Stop! … Trailer Time

OK … bad 90s reference, I know. I’m just excited over these two teaser trailers. Watch them first, then we’ll talk about them.

 


Pretty awesome, huh? I thought so too. Of course, I might be a tad bias … I did have them made and they are for my books. Still, the music is righteous and the timing rocks. Best of all, it didn’t cost me much. But, that’s a secret for another day entirely.

What’s more important here is … I don’t hate trailers anymore. And I didn’t think it was possible to convert me. Ever. I loathed the very idea. But, these are short and sweet and to the point. No messing around. No funky crap. So, my question … or rather, what I’d like to discuss, is: what do you think works in a trailer and why? What do you hate in a trailer?

 

The Wishing

“One writes such a story [The Lord of the Rings] not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed, nor by means of botany and soil-science; but it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mold of the mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps. No doubt there is much personal selection, as with a gardener: what one throws on one’s personal compost-heap; and my mold is evidently made largely of linguistic matter.”  – J. R. R. Tolkien

To put it simply, the question at hand is: What influences you, and what are you doing with the product of that influence?

We can’t know all of it, there’s too much to take in. But, in our fiction there are a great many references to our lives, intentional or otherwise, because we can only write what we know. I laugh a little, quietly of course, every time I hear someone say, instructionally, ‘Write what you know.’ I laugh because that’s as ridiculous as saying, ‘Speak using words you’ve learned.’ Kind of unavoidable really … if I don’t know the word, how can I know to use it? Similarly, if I don’t vaguely, in some form or fashion, know what I’m writing about, then how would I be aware enough to write it down at all?

I suppose the problem stems from people misinterpreting that advice to mean that one should write about things one is familiar with, or well-versed on.

That’s not the point.

Oh, I’m sure some who say it mean it that way, but that’s a narrow way of thinking and we don’t encourage that sort of thing here at the asylum. When you hear ‘average’ advice, we want you to think about what’s being said. Really think about it. Don’t just shrug and accept it at face value or immediately jump to the easiest explanation. In other words, spend time and interpret the words yourself. What does that guidance mean to you personally?

This brings me back around to why writing is so deeply connected to our personal lives … this compost pile, this mold that Tolkien referred to, is part of our whole being, not just our writerly selves. We are more than authors, you know. In a sense, we are the truest kind of human beings because we take all of our experiences and we catalog the liveliest, loveliest, darkest and most beautiful pieces and then file them away to be examined and picked apart and appreciated later. I suppose artists are the same, but still there remains something visceral in the sheer monotony of words. I say monotony because they all use the same letters (OK, not if you’re comparing Japanese to say, English, but you get the drift). The stark sameness of our materials, those letters and words, forces us to get our hands dirty in the muck and mire of our past and of our imagined future. Usually, if we write fiction, this is through the exploration of someone else’s past and future, an imaginary someone, but someone else nonetheless.

As fantasists, we are not exempt from writing what we know, even if we’ve made a great majority of it up. It’s still patchwork pieces of the life we’ve lived. Things we create are kind-of-like-but-not, everything we’ve ever touched or tasted or screwed or slapped or kissed. Sensory tools are all we have in gathering our materials from the compost heap in order to form them into a deliverable story.

The story is there, to us, from the very beginning … from the moment we pull the little scraps and clippings from the pile, the leaves from the mold, but our task as authors is to weave enough of a foundation around those things to give the story a reference point and to make it understandable to others. We’re, in a sense, telling the onlookers what all the pictures in our scrapbooks are of; where the tuft of fur is from, what the golden thread means, what the feathers are for.

Our novels, even the most outrageous ones, are like giant scrapbooks of our lives. Sometimes we lie about what’s on the pages and why … but those things are still ours. They belong, utterly, to us in ways that can only be explained through emotional and physical attachments.

And they say it isn’t personal.

The author, clutching her book of scraps, those bits of bone and shreds of soul all bound up, laughs at this too. She laughs because she knows better. The only things that aren’t personal are the blank pages of the book, the glue in the binding and the leather of the cover. But, the contents … oh the contents are the very definition of personal. Pity those who cannot see it this way, for they truly cannot understand the deeper meaning of art and I wonder, since they cannot see the reasons, are they capable of seeing life as a personal experience at all?

