authors, seeing our novels transformed into movies, where flesh and blood people are acting out scenes we’ve already seen played a hundred times over in our heads, is something few of us will ever experience. What has that been like for you? If I recall correctly, you’ve been able to get a little more hands-on in a couple of the films, what was that like ?

When it’s good it’s a total kick in the head, when it’s not it’s…disappointing.  I’ve had more of the former than the latter, happy to say.  It’s pretty amazing.  You write a book in the privacy of your own room, it comes out of one mind and one mind only — or in the case of THE WOMAN, two —  and then you get this whole group of talented people all bring their own skills and minds to it, their own energy.  I’ve been on the set for at least a day or two with all my films and it’s always amazing.  With THE GIRL NEXT DOOR I probably spent over a week on set in several locations.  And on THE WOMAN was there for nearly the entire shoot.  That was an experience.  Working with Lucky McKee and watching actors the caliber of Pollyanna McIntosh, Angela Bettis and Sean Bridgers bring these people to life.  You want to see a couple of writers smile!

2. What is your greatest fear as an author? As a human being?

As an author?  That crazy sonovabitch will shoot me in the head for writing THE GIRL NEXT DOOR.  As a human being?  Alzheimer’s.  I think in general we mostly fear an old age in progressive lingering pain.  That and the aforementioned crazy sonovabitch.

3. The first novel I read of yours was the uncensored version of Off Season. From the outside, it appears as though you’ve moved into a place in your career where you aren’t at the same kinds of mercies that you once were in terms of censorship and word count, etc. Did you know, or have faith, back then that you would arrive at the place you are now, or was there a fear that you’d always be fighting to keep things as you’d originally penned them?

The only books I really had a censorship problem with were OFF SEASON, because of the sheer degree of violence and SHE WAKES, where I had a secondary but important character who was a male transvestite.  Berkeley Books said “you can’t do that!”  And I was new with them and had already been dumped by Ballantine and Warner so I buckled and changed it.  I think I’ll always have a problem with word count among the major publishers because I tend to write short and tight.  But maybe not.  E-books seem to be changing that, making shorter offerings acceptable.  We’ll see.  And you’re right, I don’t have to fight much these days, and pretty much knew that the day would come when I wouldn’t.

4. I promised not to ask you anything too cliché, but selfishly I have to ask: Do you have a favorite story that you’ve written?

I’m not choosing a favorite daughter.  Sorry.

5. One of my personal fears as an author is that I’ll die before I get all of the stories out of my head that need to come out. This is ridiculous of course, because we never truly run out of stories. In some cases, there are stories that refuse to be written, despite how hard we try to pen them to the page (pun intended). Do you have any stories like this? If so, how long have they been lingering and do you think they’ll ever come to fruition?

A quote I like a lot comes to mind.  “Take your time,” he would say to himself, “if the cat’s in a hurry she has peculiar kittens.”  That’s Louis de Bernieres, from BIRDS WITHOUT WINGS.  Some stories just leap out at you, beg to be written right away.  Others gestate — or in my case, sometimes fester — for quite a while.  You can’t rush them.

6. Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction have, for too long, been the redheaded stepchildren of the literary world. How have you dealt with criticism from that elitist society, and what kind of advice could you give those of us who are in the midst of, or about to be bombarded with, the same sort of cold reception?

Feggeddaboudit.  Write what you need to write and what you enjoy writing.  It’s important to keep in mind that writing’s just high-level play.  You’re doing the same thing, basically, that you did when you were just a little kid, inventing games for yourself.  They’re your games, and sometimes the other kids will want to play along and sometimes they won’t.  So long as you’re having a good time, so what?

7. I’ve never read a horror novel of yours that didn’t have depth behind it. In fact, I’ve seen more depth in some of your novels than I have in most of the purely literary novels I’ve had to read for professional review sites. I can’t help but to wonder, psychologically, how it is that with seemingly little effort, you get straight to the heart of so many unmentionable issues. You’ve tackled subjects such as rape, incest, drugs and violence, fluidly and without the need for overly ornamental prose. What do you think the differences are between works such as yours, and works that deal with similar subject matter, other than the obvious? Could it have anything to do with the fear of ourselves—the fear of what we’re truly, utterly capable of?

Thank you.  I think the key here might be that I don’t want to waste your time, or mine.  That is, I don’t want to write pure escapism — fancy-dress vampires and such.  I’d like to engage us both in a bit of dialogue about something important while at the same time telling you a good story.  I think all good writing, literary or genre — and both of these should be in quotes, to my mind — should remind you that the world is so much bigger and more diverse than your own, richer than just your experience of it for better or worse, that people are like you and not like you at all.

8. What is your definition of evil?

Lack of empathy and conscience.

9. If you could go back in time, to the days when you were writing merely for your own pleasure—before you were published or even submitting—is there any advice you’d give yourself?

Yeah, don’t try to be so fucking literary.  Don’t try to reinvent writing.  Just write.

10. The darkness of human nature, in my opinion, seems to be a common theme throughout your works. This begs the question: Do you think we are born inherently good or evil? Is it all in how we’re raised? Or a little bit of both?

I’m an optimist about human nature.  There are those among us masquerading as humans — those are the sociopaths, the ones without empathy and conscience — but they’re by far the minority.  We should watch out for them, but not despair because they happen to be there.  Most of us do as the Greeks say, go with the good. Whenever you get too down on human nature, ask yourself what other species on earth tries over and over to protect the existence of other species?  We’re still new, still evolving, and we reinvent ourselves every ten or twenty years or so.  We’re communicating right now via computer!  Good grief!  We’re practically magic!

** A HUGE thanks goes to Jack for taking time out of his seriously hectic schedule to drop by The Asylum! We sincerely appreciate it and of course, as always, thank you for sharing your awesome work. The world of horror simply wouldn’t be the same without you!!

