Passport Please

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

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

Yeah … me too.

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

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

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

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

Because they don’t know.

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

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

In brave writing … there are no assurances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Creativity Coaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Any Way But Lightly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the Power of Greyskull!

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

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

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

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

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

Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 …

 

 

 

Shit My Muse Says Pt.1

Shit my muse LOVES: Morior by Tom Barczak

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

What is that thing in the picture?

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

Because I can…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Just Saying…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m just saying …

Paper Crowns and Battle Cries

 

“It started out as a feeling

Which then grew into a hope

Which then turned into a quiet thought

Which then turned into a quiet word

And then that word grew louder and louder

Until it was a battle cry

I’ll come back

When you call me

No need to say goodbye

Just because everything’s changing

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

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

As you head off to the war

Pick a star on the dark horizon

And follow the light

You’ll come back when it’s over

No need to say goodbye”

~Regina Specktor (from ‘The Call’)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gold will come later, I promise…

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Biggest Lie of Them All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sex and the Art of Author Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cinders

Book Review: Cinders, by Michelle Davidson Argyle

For those of you who read this blog on a regular basis, you know that usually Ien does the book reviews. After reading the teaser excerpt for this one, I had to email her. The novella doesn’t release for another few weeks, so I count myself honored to have been given the opportunity to read it early for review.

I didn’t intend on reading this novella in one sitting. However, like good stories are apt to do, this one quietly pulled me in and by the time I realized it—I was past the point of no return.

I’ve read quite a few Cinderella sequels: some playful, some humorous, some full of talking animals and other familiar fairy-tale elements. Argyle’s Cinderella while playful in some areas, humorous in others, is haunting in its elegance and simplicity. The prose itself is pitch perfect for the narrative, to the point where as a reader you forget that you’re reading. It’s presented like the glass slipper that it is: beautiful, translucent, and full of unexpected magic.

The characters are solid, memorable, sturdy and some of them ephemeral (I’ll leave that for you to figure out…I don’t do spoilers). The plot is deftly paced. But what struck me above everything else is Argyle’s use of imagery. So many passages echo after they’ve been read…not because of how they were written, but because of what they said.

…After a moment Cinderella realized she was touching her crown, thinking of the grease on Marion’s chin as she ate her food and told Rowland things weren’t fair…

…Neither of these images represented what Cinderella saw now: a skeleton of a woman so thin and aged she looked as if she belonged to the worn stone walls. Her skin was gray, her eyes dull and lifeless. Her hair had fallen out in clumps, leaving only strings to cover her baldness…

I am actually leaving my favorite passages out because I want them to have the same effect on you as they did on me. They aren’t mere descriptions. They tell the rest of the story.

Cinders takes unexpected turns, ironic turns, turns that some readers won’t appreciate. Those aren’t the readers to whom the story was intended. Few writers have the skill and foresight to craft a fairytale that is applicable to real life, while maintaining the elemental integrity of the story. Argyle does this seamlessly and while you think for a time that you’re simply hearing another classic tale, slowly, you begin to see another layer—the bones beneath the flesh—and it is this layer, that adds the most brilliant aspect to Argyle’s prose. With this layer, she breathes life into characters that we’ve become all too familiar with and gives them new purpose. This layer presents to us another fairytale, a slightly darker, more visceral one…read carefully and you’ll see exactly what I mean. There is no question that each and every line was arranged with clear purpose and if you look closely, you’ll see the reason for the novella’s title.

Keep your eye on this girl. I don’t say that often. This brief journey into Argyle’s imagination left me wanting to see more of what she’ll create in the coming years and there are few things more exciting for a reader than discovering, not just a book that holds promise, but an author with whom we know we’ll share many adventures in the future.

You can find out more about Michelle at her website here.  Or you can find her fan page on Facebook here.

You might be my dog if…

Are you serious??

Most authors I know have pets. If you’ve been following my blog you know that I have two dogs (Aubie & Ella). Ella is the golden/shepard mix to the left and Aubie is the handsome fella in the title picture above. Now, I’m at home full time which leaves them little time to talk about me behind my back, but I’m sure they sneak it in somewhere. And believe me nothing has changed as far as their opinion of me goes. Take for example this morning: I have a third of my coffee left on the end table when I take a brief (like, 2 min) break from writing and leave the room. I return. No coffee. Aubie, who is snuggled next to my laptop (he weighs 89 pounds) is looking mighty guilty.