I suspect not. They’re the sort of people who take things at face value … they laugh at jokes they don’t get, comment on medical reports that they haven’t read, news stories that they don’t understand and they hate and love with equally blind devotion. They are not capable of making up their own mind on anything. And so, they bristle to hear that you’ve done so, to hear that you’ve claimed something not only for yourself, but as something that is uniquely and irrevocably yours. It is simply beyond their comprehension.

But … as authors, storytellers, it is also our task to keep that pile cultivated. We have to do more than just exist. We have to live … really live. I know it’s been said a hundred times before, to breathe deeply, love unconditionally, laugh hard, but don’t take this bit of advice at face value either. There is more to just living than reveling in the experience of it. Yes, laugh hard. Yes, love deeply. But, more than anything, don’t waste your time. You only have a limited amount of it, and unfortunately most of us aren’t aware of just how much time that is. So, spend every moment you can of that time you’ve been given either cultivating things to go into your scrapbook later, or weaving what you’ve already saved up into whatever tales you plan on telling.

You’re the only one with that particular compost heap … that forest mold … those leaves … so, that story, the one that’s been placed in your hands and in your pile, can only be told by you. No one else on this earth has your exact set of experiences. You are, despite however much you might have in common with others, unique. So, if you don’t tell that story … if you don’t gather up your scraps and bravely set forth to show them to others, then no one ever will.

No one ever will.

Every moment you waste in fear is a sentence that will never be crafted. Every afternoon you fritter away by worrying about whether or not your writing will be read and loved by others, is a scene that dies an untimely death. Every week that you don’t grab hold of, is a character or plot arc that will never get a chance to breathe. Every month you spend not writing, is a story that fades into nothingness. Every year you allow to pass by, is a world you’ll never create. Every decade is a career milestone that you’ll never reach. Eventually, you’ll run out of things to forego and there will be nothing left but the wishing.

You will not get better by thinking about it. You won’t progress by stalling and crying and hoping or pleading with others to share their secrets. There are no secrets, there is only the act of putting words onto a page, one letter at a time. Your ideas won’t come to life just by remaining in your head unseen and unheard. Fads will come and go, trends will wax and wane. Your style won’t improve just because you get older and mature. You won’t suddenly wake up one day, miraculously inspired, and find that you’ve finally become a writer. It doesn’t work that way, but you’d think it did judging by the sheer volume of ‘writers’ who are … well … not writing. They’re wishers, not writers. And they’re excellent at it. They’ve hoarded an absurd amount of materials in their compost pile, their mold is fermented and ready for use. They are some of the most talented people I know, if only they would brave that first step. There’s nothing there but the dirt to step on … no hot coals (those don’t come till later) … just moss and leaves.

So, what are you waiting on?

Step out. Stop wishing. Start breathing. Start living. Start writing.

Harvesting Engineered Fiction

Harvesting Engineered Fiction: By Vanessa Cavendish

“When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow.” –Anais Nin

In her July 7 post, “Wholistic Writing, Part 2,” Breanne posed a slew of questions to get us thinking about our own writing. I personally think each of those questions deserves a post unto itself. I’m working my way through them as best I can.

Question #: What genre do you prefer and why? Would you ever try a different genre on for size?

It’s hard to know, these days, what kind of hybrid vegetable you might find at the grocery store unless you shop organic. Same thing at the fiction store. One hellofalotta genre-splicing going on. Dubya Tee Eff, as they say. What don’t kill you only makes you stranger. A genre is a label, like the sticker you can’t peel off a piece of fruit. We got some engineering yet to do before that bar code is embedded in the double helix of a watermelon, but you can write your elevator speech and start marketing your novel before it’s written, provided you know how to pick a genre and stick to it.

We don’t grow a lot of elevator speeches locally. They are a big city variety of conversating. Out where I live, the only elevator in town has CO-OP painted on the side of it in big blue letters. Red winter wheat might talk a good game as it thrashes to and fro in the wind, but once the custom cutters roll through, it don’t have a whole lot more to say. I’m kind of the same way, being a flatlander. Twister might take you by surprise, but people ought not to. Them you can see coming for miles. Gives you time to size a person up.