Icarus (and other vampish things)

As I’ve been hinting on Facebook for a couple days, I have some news I’d like to share with you: that vampire novel I’ve mentioned, oh-so-casually-here and there over the years, has just been signed with Rhemalda as the first in their Ebook First line. It will be available in print as well, but they’re putting a rush on the Ebook part. But, I digress … the title of said novel is Icarus. Jessica Slate (the main character), is the stunning gal to your left. The cropped picture you see is a part of what we hope to use as the cover.

For the record, this book has been written for a LONG time. I started on it before most Twilight fans were even born. No, I’m not kidding. I’m not jumping on any kind of band wagon here, so on the off-chance that someone gets that impression, allow me to correct you in advance. Jessica Slate, is where the J.S. in my pen name comes from. This novel is more than a little near and dear to my heart. In a way, it is my heart because the original draft (which no one will ever see, so don’t ask) was written before Guardians was even conceived. Two years prior, to be exact. The plot has since been tossed and rewritten, but Jessica herself remains, along with a couple other key characters.

Instead of me giving you a blurb (’cause I totally don’t have one yet), I figured I’d let Jessica give you the 411 on her world, herself. She’s kind of a do-it-yourself gal anyway. SO, without further ado …

***

“I liked my mortality just fine. Don’t get me wrong; immortality does have its perks. Take dieting for example—kind of hard to do when you’ve only got two choices: fresh blood and slightly less fresh blood. The media makes it all out to be glamorous. Romantic even. But the books, movies and witty television shows have it wrong. Especially the ones that make a big to do about not being wrong (you know, the ones that spell vampire, Vampyr, like it’s original).

And don’t think for a second that I was turned in some amazing, soul-binding, body-meshing way either. I don’t think my libido is damaged enough to forget that kind of rendezvous. Though, to be honest, I don’t recall anything about it. As soon as you’re turned, as soon as anyone is turned, the powers that be rush in like witness protection agents and whisk you off, never to see your family or friends again. Your life changes in ways you never imagined that it could.

Like, the fact that I was kidnapped last night. Totally didn’t see that coming. Not being the Covenant level assassin that I am (did I mention that already? I didn’t get much of a choice in that either—the profession I mean).

Oh, and get this … the creeps who grabbed me claim that my mentor/should-have-kept-it-professional, boyfriend Trinity … is the vampire equivalent to the anti-Christ.

Nice. And to think it’s only Tuesday.

But wait, it gets better. See, there is one fact about vampirism that everyone gets correct: our bodies can’t biologically process natural light. Past that, all I know is that if I don’t partake of my usual dose of Icarus every seven days (provided via injection by the powers that be), I’ll lose my existence as I know it. It allows me to bask in the sunlight, keeps us from exploding into flames and I’ve heard rumors that it’s what makes us immortal. You know, little things.

And I was happy having a tan. I was happy not going through the violent withdrawal that takes place if you miss a dose. I was happy not committing treason.

Now, since Head Creep removed the dosing disc from my arm, whether I had anything to do with it or not, I’m guilty of betraying High Coven. This fact not only sucks (pun intended), it means I’ve been condemned to death.

An assassin … condemned to death. Seems like kind of shitty deal if you ask me.

Really, this guy’s a nut job. I don’t care that he’s hot, or that he gives Christian Bale a run for his money. He claims that Icarus is part of some massive conspiracy, that vampires are a perverse mutation of beings from another universe, and that Trinity (along with some dark army he’s supposedly in charge of) plans to exterminate the human race. Of course, he says this will occur in less than a week.

And damn, wouldn’t you know he’d kidnap me on day 6 of my dose?”

COMING SPRING 2012 !!! From Rhemalda Publishing

Lies, Love and Two Threads of Time

“It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such an inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of style.”  ~Oscar Wilde

Literary novels are usually full of style and grace. I’ve seen novels take a span of ten years of total, utter nothingness, and turn them into sheer wonderment. I’ve seen tragedy turned into rose petals and perfume. Problem is, real tragedy, rarely has that kind of beauty. So, I have trouble reading that sort of stuff when there isn’t a little make-believe involved.

Take Pan’s Labyrinth for example. One of my favorite movies of ALL TIME. I loved it because it was fantasy, yet it had all the makings of a literary masterpiece. Who says you can’t have both?

Why don’t I read literary novels? Well, actually, I do. Just not too often. I just read a fantastic one by Sherri Wood Emmons, titled Prayers and Lies. It takes place in Coal River Valley West Virginia, near an area where my mother grew up. The drama, religion, prayers and lies really struck a chord with me because I’ve grown up hearing tales of life in a coal town. Emmons’ style isn’t your usual literary fluff. It has grit. It has substance. In Prayers and Lies, she didn’t spend paragraph upon paragraph portraying the exact color of the wood that the dining room table was made of in an effort to symbolize the darkness of the underlying theme. She didn’t insert expertly described awkward pauses for effect, or add stifling silence into dialog to make poignant the emotional distance between two characters.

So, what is literary, if it isn’t a style? Has it come to indicate when a work has a deeper meaning than what’s on the surface? Perhaps. I’m not actually looking to the blogosphere for an answer here. I’m merely musing aloud, if you will. Literary means, to me, when a novel blends the here and the now, with the should have been or should never be. What happens when you add fantasy into the mix?

Well, you get the could have been, mixed with the never should have been, added to, the never can be. How’s that for a mouthful?

A Thief of Nightshade, set to hit the shelves next Spring (2012), could be considered either plain ole fantasy, or literary fantasy, depending on your degree of elitism. What makes it literary? Well, I can assure you it isn’t my writing style. I’m as elemental as ever. What’s different, is the obviousness of the underlying themes of the novel, in comparison to my epic work. Before I go any further, let me show you the unedited blurb:

“Avalar isn’t real.

