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.

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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.

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.”

Icarus (and other vampish things)

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Nice. And to think it’s only Tuesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMING SPRING 2012 !!! From Rhemalda Publishing

Lies, Love and Two Threads of Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Avalar isn’t real.

At least, it wasn’t supposed to be. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sex and the Art of Author Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Own Your Story

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

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

Are you leasing, or buying?

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

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

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

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

So what are the story’s terms?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…