“Are you serious?” I ask.

“I didn’t do it.”

“Ella is in her crate, are you gonna blame her?”

“Can I?”

“NO!”

This got me thinking about us as authors and our pets and the very special relationship we have with them—perhaps one that is unique to us. I discussed this with both of my beloved children and found out a good deal about how they view this little life of ours. Here is a typical day for them.

“Is she ever going to get up and let me out of here?” Ella asks from her crate.

*Smirk* Aubie, curled up on the bed. “Nope. You’ll be in there forever. She told me so.”

“You’re such a big jerk.”

Later…

“Pssst.” Ella whispers. “Hey! She’s doing that thing again.”

“It’s called writing, twerp.”

“Are you sure? She’s just staring at the wall. Her soup is unmanned.”

“Yeah kid, go stick your nose in it and see how ‘unmanned’ that soup is.” *Laughing* “I bet I could get away with it.”

“But you just said…”

“I’ve got skills. Bark like you have to go out really, really bad.”

*Ella nudges me and leads me to the back door where I wait patiently for a minute. Then we both return to the den.*

*Me staring at my ‘untouched’ bowl of tomato soup* “I could swear I had more of that left.” *Looks at Aubie who is snoring* “Oh well.”

Later still…

“Is she talking to you?” Ella asks, bone halfway sticking out of her mouth.

“Nope.”

“Is dad home?” *chomp chomp chomp*

“Nope.”

“Then who is she yelling at?” *chomp chomp, cough, chomp chomp*

*sighs* “I told you earlier, she’s writing. Don’t you ever listen?”

*chomp* “So…she’s not talking to you??”

Latest, or perhaps really, really early tomorrow…

“Are you hungry?” Aubie asks.  *Paces in front of the hall closet where the food is*

“Nope.” *Ella smiles, laying upside down with her head hanging off of the couch*

“Really? I am. How are you not hungry?”

“Did you know that there is a huge swirly thing on the ceiling and that if you look at it like this, it moves?”

“It’s called a fan dumb ass, and it moves even if you’re not looking at it.” *Barks like he hasn’t eaten in days*

*Sneezes from being upside down* “Wow. Sure goes fast.”

*More barking* “She’s got those things on her head again. Fall of the couch and maybe she’ll see you and take them off.”

*Another sneeze followed by a roll and subsequent tumble onto the floor*

*Me, taking my noise reduction headphones off* “The rescue could have told me you were brain damaged.”

Later still…

“Aubie, come here!” *Me from the floor, lying on my stomach*

“K, coming!” *Trots down hallway with Ella in tow*

“Walk on my back”

“I got in trouble for that last time.”

“I’ve changed my mind. Let’s try it again.”

“I don’t know…”

*Ella backs up two spaces, wags butt, then takes a running leap onto my back excitedly* “Ha ha! Attack!”

“ELLA!!!!”

Mad World

Organic

Being a writer is an interesting thing. Some people are awed by it, others are mystified at our persistence. Either way, there is a reason for the stereotypical, ‘misunderstood’ author who wears all black and mopes about. It isn’t a matter of depression or apathy…it’s something deeper than that—more fundamental. There is a well of emotion that accompanies the feeling of ‘creation’ in the way an author feels it. It isn’t the same as painting a picture or writing a song: We mold worlds and out of that mire, we sculpt sentient beings to populate those worlds. Yet, at the end of the day, the paragraph, the page, the story, our characters are still there. It seems perhaps a flighty emotional thing to say, but truly listen for a moment. We fall in love, we fight for truth or justice, or just another day’s breath—we hate, struggle against poverty, injustice, cruelty or we struggle with the inability to come to grips with the guilt of a character’s actions. As an author, we experience in a way—even if it be slight, everything our characters experience. We joke about it, we make light of the journey—mostly to make the path a little less jagged and the rocks a tad smoother.