At least, it wasn’t supposed to be. 

Aubrey never expected to fall in love with, and marry, her graduate writing professor Jullian. His life’s work, a grim fantasy titled A ‘Thief of Nightshade,’ encompassed everything Aubrey hated about fairy tales and make-believe.

After Jullian goes missing and is eventually presumed dead, Aubrey discovers just how make-believe the world of ‘Nightshade’ is …

Not only is Jullian alive and well in Avalar, he’s at the mercy of the Dark Fae, condemned to a fate worse than death, with no memory of Aubrey or his time in her world. In order to save him, she’ll have to confront more than just the demons in her past, but the very real ones that await her in a place she never thought could exist.

All of them will do everything in their power to stop her.”

Aubrey grew up with Vanderbilt kind of wealth—old east coast money. Child abuse happens all the time in upper scale, well-to-do families, but is rarely reported because the victims are kept quiet in order to spare the family name and whatever legacy it supports. Aubrey’s past and her future collide at the exact moment where the world we all know and appreciate as real and tangible, collides with the one she always thought her beloved husband had created for his novels. Problem is, he’s not the hero in this new tale. There is no prince on the other end waiting to rescue her. And if she is to have any hope of ever seeing Jullian again, Aubrey is going to have to take up the mantle of heroine herself, and lay to rest fears that have controlled most of her adult life.

Part of the story takes place in the real world (whatever that is), and the other half in Avalar. I couldn’t start the story at the beginning, when Aubrey and Jullian meet, because as a reader, frankly, you wouldn’t care what happens to them. But, by starting at his funeral (you’ll understand when you get there) and working my way backwards (and forwards) through two threads of time, there is immediately something at stake.

While I’m hesitant to tack the word, ‘literary’ onto anything I put out there for criticism … I can’t deny what this novel is. The familial deception, the secrets, the lies, the love and the sacrifices, are all a part of what made this novel such a pleasure to write. I hope, in turn, they will make this novel a pleasure to read as well. Time will tell, but like I always say: woe is the writer who mounts their merit on the masses …

Guest Blogger: James Thayer

A character’s weakness is a story’s strength.

“Your characters are going to make or break your story,’” Stephen Coonts said.  No matter how deftly the plot is put together, not matter how exotic the settings, no matter how vividly written the story is, readers won’t become involved with the story unless they are attracted to a character.  Novelist Sol Stein said, “Readers value and remember extraordinary characters long after tricky plots are forgotten.”

Sometimes creating that magnetic character is difficult.   James Michener said, “I have tried every device I know to breathe life into my character, for there is little in fiction more rewarding than to see real people interact on a page.”

Here’s a proven technique; give the character a weakness.  Nobility, intelligence, determination, wisdom, humor: all of these attributes can work well in fictional hero, but nothing endears readers to a character more than a weakness.  And Simon & Schuster editor Michael Korda said, “Characters’ weaknesses are more interesting than their strengths.”

An example is Sherlock Holmes, who was brilliant, daring, and witty.  But, as Sol Stein points out, Holmes’s “drug addiction worried his friend Dr. Watson.  Watson is critical of Holmes’s habit, but does not condemn him for it.  The reader wishes Holmes would abstain, and knows he can’t.”  Holmes can sometimes be arrogant and waspish, but Stein says the addiction helps the reader feel compassion for the detective.

Even well-crafted superheroes have weaknesses.  James Poniewozik said that we need superheroes “to suffer our heartbreaks, reflect our anxieties, embody our weaknesses,” and notes that Clark Kent’s “sad-sack personality is as essential to fans as Superman’s ability to turn steel girders into pasta ribbons.”  Stan Lee of Marvel Comics listed Spiderman’s weaknesses: “Despite his super powers, he still has money troubles, dandruff, domestic problems, allergy attacks, self-doubts, and unexpected defeats.”

What about more down-to-earth characters?  In Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara’s weakness is blind love that makes her fail to find true love and happiness. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein’s weakness is an amoral scientific curiosity.  Macbeth was undone by arrogance, and Othello by misplaced trust.

In Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander novels, Jack Aubrey’s weakness is befuddlement regarding how the world works on land, as opposed to the sea where he is indeed a master.  In John LeCarre’s novels, George Smiley’s weakness is his baffling tolerance for his wife’s affairs.

Anne’s weakness in Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is a touch of haughtiness.  In I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe, Charlotte’s weakness is naivety,  Same with Jim Hawkins in Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island.  In Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, d’Artagnan is plagued by a prickliness to insult stemming from a sense of inferiority.

A weakness endears a character to readers because we aren’t perfect, and so we see ourselves in character’s weaknesses.  We root for people with whom we sympathize, and so we want to accompany the character on her adventures, cheering all the way.

**You can find out more about James, and get more of his sage advice at his website here. I haven’t personally read his book yet (as I just recently had the pleasure of ‘virtually’ meeting him through comments on Best Damn), but if it is anywhere near as excellent as his blog, then it ought to be well worth the money to purchase it!

In the In-between

“Sometimes when I think how good my book can be, I can hardly breathe.” ~Truman Capote

Authors have love affairs. Some of them are lasting, life-long affairs that wax and wane like the cycles of the moon. Others are short bursts of passion whose fires fizzle out as quickly as they were lit. We don’t … however, marry.

I’m talking about our writing, of course. I’ve been happily married in real life for nearly 10 years.

And I’m not talking in general terms about our storytelling either. I’m speaking literally of how we feel about our ability to write. We crush on it at times, especially when we get a particularly glowing review from a blogger or critic, or better yet from an agent, our editor, or our publisher.

But we don’t love it.

