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.

The Role of Author Identity

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

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yourself to other authors, do you quantify what you mean by “author” by prefacing your title with a ‘published’ or ‘unpublished’? Someone sent me a note on Twitter a short while ago and thanked me for the follow, then said that they were an unpublished author with one completed novel and hoped to “one day get a publishing deal.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re worth a lot.

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

You’re worth a lot.

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

My name is _________ and I’m an author.

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

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

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

Who are you? What are you worth?

Why it Doesn’t Matter How Your Novel Opens

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

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

Holy smokes, did she really just say that?

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

In other words, NOBODY CARES EITHER WAY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one else is.

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

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

Shit My Muse Says Pt.1

Shit my muse LOVES: Morior by Tom Barczak

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

What is that thing in the picture?

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

Because I can…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even a Little Foolish…

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

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

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

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

There is more than a silver lining…

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

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

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

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

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