Often, in the early hours of day—when the mind isn’t aware of things like ‘time’ or ‘place’, these things take on a power of their own. I will never touch Tabor’s face, or trace the lines of his scarred, dragon, skin. I will never hear Ariana or Aubrey sing. I will never taste Bronach’s tears or hold Jullian’s hand. I will never yell at Trinity to stop being so damned self-righteous. I will never walk through the ruins of the Garden of Dedication in Adoria, or brave the Goblin Keep of Koldavere in Avalar. I will never see the suns set in Sedel. I will never tuck Lucan into bed, or read him a bedtime story, or wash his worn, pilled, snoopy pajamas. I will never know the name of Bronach’s lost love because he cannot bear to bring her to mind—so neither can I. There is at least one moment, in every author’s life, where the depth of their grief is profound, and it won’t have anything to do with tangible circumstances. Those events certainly affect writers, as they would most people, but this isn’t what I mean. How do you mourn imaginary things? Places you’ll never tread, landscapes you’ll never truly feel and characters you’ll never touch. It may not have come for you yet—rest easy, friend, for it will. If not now, later. It will come and I want you to be prepared for it. I wasn’t.

It was sometime between dusk and dawn, the night air was cold—I could feel it coming from the open flue of the fireplace. I was working on ‘A Thief of Nightshade’. It was one of those sessions where all the effort is in your head and your hands move fluidly over the keyboard and you fight to keep up with your story. And suddenly, as the song I was listening to stopped, I felt it—utter stillness. The scene played on; Jullian woke from his nightmarish captivity to feel the weight of the Fae crown on his head and the overwhelming guilt of realizing that his precious love—the shy girl he’d fallen in love with and married, from our world—had somehow crossed over into Avalar and found him despite all odds. But it had cost her dearly and at that moment, that cost appeared to be her life. And as I watched him pull her into his arms, touch her face, breathe her name, I suddenly understood, in a bizarrely authentic way, what it meant to experience that particular loss. He didn’t believe that she would ever see his world. When she does, he bitterly regrets the price. As authors, we create worlds that are hard for some to even imagine, but it comes at a cost.

I’ve read that most authors experience grief at the end of a story, that a depression ensues that isn’t too unlike mourning a death. But, even that is different. This is the stark realization that our hearts believe in these worlds more than we think. Rationally speaking, we know that what we pen is false—we spend countless hours weaving things in such a way as to convince the reader to buy the lies. And yet, in doing so, somewhere along the way, we bought them too. I suppose that in all good stories, the author has bought them first. How else would we weep at fictional scenes? You could explain the empathy by using the idea of universal humanity, and this may be the case for some readers, but not for us. We are different beings in our own worlds. Changed. And once we emerge, we are never the same.

I’ve said before that writing a novel is like a relationship. If this is true, then the relationship we have with the worlds we create may be likened to a lifetime. And authors have often mused that they have perhaps lived a multitude of lives, and ultimately—those lives are lost to us all the same. Because when that moment comes, the one I am now formally warning you of, it feels like a life has been untimely taken. Most of us have experienced death, the physical feeling that sweeps over you when you remember that you’ll never see that person again—you pick up the phone to dial their number, only to realize with jarring pain, that they aren’t there on the other end. I closed my laptop that night, and whispered into the dark—cold breathed and numb, ‘were it only so.’

For readers, some worlds never die…for authors, those worlds die a thousand deaths. This is just one of many, and I pay the price gladly…but every now and then, I grieve.

Foundations of a Writing Life

This will likely translate to another article for Examiner, but I’m going with the casual side of things for now (for this blog anyway). After being stuck on the last few chapters of ‘Nightshade’, I broke ground. Once I voluntarily walked away from gainful employment back in September, I struggled to overcome depression and heartache and to really write like I once had—with total abandon and dogged perseverance.  I realized today, just like I realized after my first really bad block, that all it takes is the promise of a deadline. An immediate deadline. You see, I sat down in my kitchen this morning and proclaimed to the dogs (I mean this literally), that I wasn’t going to get up until I had the rest of Nightshade plotted.

They laughed.

And yet, I emerged triumphant, despite my own fears and doubts (and those of my hairy companions). 1500 words of plot, fully fleshed out and ready to be written. Tomorrow (or likely the very wee hours of tomorrow), will bring with it an excitement that I haven’t genuinely experienced in over a year. I wrote Icarus (the vampire novel that I’ve been working on and no, that isn’t the title…consider it a nickname) while I was working in the dredges of hell. Ok, that was a tad dramatic, but you’d understand if you worked there. And while I love the characters and their story, it wasn’t the same as Nightshade and the Fable trilogy. It’s a matter of urban vs. epic fantasy. Even though Nightshade is a stand alone piece, the stakes involved are epic indeed. So, the bottom line is that the emotions involved in those works differ from one to the next: Icarus is gritty and harsh—bloody, gruesome, gratuitous sex and violence (and inappropriate humor). Nightshade and Fable, are light and while there are most certainly darker scenes in both (this is me we’re talking about here), they don’t translate the same to me emotionally, as an author.

