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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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.

Holistic Writing Pt.1

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

– Marilyn Ferguson
The Aquarian Conspiracy

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

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

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

Five Key Aspects of a Holistic Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Sees their work from the outside in.

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

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

4. Sees their fiction in relation to their person.

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

A Conversation With Jack Ketchum

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

It’s been a damn good week for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not choosing a favorite daughter.  Sorry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. What is your definition of evil?

Lack of empathy and conscience.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Welcome to Fight Club

“The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.”  Robert Frost

It’s no secret that being published changes you. We’ve covered that here—at the Asylum. What we haven’t delved much into, amongst other things, are the dirty sides of the industry. Yes, there is more than one.

And no, I don’t mean smut…

I’m talking about politics. Don’t think there are any? Don’t think this will apply to you once you get published because a) you firmly believe you’ll be J.K. Rowling, b) your novel is beyond reproach, or c) you self-publish your material and call your own shots?

Let’s say for the sake of argument that a & b are unlikely. If you think you’ve got a get out of jail free card for c, then you’re in for a HUGE surprise. Whether you sign with an agent, a large publisher, small press or set-up your own outfit….the same politics that plague the corporate ladder, plague a writer’s career.

There are rules of etiquette. There are rules for even getting to enter into the game, let alone win. But, you hear all sorts of contradictory things about breaking rules, or the consequences of being a follower. SO what’s the answer? How do you know what to do and when to do it?

Here’s a few places to start. Though, I don’t profess in any shape, form, or fashion to be an expert on any of this. I have learned some things these last few years and just feel like sharing them with you. That’s all.

1. Don’t burn bridges. I don’t give a damn how unstable they look, how pissed off you are, or how much you want to flame someone. It isn’t worth it. You don’t know where that bridge could lead later on. This industry is all about networking and the stronger, and truer, your connections are the better off you’ll be when you need a leg up. And believe me when I tell you, every writer has more than a few moments when a little help would go a long way to stabilizing a career.

2. Don’t bad mouth other writers. Published or otherwise. Really, really, really, REALLY think through everything you put out there for the public—especially when it concerns your own ilk. I’ve read a ton of blogs lately where one author or another decides to suddenly go off on a rant about famous writer X, semi-famous writer Z, or unknown writer M. Why? Because if your career goes half as well as you think it will, you may very well find yourself sharing a publisher, agent or hell…in some cases a dinner table (yes, this has happened. No, not to me). It’s EASY to feel like an authority on writing right after you get your first book deal (yes, this has happened. Yes, to me).

3. Pay it forward. Sounds easy, huh? It is. I was blessed so much last year by a few folks, but one in particular who inspired me to do everything I can to repay that kindness and encouragement by doing exactly what he did for me, for fellow authors. Lend a helping hand, pure and simple. Don’t forget where you’ve come from and how you got there and especially don’t forget those who are still treading that pre-publication path. Don’t lose track of how frustrating that felt to not know and to wonder what the future held. I still wonder what the future holds, but it’s a different kind of wondering. I can’t explain that…it’s just one of those things.

4. Don’t, don’t, DON’T be a pain in the ass to work with. Don’t whine, complain, demand more than you’re owed, or act like a diva. I’ve seen this happen and the results ARE NOT pretty. Whenever you work for someone, or under them, or with them in a publisher/writer sort of situation, you want to make yourself indispensable. Do everything you can to help those who have invested in your future, to succeed. This means some time and effort that you won’t be paid for. Be prepared for this—it’s part of the deal if you want to get anywhere. If they win, you win. Easy math.

5. Shit happens. Even if you sign with one of the big five. You need to be prepared for this too and you need to handle it with dignity and grace. Publishing companies, distribution centers, printers and literary agencies are all run by…gasp…human beings and humans make mistakes. There is no getting around this. Folks who don’t realize this will give you crap for it. Put on your big girl panties (or big boy briefs, whichever the case) and deal with it.