We are a reticent people until we get to know you, which might take all of five minutes or five years, but we don’t speak blurb, and what we’re interested in about you has got diddly to do with your unique selling proposition. We might ask who your momma and daddy is and if they’re still living and whether there’s a chance we might be remotely related. Pretty quick after that, we’ll get down to which church you belong to. If you’re me and you see that one coming, you can sometimes head it off with a comment on the weather and then, quick, pretend you got your cell phone on vibrate and you can not afford to miss this call.

Genres are the denominations of fiction. You can talk all you like about how we all serve the same Lord, but the minute you start in like that, we’ve got you pegged as a Universalist Unitarian, which means three things:

  1. Not from here.
  2. Don’t have a clue about Jesus
  3. Fair game for proselytizing

So you better come up with something quick, Vanessa, and quit your stalling.

I write American Gothic. I might could say Country Horror or Rural Fantasy or Farm Punk, but what I like about “American Gothic” is right away you get that image of the couple with the pitchfork that everyone knows is brother and sister but is too polite to come right out and speculate on what the Keerist is going on out there in the wilds of Indiana or Iowa or wherever the hell that is. The other thing is, is I like to think it sounds a little bit less like something I made up. I can point to my “American Gothic” antecedents, which is a fancy way of answering where your folks come from.

Children of the Corn, I might say. Or Frailty or Cape Fear. Because, look here. If you say Flannery O’Connor and Joyce Carol Oates, you risk sounding like a poor relation putting on airs.

So what is my point, exactly?

If I identify with an established fictional religion—let’s say horror, for the sake of argument and imagery—then I begin to feel like I have to toe the line, adhere to the doctrines, the esthetics, the rules of that particular genre. I even get to feeling like if I don’t dress a certain way I won’t fit in, and somebody sooner or later is going to say something to me about my target audience and reader expectations. I’m not going to let it get to that point because, deep down, I can’t bring myself to believe that the only way to get to Writer Heaven is to scrub-a-dub-dub in the blood.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to human sacrifice, I just think we can leave room for the Romantic Comedites and even the adherants to certain forms of Literary Fictionism, if they will but give up their excesses and repent their moral torpitude.

I am more goat than lamb, is all I’m saying. Still sacrificial but a touch less complacent about it. A herd animal that likes to butt heads with the fencing. The meek will always feed low to the ground and where the shepherd lets them, figuring that’s where their inheritance lies. They’ll graze a field down to the stubble, and that’s fine by me. There’s a certain resourcefulness about it that, in a more generous mood, I might admire. Being goatish, I’ll give most anything a try, but I do like to rear up on my hind legs every now and then and, you know…reach?

Holistic Writing Pt.2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Round:

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. How do you feel about sequels?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Role of Author Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re worth a lot.

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

You’re worth a lot.

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

My name is _________ and I’m an author.

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

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

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

Who are you? What are you worth?

The Most Dangerous Game

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”  – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

I’m going to do my best to put this into words, despite my suspicions of their inadequacy to convey what I’m feeling.

We’re told as artists, from reliable sources, not to take things personally. Yet the act of being an author, or musician, or painter, is quite tied to our intimacies and close relationships. Any career that deals, even a little bit, with reputation is by default a career of duality. The self is suddenly shifted from a thing of sole possession, to a commodity to be bought and sold.

Don’t kid yourself—as an author, you are your writing. That simple truth is the reason why many authors choose to publish under pen names. It protects them. It shields them from some of the inherent pitfalls of this industry. In retrospect, I wish I’d used my pen as a true pen, instead of a novelty leftover from when I was a girl who once dreamt of being an author.

Why?

Because—just like in Son of Ereubus, nothing is what I thought it would be. I don’t feel like I thought I would. I am not reacting as I thought I would, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it.  Blogging only goes so far. “Getting over it” only goes so far. “Holding your head up” only shuts out so much.

I mentioned, months ago, that everything was changing for me. Part of that change includes  sudden interest in my life, attention from people with whom I’ve tried desperately over the years to rekindle relationships—with whom I’ve tried to start friendships with, in some cases. It’s a double-edged sword. I am both grateful and heartbroken: Grateful because the support has been overwhelming; heartbroken, because it has nothing at all to do with me as a person.

I am now the equivalent of my accomplishments. This isn’t universally true—of course–there are some folks who have been in my life and been by my side since long before any of my dreams started to appear even remotely possible. This post isn’t about them.