All of this got me thinking about what it means to be a writer. We’ve discussed writing rituals and how isolating an experience it can be, but those are different things. I am talking about the decision to become more than merely a writer by title, but by practice. You are essentially laying down a foundation for your life as a writer—unknowingly, you are setting a cornerstone into place that will determine how you deal with frustration, sorrow, relationships and ultimately, how you will see your writing in light of publication or lack there of. You’ve got to ask yourself the question, “Am I writing for recognition, or for the craft of it.” This is not the same thing as asking if you wish to be published or not. Don’t confuse the two. The former question is simply clarifying your motives. The answer is the cement of your foundation. It is the thing that glues it all together and not unlike a story, it is what gives you strength while you are still learning and developing. Consider this: If you knew, right now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that your work would never be published, would you write it anyway?

Would I? You ask. Without any hesitation, my answer is yes. Yes, a thousand times. When I started, I feared what all new authors fear—not being talented enough. But, I’ve come to learn that while I will always fear not being ‘good enough’, you only lose this battle when you quit. So what if you suck right now? Most authors who write for a living will admit to sucking worse five years ago (assuming they were writing then), than now. Some claim to still suck, though we as readers know better. What was their answer to that question? Agents tell us all the time, that the chances of getting published are akin to winning the lottery. Friends and family ask why we don’t take up something more, profitable? But if you love writing enough and believe in your characters and stories enough, there is no other option but to spend time with them and work on putting down a reasonable resemblance to what we see in our heads.  It may take much, much longer than you expect. It may flow better than you dreamed possible. But you will never know until you begin.

So, lay those foundations. Set a goal, find someone to hold you accountable. I’m always here. Have a great Monday tomorrow!

J.S.

Nature’s First Green is Gold

Oak Mountain 2008

Oak Mountain 2008

I am a Fall and Winter child. Nothing touches my soul quite like those two seasons. The yellow, red and orange leaves paired with the chill in the air, somehow inspire me. Maybe it’s the northern girl in me. I’ve spent most of my life in the south, but it’s no different from being born in Ireland and then moving to LA. You’re still Irish.

All of this seasonal chit chat got me thinking about my writing rituals. (You’ve already blogged about this! You scream…yeah, yeah. And I’m blogging about it again.) I have a hard time writing in the summer months. Serious trouble. I don’t know what it is about the heat that bothers me, but it stifles my creative chi. Spring can be just as bad down here, though not as miserable. I like to be cold, near frigid. I love a hot cup of coffee or hot tea (usually the former) and something to munch on. And there are three scents of candles that I burn on a regular basis, regardless of the time of year; mistletoe, harvest wreath and pumpkin spice. Awesome. I also tend to write better late at night.

We have a camping trip planned for next weekend, as long as it doesn’t pour on us. We try to go every year about this time. I need some peace and quiet. I REALLY need some time away from the internet. I love freelance writing, but this has been hard on my fantasy projects. But, I persist. I have been polishing the second book of Fable and I’m really close to being able to wrap it up and start the final edits on book three. I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to putting the first trilogy away and starting work on the second. I’ve still got Icarus and Nightshade to finish too, though those both are only a handful of chapters away from being done (first draft anyway–we won’t discuss edits for those yet. It’s always best to shelve a project for at least a month or two before going back and editing.)

Ben, my husband, has had tremendous luck doing his part-time cop stuff this past weekend and he scored a long term part-time  job yesterday. That’s exciting. He loves his job and really enjoys doing stuff on the side. Today and last night he got paid to eat free food and hang out at a football game. I mean, I realize that if the stuff hits the fan, he’s there with taser and gun in hand, but more often than not, nothing happens. We’re getting adjusted to me being at home and I am finding my comfort zone with Demand Studios, as far as how many articles a week I can handle. I put a bid in for a few significant projects, which I realize I am woefully under qualified for, but what is there to lose? I have to start somewhere and I’ve finished over 45 or so articles for Demand Studios, so I have enough of a portfolio now to get some exposure. I also recently put in for Trails.com, which I am more qualified for since I love the outdoors so much. The titles in that arena are much more in my area of expertise. We’ll see how that goes.