We love the act. We love the stories, the characters … the worlds we create. We even think we love our writing at times. But, like all affairs, the truth comes out in the end and we, being the fickle lovers that we are, we change and look for other mistresses. Other mistresses, being however you chose to interpret this analogy. It’s different for each of us.

I’ve never read a single blog post where the author raved about their talent with words. Storytelling, sure. But don’t think for a minute that we don’t all feel that deep-in-your-gut dread that says none too quietly, “Wow, I’m absolutely horrible at this. I’m that girl in the church chorus whom they’ve doled out solos to because they pity her.”

Even the great Capote, who knew damn well that he had a firm hold on the English language (as evidenced by his many self-indulgent quips), had his darker moments. Note that in the quote above, he didn’t say how good his writing could be—how skillful his prose could be. He said my book. Big, big difference.

There are moments, however rare they may be, when we read a paragraph or a chapter (or if we’re really blessed, a whole book that we’ve penned), and we think to ourselves, “That was incredible.” But, it just doesn’t last—that feeling. It fades as quickly as oak furniture in direct sunlight.

So what do we do?

We love like hell in those passionate moments—in the in-between. And we learn. My God, do we learn. And we wait. We wait for the next breathtaking moment.

I promise you … if you are patient, it will come. Remember, feelings are fickle and are apt to betray. Promises however, if you mean them, can last lifetimes. And I promise to stay faithful to my writing, for better or worse.

Do you?

Shit My Muse Says Pt.1

Shit my muse LOVES: Morior by Tom Barczak

“Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing.”
Robert Benchley

What is that thing in the picture?

That, my dear friends/family members/random passer-byers, is a Morior. This particular Morior has a name, Eralos, and he’s a quite a nasty, boorish sort of Morior. He also happens to be a fallen immortal. This is, of course, from my Guardians trilogy. A fellow author, Thomas Barczak did this sketch last week and I’ve stared at it ever since. I fully intend to have Thomas do a series of drawings for me for future use either on the Guardians blog or perhaps additional publications for Guardians (such as an E-encyclopdia). Why am I showing it to you?

Because I can…

No, really it’s because I think there is something to be said for indulging yourself a little as an author—your muse likes it and will behave when you do.  Which per usual got me thinking about what ELSE my muse, specifically, likes. So I thought now would be a good time to start a series about all the shit my muse says. Everyone in the blogosphere is doing “series” these days, so for once in my life I caved to the peer pressure and I’m now doing what all the popular kids are doing. This is my lame attempt at going with the flow. So, without further ado: Shit my muse says…

* You know, when you drink that much coffee, you’re only writing faster—not smarter. There is a difference. The more caffeine you consume in one writing session, the more of a dumbass you make me out to be. I’m not overly fond of this.

* I like split-infinitves. You can sort it out with your editor later. Yes, I know they’re bad. That’s your problem, MRS. Fancy Pants Author, not mine.

* For Christ’s sake will you PLEASE Stop reading reviews on Goodreads and Amazon? Or anywhere else for that matter? Every single time you ‘glance’ at your stats or a group of reviews, you’re effectively clamping your hand over my mouth. Then, you have the nerve to get mad at me for not saying anything?!

* There is a CAA meeting at the local Y next Wednesday. I’m signing you up. What do you mean you don’t know what CAA is? Comma Abusers Anonymous. It’s like AA without the occasional boozing and with, ridiculous, unnecessary, pausing….and a worse hangover.

* Do you realize how often you nod? Your husband nods. Your mother nods. The dude chewing gum at the DMV nodded when you lied and told him you only weighed 110 pounds. Do you have some perverse need to voice aloud every single instance you perform or see someone commit this act of normalcy? No? Then why the hell do you insist on typing it ALL. THE. TIME. (My muse shakes her head, frowning)

*Ahem….same goes with the whole shaking-of-the-head bit. Knock it off already!

* It’s perfectly reasonable to tell you all about other works while you’re trying to write to a deadline. My name is not Motivation, it’s Muse. I’m much better looking, I come around more often and technically I don’t require you to *do* anything. You should be grateful that I feel so inclined as to whisper, ever-so-gently, into your ear.

* I like adjectives and adverbs. So, either learn to use them effectively or fill out an application to flip burgers ’cause I have NO intention of losing my affinity for them. Yes, I know what a word search is and I don’t appreciate the tone you’re taking with me.

* Hot wings … all flappers … with extra hot sauce, extra ranch dressing and extra celery, are all totally necessary to write this next scene. No, seriously, you’re not typing a single word until these items are procured. I don’t care that it’s Sunday or that Willy T’s is closed.

* Still no hot wings? Such a shame. It’d be a PERFECT day to write, don’t you think?

* Readers, some of them, don’t think writers ever make mistakes. The well-read ones will realize that, while ideal, this ridiculous concept is not true. AT. ALL. So do the best you can and learn from your errors. You have an editor at Rhemalda who will catch 99% of the things you miss while drafting your fiction. Learn from that instruction. But, DON’T let your fear of the public’s perception hinder you from blogging as honestly as you always have. You will make mistakes. You are only human. Whoever has an issue with it can come take it up with me in private. It won’t be pretty.

* 3am is a perfectly reasonable time to send you inspiration. Perfectly. Reasonable. Why are you asking?

* I know I’m getting on your nerves, but that major info dump you just dropped into chapter five isn’t going to make me go away.

* YES?!? You have to write down the verbal picture I’m painting rightdamnow! I’m only giving you this idea once, and then that’s it. Your time with that idea will have passed and I’ll hand it off to someone else’s muse who will listen to them.

* OK, I lied about the too much coffee thing. WE NEED COFFEE NOW!

Part II coming next week. Meanwhile, what kind of shit does your muse say?

I’m Just Saying…

“Having the critics praise you is like having the hangman say you’ve got a pretty neck.”
Eli Wallach

I just read ANOTHER post on the pitfalls of praise. It even had a cute trendy title and came from a, gasp, respected trustworthy source.