So, with all of that in mind, let’s talk about relationships for a moment.

Brutal honesty, while honorable in some circles, is simply cruel in others. Siblings, parents, close friends and spouses often bear the brunt of our less-civilized selves, in part because we know they love us and that they aren’t going anywhere … when in truth, they should be granted only the best of what we are as human beings. They deserve our highest respect and deepest consideration. Yet, we seem to reserve those things for veritable strangers … people we want to impress or from whom we have something to gain.

We are not immune to this as storytellers.

Our fellow authors deserve nothing from us but the kindest regard and the sincerest empathy. Instead, we’re often consumed with jealousy or simply too absorbed in our own pursuits to realize how our actions affect our peers in publishing. It all stems back to this childish competition mode that a good majority of writers fall into … as if one person’s triumph has anything at all to do with yours.

Seriously, as a whole, authors can be the most self-serving assholes on the planet. I’ve watched writers tear each other apart, disregard favors, back-stab and sabotage till they’ve flat run out of ideas. Then they wait till opportunity knocks. If you don’t have any clue what I’m talking about, then good for you. But, read on anyway because if you stay on this career path, you will eventually understand me. It might take moving up the food chain a few notches. The darkness of human nature, in some ways, seems at its most raw and excitable in the creative world. Maybe this is because we deal with the soul on a daily basis. I genuinely don’t know. And religious authors are not exempt from this untoward behavior. They just do a better job of hiding their nastiness.

Not all authors are this way (yet those who are, are unavoidable). Some of us will genuinely do anything and everything we can to help out other people. We want to see others succeed because we remember what it was like to feel the all-mighty Power of Suck. Hell, I’ve given shards of my soul away for the benefit of others, and you know what … it was worth it. I’d do it over again in a heart beat. The problem though, is that a great portion of up-and-coming authors are downright selfish. Pure and simple. A great many mid-level authors, who’ve been in the game for years are even worse. They’re not just egocentric, they’re ravenous and exhausted from treading proverbial water. They’re tired of being the sum total of their achievements to their friends and family, and especially strangers, and some are out for blood.

And in a way, it reminds me of the 1932 film ‘The Most Dangerous Game.’ Why? Well, here’s the plot (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Famous big game hunter and author Bob Rainsford  swims to a small, lush island, the sole survivor of a shipwreck. There, he becomes the guest of Russian Count Zaroff, a fellow hunting enthusiast. Zaroff remarks that Bob’s misfortune is not uncommon; in fact, four people from the previous sinking are still staying with him: Eve Trowbridge, her brother Martin, and two sailors.

That night, Zaroff introduces Bob to the Trowbridges and reveals his obsession with hunting. During one of his hunts, a Cape buffaloinflicted a head wound on him. He eventually became bored of the sport, to his great consternation, until he discovered “the most dangerous game” on his island. Bob asks if he means tigers, but Zaroff denies it. Later, Eve shares her suspicions of Zaroff’s intentions with the newcomer. The count took each sailor to see his trophy room, on different days, and both have mysteriously disappeared. She believes their host is responsible, but Bob is unconvinced.

Then Martin vanishes as well. In their search for him, Bob and Eve end up in Zaroff’s trophy room, where they find a man’s head mounted on the wall. Then, Zaroff and his men appear, carrying Martin’s body. Zaroff expects Bob to view the matter like him and is gravely disappointed when Bob calls him a madman.

He decides that, as Bob refuses to be a fellow hunter, he must be the next prey. If Bob can stay alive until sunrise, Zaroff promises him and Eve their freedom. However, he has never lost the game of what he calls “outdoor chess”. Eve decides to go with Bob.

Eventually, they are trapped by a waterfall. While Bob is being attacked by a hunting dog, Zaroff shoots, and the young man falls into the water. Zaroff takes Eve back to his fortress, to enjoy his prize. However, the dog was shot, not Bob. Bob fights first Zaroff, then his henchmen, killing them. As Bob and Eve speed away in a motor boat, a not-quite-dead Zaroff tries to shoot them, but he succumbs to his wounds and falls out of the window where below are his hunting dogs, it is assumed that the dogs kill him for good.