So, I am going to spend the rest of the day and this evening, working on my own projects. Maybe that will encourage me to crank out a few more articles for pay tomorrow.

Upward Mobility in a Downward World

So, I’ve done the deed. I turned in a two week notice to my perfectly fine, but absolutely miserable job.  Ask me if I had something lined up. Haha, nope. Not a thing. Not even a shadow of something. But, there are times in your life when you’ve just gotta do what you know is the right thing for you…whether it makes sense to everyone else in your life or not. So, I did.

I knew my husband would be able to pick up some part time gigs, paying three times what I could get paid, as a cop. And I had this vague notion that I might be able to do some freelance writing on the side. When I say vague, I mean microscopic. So, when I read of another blogger’s experience writing full time for Demand Studios, I checked it out. I sent in my resume, a writing sample and prayed. A lot. I’ve read they’re quite picky and it can take awhile to get on board or even hear back with a rejection. But, low and behold, I was accepted. I thought it was too good to be true, but there is something about filling out a W-9 that’s encouraging.

So, I suppose I’ve left security behind for freedom–as my friend put it. Am I freaked out? You bet. But honestly, there is a part of me that has come alive and feels completely renewed with the power of my own future. I control directly how much money I make and where I want to make it. I can write at Starbucks, or on the couch in my pj’s. This blows me away. I realize that there are freelance writers out there who make quadruple what I’ll be making, but by working 25 hours a week, I’ll make more than I make at my current job–so I’ll take the steady work.

And what’s most important to me–my novel writing–will finally be able to take center stage. I’ll still have a schedule. I think this is absolutely pivotal to making it on your own as a freelancer. I’ve always been organized and able to effectively manage my time. All that to say that I’ve never been so excited about something that could very well turn out to kick me in the ass three weeks from now. Hope abounds and my soul feels like its been revived. I know, dramatic much? Sorry, I don’t normally blog about my personal life, but as a writer we are still deeply connected to our every day lives. I’m learning this more and more everyday.

Now, telling my in-laws is a whole other story. I’ll get to that eventually, but hopefully it will be with a few checks in hand to show that I wasn’t completely out of my mind (I say that because my father-in-law does our taxes and will inevitably know if I fail at this). For now i have my own father’s grumbled acknowledgment of what I truly believe was a good decision. And that’s enough to contend with. One day at a time, folks. One day at a time.

As far as that novel writing goes, I am on the last few chapters of my fifth novel and wrapping up the last quarter of my fourth. I’ve been writing both of those on an alternating basis. Interesting endeavor since they are in different tenses. I don’t recommend it. And I owe some of you an apology–I’ve teased some of you for writing/reading about vampires and you have the right to call me a hypocrite because my fifth book is an urban fantasy…about vampires. Oops. I swore I wouldn’t, but what was supposed to be an exercise in first person morphed out of control and 86,000 words later–I have another novel. Who knew?

Some stories are just like that; they come crashing through your front door (or frontal lobe whichever the case) and demand quarter. Other stories have to cultivate for years and age before they can be written and they take every ounce of your soul as payment. I know, Fable is one of those series: Nine books total, only the first three are finished, Fable spans multiple worlds and has a truly epic cast of characters that range from a disgruntled warrior to a voracious pet dragon named Cryx. I will die with this story still on my heart.

Fable was born out of a dream I had when I was eleven. Let me share the beginnings of that dream with you:

The Ereubinians, gifted with the power to steal the human soul, rule Middengard: the realm of Man. In the beginning, Middengard was successful in defending its people, but as the first age of war came to an end, and the Ereubinians conquered the once legendary city of Eidolon, Man began to weaken in their resolve and a fable began to take shape; first in whispers heard at battle’s end, then in legends passed down from one generation to the next. Soon, myth became prayer and an unwavering faith in an unseen realm was born.

For centuries that fable fueled the vitality of the human heart, but eventually the free lands waned and Eidolon’s rule overshadowed the few that subsisted on their own. Finally only one stronghold, Palingard, remained.

As Palingard falls, three individuals will discover that their lives are intertwined, and everything they once thought to be truth will be irrevocably changed…

Ariana, spared in Palingard by her would-be captor, journeys in her father’s last known footsteps only to discover that not only are the legends of Adoria real—she is more a part of them than she could ever imagine.