Why is it that somehow praise is always to be regarded with a skeptical attitude, but criticism is not? I realize that this is rarely stated as being 100%, but it still seems like every other blog post I read these days is all about gleaning nuggets of wisdom from the negative reviews and “plugging your ears” when the praise comes around. I’m not saying that there isn’t some truth in being cautious with how you interpret reader reaction, be it positive or negative, but this #trendy topic I think has grown a bit big for its britches.

You know how small our percentages are as authors, how much we get paid in reality (even those of us on bestseller lists), and yet the one thing we get to really enjoy … we’re to plug our ears to? This was a great post that I just read, and I understand where she was coming from, just like I’ve understood the perspective of every other post on this subject. Yet, it still chaps my ass a little. Why?

Because we grew up in a world where things like 5th place exists. Because every other profession gets to celebrate, regardless of where they fall on the continuum except, it seems, for authors. Honestly, I’m a little tired of it. Who really stops growing as a writer because they think that they’re made of awesome? Seriously, are there that many authors out there who are throwing all their forward momentum into the trash because their latest novel was well received and they’re reveling in it a while?

I doubt it. Maybe one or two … but it’s hardly the epidemic that the blogosphere is making it out to be. If the temperature of the literary community is in any way related to how bloggers see this subject, we’d all be proclaiming our own worth like Capote on steroids. But, we aren’t.  No one writes blog posts about how much they rock (no author I’ve ever heard of anyway).

Unwarranted praise? I believe in the existence of unwarranted criticism, but a wealth of praise from the anonymous public without cause seems … um, legendary? I can’t even think of the right word for this. I get what she’s saying if the praise is coming from friends and family, but give us some credit for not being totally brain-dead here. We know genuine praise from total crap. And even if it is from family, it depends on which member of the family the praise is coming from. If your uncle has told you that your stuff is shit, 9 books out of 10, then you’re more than free to take that 10th book’s praise to heart.

I’m SO tired of hearing this chanted like a mantra for newbies. The Pitfalls of Praise. It’s cute. It’s catchy. It’s everything you’d want in a viral blog post. It probably even looks good printed out and posted over an aspiring author’s desk, but I can’t bring myself to agree with it. I think if you’re in-tune enough with your voice, as an author, and your editor, as a professional, then you’ll be just fine.

If, for some ungodly reason, there is a giant steaming batch of unwarranted praise hanging out there for a novel, your publisher/agent and/or editor, will tell you not to let your head get too big over it. I’m sure. Can’t say that I see that scenario actually happening in real life, but perhaps for someone the words, “All those comments about how strong your characterization is, are total shit. You need to seriously work on it in the future,” have been spoken.

Whatever. All I’m saying is that I doubt Stephen King takes advice like this. Or J.K. Rowling, or Dean Koontz. Or hell, even James Patterson. Maybe they just don’t care and I’m too bitter to see the forest for the trees … or, just maybe, we’ve let Twitter and Google Ads overtake our want for genuine writing guidance and sound mentoring. Most things worth hearing don’t fit into the viral scheme, so that stuff doesn’t get blogged about all that often. It doesn’t easily fit into packages with shiny ‘totes fave’ Blogger of the Week badges, or into the top five sponsored Twitter topics.

Real gold takes a little searching. It doesn’t pop out at you from a laminated sticky note above your desk. It comes from inside your head or your heart. The real gold is you, your special gifts, and your unique voice as an author. It’s the stuff only you’re capable of telling yourself.

So, instead of shunning praise and scouring criticism … how about we spend a little more time invested in finding out who we really are as authors?

I’m just saying …

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.

Sex and the Art of Author Marketing

“There are three possible parts to a date, of which at least two must be offered:  entertainment, food, and affection.  It is customary to begin a series of dates with a great deal of entertainment, a moderate amount of food, and the merest suggestion of affection.  As the amount of affection increases, the entertainment can be reduced proportionately.  When the affection is the entertainment, we no longer call it dating.  Under no circumstances can the food be omitted.”  ~Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour

As I stated in a status update mere moments ago, it’s like taking the magic out of Christmas. Or rather, it’s like talking about the mechanics of sex, while in the middle of the act.

No, I don’t mean dirty talk. That’s entirely different and is actually quite effective. Usually.

What I’m talking about, is the crappy work of promoting your stuff, yourself and then on top of that, all of the conversation about your work that goes on while you’re doing the aforementioned “deed.” For example, your beloved Ariana becomes your “main character.” Your carefully crafted evil, yet complex, master race becomes “central destructive force.” And so on and so forth. Shall I give you the run down of genital comparisons? No, I’d rather that I didn’t either.

Part of becoming successful is marketing. Because, let’s face it, publishers either won’t or can’t, do it all. Large publishers could, but don’t give a damn until the marketing part is almost unnecessary because your stuff is selling itself. The little guys want to, and sometimes try, but can’t due to budget restrictions and the realities of being a modern day book press.

Most authors I know, THRIVE on this stuff. They host giveaways, they write brilliant, witty blogs on how to do this, that or the other thing. They glow when they talk about their stuff.

I wither. I wilt like a ten year old little girl who has just found out that Santa Claus isn’t real. My creative spirit dries up, my mojo runs low, and my muse all but goes on strike. It’s the number one reason I never got an English degree. I just. can’t. do. it. I can’t talk about my work as if it isn’t a sentient thing. After the fact I can, sometimes. I don’t know what this makes me (this is not the best moment to answer me here). Something of a naturalist perhaps? It reminds me a little of folks who love music, can play the piano (or other instruments) by ear, but don’t know the notes. I adore writing. I’m at my best when I have written. I am a miserable excuse for a human being when I haven’t been writing.