Head on a wall anyone? There are days when this plot certainly seems to do a damn good job hemming up the publishing industry. And it certainly sums up what it means in this current climate to be an author in general. Whether it’s by fellow scribes, or old friends, we’re hunted once we’ve joined the game … one way or another. We can deny it all we like. But, we’re in this for better or worse. We agreed to this. Didn’t we? This most dangerous game?

 

Why it Doesn’t Matter How Your Novel Opens

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

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

Holy smokes, did she really just say that?

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

In other words, NOBODY CARES EITHER WAY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one else is.

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

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

Guest Post: Jolina Petersheim

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

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

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

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

But for a while I couldn’t even edit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Has it been very hard on you?”

“The dawn of the eBook, you mean?”

I nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks, I think I’m gonna need it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bizarre Behavior (and other revolutionary concepts)

 

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

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

And I’m not talking about literal parenthood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean, literally?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consequences be damned …

Holistic Writing Pt.1

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

– Marilyn Ferguson
The Aquarian Conspiracy

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

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

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

Five Key Aspects of a Holistic Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Sees their work from the outside in.

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

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

4. Sees their fiction in relation to their person.

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

Any Way But Lightly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Thief of Nightshade

“We ascribe beauty to that which is simple; which has no superfluous parts; which exactly answers its end; which stands related to all things; which is the mean of many extremes.”  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Some of you, who are on my FB page, are likely REALLY tired of seeing this image. If so, my apologies for sharing it here again.

But, I LOVE … no, I LURVE it!!!!

This is Aubrey from A Thief of Nightshade, whose cover copy is a few posts down. Eve Ventrue finished the final wrap cover last week and too much has gone on and I just never got around to posting it here.

Geesh, covers are SO important.  And what never ceases to amaze me about the artists I’ve had the pleasure to work with, is that they seem to pull things out of my head that I hadn’t known were there. This IS Aubrey. I didn’t tell Eve very much about her. Perhaps a few facts and physical attributes. But, here she is, looking out at me from her place in the cover, with those big sad green eyes.

She’s like my daughter.

If you click on the full cover wrap image, it should blow up on your screen and you can see all the detail work. It’s really stunning …

 

 

 

Natural Selection: Writers Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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.

It’s Around Here Somewhere…

“It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a façade of order—and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.” ~Douglas Hostadter

It’s 3:30am. Again. And here I sit at my kitchen table, wrestling with a hundred thousand voices, every one of which is screaming for my sole attention. This schizophrenic existence that is every writer’s life has its benefits (you’re never lonely–ever), you’re very rarely bored (and if you are, it won’t be for long), and you certainly have the ‘get out of jail free’ card for being the eccentric one in the family.

But there are moments like this one, where my heart and head and hands are on such different wave lengths that it feels like I’m a fractured spirit, drifting through a single-souled world. Would I want to change even if I could? You already know the answer to that.

There are plenty of authors who have everything down to a science, when it comes to order and organization. I am not among them. Ideas come to me at all sorts of weird, inconvenient  and usually unwieldy moments—including when my body is supposed to be resting. I don’t even know the meaning of the word anymore. Neither do my stories, apparently.

And, per usual, this got me thinking about chaos as it relates to us as artists. Think about a painter’s studio. What do you see in that mental image? The first thing that comes to mind for me, aside from the large loft windows and high ceilings, is the staggering amount of ‘stuff’ that’s hanging around on tables, chairs—the floor. Paint is everywhere, canvases are in places they probably shouldn’t be. There is a blanket half tossed, along with a pillow, onto the couch (and a bit on the floor) because the artist slept/tossed/fretted there the night before.

As authors, our lives aren’t any different—not really. You just can’t walk into our studios because we carry them with us, but rest assured they’re just as messy and chaotic. This isn’t the same thing as my waiting room analogy. This is more like the fragments of what will be, the tools we use to create our worlds and that internal space in which we do so. The muck and mire of possibility; the thread and fabric of imagination; the cords that bind a reader’s disbelief; veils to mask the twist at the end of novel #35; a helmet from a slain warrior; a pool of dark water complete with a smidgen of enchantment and a scrying spell; the unraveled ends of our sanity; a broken spinning wheel for yarns that have taken on a life of their own…you get the idea.

So where the hell is my ability to go to sleep at a decent hour? I had it—I know I did. It’s around here somewhere…