Garren, High Lord Commander of Eidolon, and sworn enemy of Adoria, must grapple with his suddenly waning faith after he saves the life of a girl in Palingard, and weigh what remains of it against the light he never knew existed.

Michael, sovereign ruler of Adoria, bears the same burden of guardianship as that of his forefathers, but when the divide that has always protected Adoria fails, and an elaborate conspiracy to keep his sister’s existence from him is revealed, he must decide if man’s soul can still be saved – and at what cost.

If there be dragons…

After fighting with a scene for three weeks, which included yelling at my keyboard, pulling at my hair and much weeping and gnashing of teeth, I’ve finally broken through the fog. How? I realized that it wasn’t the logistics of the scene that were hurting my ability to write it…it simply didn’t need to be written. I needed several main characters to encounter a, well, let’s say hardship, and instead of crafting a useful way for this to happen I was rushing through what turned out to be an extraordinary scene in the process. Let me be more specific; I hurried them through some rather fantastic scenery in order to be on solid ground and encounter said foe, and by doing so I was missing out on all that I was eventually able to do in the original setting.

All that gibberish to say that if a scene is giving you that much trouble, there are two reasons for it: It deals with something you personally aren’t ready to deal with, or it’s being forced. Check your motives. Does it sound like a plot device? Could your novel/short-story do without the whole scene? (This is good to ask for any scene you write).  There may be many parts of the story that you write only for yourself, because keep in mind that a reader only needs to read what will push the narrative forward. Now, that’s not to say that it will always be obvious how it does so. A scene/chapter may only be for character building purposes, but you have to be unbelievably careful in doing this, you stand the chance of losing your reader’s interest. In other words, yes you can learn alot about James Bond with internal dialogue while he’s on the John, but it won’t have near the staying power as hearing that internal dialogue while he is in captivity somewhere (where he will inevitably sleep with the enemy and blow something up…but I digress).

I learned alot through this…and I may have encountered this lesson before, but as I’ve already said, each novel is different. Every story has its own characteristics and everytime I begin a new chapter, its like beginning a new relationship. There is the courtship phase, the newly-wed phase, the seven year itch (please God don’t let this drag on anymore), and hopefully the blissfully comfortable familiarity of someone you’ve known all your life. There are basic guidelines and ideas for all novels/relationships, but not all of them apply to every piece.

Woe is the writer who mounts their merit on the masses

M John Harrison: (On World Building)
Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.
Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unneccessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader’s ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.

Above all, worldbuilding is not technically neccessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn’t possible, & if it was the results wouldn’t be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder’s victim, & makes us very afraid.”

I read this earlier today, and had to share it with you. A keen observation, this is. Look at what he says closely. As a reader, it is our job (nay, our pleasure) to fill in some of the blanks. As writers it is our duty to allow all others the freedom to do so.
We musn’t tell them everything. Some things, certainly, but not everything. I mean this as no excuse for poor detail or fractured narrative. What I mean is this; know it, inside and out, every detail: The peoples, long since faded from memory that once thrived where your hero now treads; animals that will never wander in your protagonist’s path and ruins that are too covered with centuries of stories to be seen. Every rock, village, tide and turn. This is the foundation upon which worlds are built. These are the underpinings of much greater things. Like steel beams in a modern building, it holds…it structures the fabric of your imagination.
Because after all, it is the utterance of a thing that makes it what it is. As an author, you will always (without fail) know more about your worlds than can be shared with your readers. Your acknowledgement of it is enough. If it is strong, it will carry through your prose and filter into the minds of those who dare dive deep enough. Those are the worlds that leave us dreaming long after the last page has been turned. Like the never ending story, some worlds will never die.

Madness ensues…

Nathan Bransford asked a really good question yesterday…What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever been given? A myriad of responses flooded in, and much of it sounded like some of the stuff I’ve been told.  In stead of talking about what shouldn’t be done, I thought I would chat a moment about what should. Consider this quote concerning fads:

Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.” 
–Ray Bradbury 

How true. How startlingly, frustratingly true. I lightly considered, as I complained about the current trends, changing my next project…or I should say I considered shelving my next project and replacing it with something that would fit the market. To even contemplate setting aside something that warms my soul to make room for something that fills my wallet, is true defeat.

So, in light of such a humbling revelation, I suspect I will get quite a good ways into book four this weekend. Nothing like stark reality to get the ink flowing again…