But I don’t like talking about the technicalities. Oh, I’ll talk about story all day long. I’ll talk about characters, world building, etc. But, for some reason, the technical terms just totally drain me. Weird right?

I want the date to go along without stopping and analyzing when the entertainment should decrease, and the affection increase…etc. How awkward would that be? Or to be more crass, if my husband and I are having sex, let’s just have sex, huh? And if there is any talking, let’s NOT use medical terms? Please?

Problem is, if you want people to see your stuff, you don’t have a choice. I don’t have a choice. I have to market and trump up stuff to gain media exposure and all that jazz. God, I envy Salinger in this. I have to tweet and FB and Digg and a whole myriad of things that I really don’t care all that much about. I like FB because I’ve made invaluable friends through my contacts there. But, everything else…par for the course I suppose, but it still sucks the muse out of me.

I want what all writers want deep down…just to write. Pure, and ridiculously simple. I want what nature intended for us.

Instead, I have to woo the masses. I have to date them, entertain them, and with any luck, at the end of the night I’ll get laid. But GOD, how I hate this. Can’t we just skip all of that and get on with it? Whatever happened to an author’s business being the written word, and the book seller’s business being marketing? It DID used to be this way, once, long long ago when curling irons were iron fire pokers. And don’t go into the whole bit on everything else that was different back then, I’m not a total douche. You get my drift here.

Am I alone here? Anyone else feel like this? It’s OK if I am alone here, but….still….thought I’d ask.

Own Your Story

“No man but feels more of a man in the world if he have a bit of ground that he can call his own.  However small it is on the surface, it is four thousand miles deep; and that is a very handsome property.”  ~Charles Dudley Warner

Sitting down to a new story, is like opening your vehicle to that, oh—so—wonderful, new car smell. You know what I’m talking about. It permeates everything—the seats, the trunk, and if you have a leather interior you get that old spice suave smell in addition to it. And like cars, stories need gas. What sort of gas am I hypothetically talking about? Well, that depends on you. Fuel is fuel. So what fuels your story? Some require premium, others you can get by with the cheapest stuff available. But there is a larger question at hand here:

Are you leasing, or buying?

You might not think there is a difference, but there is, and that difference determines how you’ll treat that story. Renters tend to ignore all of the little things because they aren’t fully invested in their acquired merchandise, or where they live, or what car they drive. When you first see that story, when you open the door and smell that delicious smell, you’re making a choice right then, whether or not you’re going to be with this thing for the long haul. You might not know that, but you are. Please trust me on this, you are.

If you’re buying, your maintenance will be more regular (usually), the grade oil you use will be higher (let’s assume for the sake of conversation that the oil here is the level of time you spend invested into your craft to make it all run smoothly), and you’ll take better care of it. Why? Because you envision a future with it. You make a commitment to it.

Is it your first work? Are you afraid those bloggers might be right? You know the ones—the guys and gals who emphatically state that all novels are total shit up until your fifth or sixth (or whatever the trend is at the time)? Whether or not you are a beginner, pro, or indeed a writer of total shit, you’re still making a call when you sign up for a fresh work. If you go at it with half your heart because deep down you’re letting your insecurities and fears make your decisions for you, then you’re leasing. If you go at it with all your heart, even if you’re scared to death of the commitment, then you’ve purchased.

Sounds too simplistic doesn’t it? It isn’t really, not when you look at it carefully. Contracts are sticky, complex things. And after all, any agreement between two parties is nothing more than a contract. You’re laying out your terms, and so is the story.

So what are the story’s terms?

Well, here’s some insider information—stories don’t like to be leased. They’ll offer you all sorts of incentives NOT to lease, but if you aren’t paying any attention, you’ll look right over them. Reminds me of rebates on cars—if you don’t ask, they don’t have to give them to you.

Stories don’t want you to bail after a certain number of rejections. That’s leasing. That’s turning it all back in, after a certain number of months (form letters from agents, or publishers, or both). Less the damages of course. And whatever damage you’ve done will cost you if you invest in another story at the same dealership. You’ll carry the cost over, just like you’ll carry the wounds of rejection letters over. And the thing is, if you’ve purchased, you don’t have to deal with that—not in the same way.

When you buy, you have the right to do whatever you want to with it after the title is in your name (that would be finishing the story). You can sell it if you’d like, pocket the profit, or keep it till it has to be retired. Bottom line is that the choices here are all yours.

When you lease, you don’t own anything. You aren’t investing in anything. Sure, there are perks. It’s cheaper, for starters, to lease than to own. Maintenance is taken care of (those are all of those classes and online critique groups you’ve spent years in). The second something is “wrong” and deemed beyond repair, it’s covered and you get to turn the thing back in, whether time is up on the lease or not.

When you buy, anything beyond the warranty is your responsibility. Yet, here’s the thing: Despite all the upkeep and the hassle, once it’s paid off, then it is truly YOURS. Forever. No take backs.

For better or worse, it belongs to you. And there isn’t anything better in this world than ownership. I saw a bumper sticker once that read, “Quit laughing jackass, it’s paid for!” You might not get published right away. You might never get published. You might get published, but not make a huge career out of being an author. But, it’s PAID for! You wrote the novel(s) that most of the world merely wishes to write. Don’t ever, ever forget this. It’s the only thing that matters.

So, you tell me: Are you leasing or buying? Really look at this question and answer it for yourself as honestly as you can. It’s really easy to say, “Yes I am buying.” But are you? Do you have one foot out the door, just waiting for something better to come along so you can slide out of one lease and move onto another one? When you get a form letter, or personalized rejection in your inbox, do you console yourself by saying inwardly, “Well, it’s not my best work anyway. I can do better. Maybe they’ll like the next thing I write?” Nothing wrong with hoping for better luck next time, but my point here is this: Are you giving your story less credit than it deserves because you really don’t plan on being with it for the long run?

The new car smell fades, yes. And it’s exciting to jump into a new car every couple of years. But nothing smells as good as a title, (pun intended) fresh off the press and I can guarantee you that with a lease, you’ll never see a title. You’re only borrowing it from someone else who will one day own it.

Which I suppose brings up the final question: Are you prepared to give it up to someone else? If not, then might I suggest you renegotiate your terms before your time is up?

It’s been long enough. You’ve waded into the shallow end. Take the plunge and OWN your story!

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!!!

You Reap What You Sow

How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.”  ~Wayne Dyer

The literary industry can’t withstand what happened to the music industry. We can’t build houses of sticks and straw and expect them to weather the storm. Media piracy sucks the lifeblood out of the entertainment business, but as wounded as musicians have been over the illegal distribution of their material, they won’t hurt like authors will.

Just two weeks after the release of Son of Ereubus, a ridiculous amount of downloads have been completed. Really, it’s staggering. I had to take a screen shot because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing (still don’t). Compounding this is the fact that it went viral. I’ve seen it in forums, multiple free torrent sites and a few membership only ones.

I’m not Stephen King folks…and I’m flattered that someone out there, somewhere, thinks it’s good enough to steal. Honestly. But that warm fuzzy feeling, like a good strong night’s worth of drinks, leads to nothing but a vicious migraine and one hell of a stomach ache.

With the dawn of new technology and the ever-changing format of material, our rear-ends have to get in gear here or we’re going to be left in the dust. Again. Why do I say again?

How many authors, who are signed with large publishing houses, who have awesome (big name) agents, can afford to write full time? Answer: Not as many as you’d think. 

Artists are often in this same boat. Even being featured in well-known galleries doesn’t mean that your work will necessarily afford you a decent lifestyle. I suppose it depends on your definition. But, how do you take what isn’t there to be taken? An author’s royalties, even before you take out an agent’s 20%, are SO minimal…that the idea of losing a good portion of that income because of piracy makes my insides hurt. I’m not saying that this is the case with Son of Ereubus. I’m published with a very small press, so I don’t expect to earn a ton anyway. I’m sure sales have been affected, but I’m talking on a wide-scale basis here. This hits home with everyone who ever hopes to earn a living from selling their fiction, whether they realize it yet or not.

Now, pair this with all of the other “hot  topics” out there right now: E-book vs Paper, Paperback vs Hardcover, Self-publish vs Traditional, POD vs Print Run, Large Print Run vs Small Print Run, Small Press vs Big Five, Literary Fiction vs Pop Fiction, Listed at P&E as Gold vs Listed on P&E as Evil, To Blog vs Not to Blog, Social Media Savvy vs Being a J.D. Salinger Hermit, All Rights Contracts vs Limited Rights Contracts ….really??? Are you guys hearing me here? WE HAVE ISSUES….and not the kind of issues that “I”m OK, You’re OK” can fix. And don’t even get me started on the whole audio rights and ereaders thing… 

Back to the problem of piracy…a lot of these torrent sites are over seas. Right now…there’s next to nothing that can be done about it. So, I did the only thing I could do—I went to my J.S. Chancellor FB page and asked that if anyone had downloaded it illegally, liked it, and was on my page as a result, would they please consider leaving a review of the book somewhere. I don’t exactly consider that an even trade, but I know what it’s like to not be able to afford to read a book you want to read. Yes, I’m aware that some downloaders can afford to buy it but are too cheap or lazy to do so…you reap what you sow and like the quote above states, the best thing I can do in this situation is to find the silver lining and be grateful for it. This may gain me readership that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

The issue though, still remains…our industry is already in shambles. Less books are being signed and published now than in recent years (no smartass, keep that in context. I’m not comparing 2010 to the dark ages here).  Yet, it’s easier than ever before for authors to network and submit their work. We have computers to write on, instead of relying on type writers (talk about revision hell). We don’t have to send queries via snail mail anymore. It’s also harder to avoid things like reviews and reader reactions. Nearly everyone with a keyboard has a blog these days (with ample opinions and snark to accompany said site).

Have I ever downloaded music illegally? Without answering that directly, I’ll simply say that I’m not a saint. Anything I may have done though, I paid for in spades later out of guilt.

Double-edged sword if I’ve ever seen one. I swear if I ever become independently wealthy, you guys will never see or hear from me again. I’ll legally change my middle name to Hermit.

SO, what now folks? What’s your suggestion? Better yet, what’s your prediction for the future of our industry?

Even a Little Foolish…

“Fear knocked at the door.  Faith answered.  And lo, no one was there.”  ~Author Unknown

If you do something in faith and the world thinks you are a fool for it, does it mean any less? If you do something in faith and are proven to be wise for having done so, does it mean any more?

I bought stationery with my pen name on it, long before this day. Had this day never come, I would still be writing, still be dreaming, still be venturing into worlds previously unknown. But, this day is here…this day, awaited for so long, brings with it the release of my first-born, Son of Ereubus. In the grand scheme of things, it means very little. In the whole of my life, it carries no more weight than any other day. But, somehow, to my soul and perhaps my heart, it bears more weight than any day in my past or any day that has yet to come. How can I know the latter?

Because, like so many authors, it isn’t about the day the world recognizes me. It never was. Today marks more than the birthday of my debut novel’s publication, it marks a permanent change in my spirit. It’s a beautiful, breathtaking thing, that I didn’t foresee anymore than I foresaw the process being so heartbreaking. 

There is more than a silver lining…

Through the response of readers, I’ve seen Adoria anew. I’ve felt the crisp, biting winter wind on my cheeks like never before. I’ve felt love’s kiss with untested passion. I’ve borne the guardianship of Man with unshakeable resolve. I’ve seen the slavery of Eidolon, the tyranny of the Laionai, the cruelty of the Ereubinians, and the faith of Man through more than the eyes of a listless vessel.

Saturday morning, I woke up to a stunning bouquet of lilies and roses. A dear friend and fellow author (Douglas Brown and his gorgeous wife Angie) sent them to me to congratulate this milestone, but today I did something for myself—something to once again show the universe that this venture, this calling, I do for me and me alone…

I bought a silver birthstone necklace, on which I had engraved the three principal characters in Fable (Guardians). I chose an April birthstone (3) because it’s as close as you can come to white Adorian stone. On the back, I engraved the date and the title of the first book. The keepsake box that came with it will read, “Guardians of Legend.”  

Am I being dramatic and ridiculous? Probably. Do I care? Not even a little bit. Do I care that this is the release of a small press book over a debut with Tor, or Del Ray? You should know me well enough by now to know the answer to that. If this is your first post here at The Asylum, let me recommend that you start from the beginning and work your way forward. The madness will make a lot more sense that way.

So here’s to being utterly selfish, dramatic, ridiculous and even a little foolish…

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.”

The Telling

“Dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms.”  ~Alfred Hitchcock

It’s interesting that, as an author, you learn things about yourself through reading and listening to how your readers interpret your work. For instance: I have always loved horror, but didn’t realize how much of it I’d put into Guardians until I read two reviews that highlighted the “brutal aesthetic” present in Son of Ereubus.

As author Anthony Pacheco put it, “On the surface, leave no doubt that Son of Ereubus is creepy as hell. I would not call it a horror book but there are many horror elements on display. Indeed, the level of creep is so persuasive that, like the inhabitants of the human world and their protectors, a reader gets used to it. There is a certain, brutal aesthetic to the plot.”

Though, my favorite line from his review is this one: “Garren is the anti-hero and even before he grasps the ugly horns of self-determination, he strangely becomes a sympathetic figure. How Chancellor made me feel pangs of sympathy for such an evil fuck, I have no idea.”

Ien Nivens, in his review at Berkshire Fine Arts, said this: “Stark brutality reigns on one side of that divide. The seat of power “reek[s] of sweat and grime” and more than a little gore. In Eidolon, a young man’s rite of passage is the taking of a soul, while a woman given in a chilling parody of marriage is rendered incapable of protest, her former allegiances juiced out of her, her private will severed from her body.”

Chilling parody of marriage—indeed it is. That phrase also had me smiling, because it meant that my intentions, and effort at carrying them out, had delivered. It’s in these moments, where you find yourself holding your breath, that the negative reviews and snide remarks and hardships of being a published author, become worth it. You send your baby out into the world and wonder if you’ve revealed enough—said enough—for your readers to see clearly the picture you were attempting to paint for them. You suspect that you used too much paint in some areas (and you probably did) and not enough in others. But in these wonderful, rare moments, the most important things have been seen and I’ve never felt joy like that before.

There was a scene in particular that concerned me, that I remained tight-lipped about, because I wondered if anyone would understand why it was even there (a well-meaning beta reader had told me it was pointless and to take it out). And then Ien stated this, “When Duncan takes the stage, very near the end of Son of Ereubus, to expose not only Garren’s depravity (which we’ve witnessed from the very beginning) but the cost of it in wrenching human terms, we take the full brunt of Chancellor’s integrity as a novelist of purpose. She delivers a blow to the viscera before she offers her hand again–open this time–and hauls us to our senses and our feet to remind us that there’s business to attend to yet.”

I teared up like a junior high girl who’d just been asked to dance.

And it’s these things that I cling to as I find that my world—the real one—has changed. Vivian Beck warned writers to savor the days they spent writing for themselves. She was right. More than I would have imagined and more than I care to detail here, publicly. But, let me add to that warning: Spend this time, the days and months, and years, before publication, finding your center. Discover the real reason for your writing. Don’t just savor the days, catalog them. File them so that you can go back and pull from them what you’ll need when your days are no longer at your sole discretion.

The stories were never really yours to begin with, but the telling…the telling is for a time. There is more than a little magic in this. There is more than a little utility in this. You are packing your bags, filling them with everything you think you’ll need for the journey ahead. If you’re wise, and I know you are, you’ll remember to take care of yourself and not those you intend on meeting down the road. If you don’t, it will make for a lighter carry-on, but trust me—please—when I tell you that you’ll regret it once you get there. Wherever there is for you.

To expand on the analogy of our work being our children, you’ve got to consider both of you in order to be a good parent. If you don’t bring the things you need along, then how can you expect to care for your child? On the same token, if you bring nothing to nurture your child, how will it flourish? You rely on each other. Are there times in your life where your writing means everything to you? It works both ways. Don’t ever, ever, forget that.

 There are some who would try their hardest to convince you that only readers matter, and that a work is nothing without them (there are moments after publication where this thought beckons once again). But, this is not so. Too many authors wrote prolifically during their lifetime, only to perish before their work was ever read by a single reader. Are they any less an author because of this? Any less a poet? Of course not. The validity of the work doesn’t correlate to the validation of the public. After all, woe is the writer who mounts their merit on the masses…

Revel in the telling…because if you’re destined to see your work in print, there will come a time when you will long for that blessed exclusivity.

A woman who has been trying to get pregnant for years, is alone in her bathroom, waiting on a little blank square to tell her whether there is life inside of her. Does the pregnancy begin when the test confirms it? When she tells the father? The world? No. The recognition has nothing to do with the life force at all.

So, while you are waiting on that test…revel in knowing the outcome. Revel in being what you know you are—what grows inside of you. Revel in the telling…because saying it aloud to yourself…I am a writerI have a story to tell…is so very different than saying it to another person. And that’s a moment you can never get back.

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!