6. Celebrate the success of your fellow authors any way you can. When you’ve got 5,000 Facebook friends, most of which are other writers, you obviously can’t rejoice with everyone…but don’t neglect those closest to you. Don’t ignore their achievements. This situation is especially tricky when you’re in a critique circle, or have an online group of writer friends. Bridges get burnt this way. They can also be built from scratch this way. Kind of like tea in hot water, you see the strength of your friends when any sort of success engulfs your group. In layman’s terms (forgive my crassness here): Don’t be a douche bag. If you’re a writer and you’re relatively close friends with other writers, whether you like their stuff or not,  don’t pick and choose whose victories to highlight based on social stigmas or literary status. Give equal blog footage to the indie author and the six-figure author. You’re asking for hurt feelings and resentment otherwise.

7. Don’t begrudge the success of others. If you just signed a half-a-million dollar contract with Random House (have I mentioned how great you look today?) then you won’t have this issue. But, for the rest of the writerly population, be mindful of the green-eyed monster. Don’t get miffed if your book has less good reviews than someone else’s book. Don’t block their status updates on your FB feed because you can’t stand looking at their awesome cover art avatar. Don’t bad mouth publishers, especially when you know authors who have signed with them (vanity presses don’t count here. You can bad mouth those guys all you like).

8. WATCH YOUR MOUTH ON FORUMS! Can I say that again? Watch your mouth on forums. I can’t say it enough. Don’t get into heated arguments or circular logic type pissing contests with other writers, agents, or god forbid, publishers. Just like your Facebook page, your name WILL show up in forums on a google search. You also need to watch your comments on blogs. ALL OF THIS can, and will, come back to haunt you if you aren’t careful. In this industry, unless you’re too rich to care (you really do look amazing today) then you might as well date your calendar 1984.

9. You aren’t J.D. Salinger, Hemingway, or C.S. Lewis. Or Tolstoy for that matter. You can’t afford to pretend that the cyber universe doesn’t exist. I’m not saying to totally conform here…but unless you have a publicist to do it for you, there is a certain amount of damage control that you’ll want to watch out for. Misconceptions or misunderstandings can be quickly fixed if you’re aware of how people are seeing you as a public figure.

10. Did I mention not to burn bridges? Those bad boys go up in flames right quick and it doesn’t take much. The more surface your connection is, the faster your ties will burn. Tread lightly. You can’t afford to be ignorant or naive here. Second chances are for sentient beings and though it has a pulse, this industry doesn’t have a conscience and therefore can’t grant you forgiveness. See, I just caught you thinking that bridges being burnt between two people, or groups of people, are related to emotions alone. They aren’t. And you’re not just cutting the cord between you and whoever is on the other side. You’re cutting the cord between yourself and all of the places their bridges lead. In a way…when you burn down one…you’ve burnt down fifty. So, bottom line here….better to be safe than sorry.

The biggest one, is too big to assign a number to and it’s this: Pick your battles carefully.

This applies to everything in your career as a writer. You will have to bend a certain number of times with your agent, publisher, or both; then your editor(s), then your cover artist(s), then your reviewers, and non-professional readers/fans…lastly….your family and friends. If your book deal is perceived as being “big enough” then both of those last two parties will suddenly grow in both numbers and their interest in your life. Don’t let that take you by surprise. You won’t be offended if you know in advance. It’s your choice how to respond to all of it. There have been numerous blog posts, on too many blogs to name, that address professionalism in dealing with reviews and readers. The most important thing is to remember that at some point, something will come along, that will REALLY mean something to you. So, don’t cash in your chips every time you get the chance.

SO, if I haven’t scared you away from the industry…welcome to Fight Club. For those of you who have been here for more than five minutes, have you got any stories? Any lessons learned? Feel free to share!

And have a great and SAFE new year!!!

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…

The Telling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Breathe…

Nothing that is complete breathes.  ~Antonio Porchia,Voces, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin

I have to keep reminding myself of this. I’m not “done” until I’m dead…and neither is my story—the most important one I’ll ever be a part of. Due to the nature of time, we never quite know where we’re at in the plot of our own lives (though some have a better idea than others). But, I know this much is true—there is conflict. And like any good story, there will also be set backs, red herrings, lost time and disappointment. I don’t know what kind of story this is and I’d love to be in the mood to make a witty joke or two about it having something to do with satan wearing designer duds.

But, I’m not in the mood. I’m breathless.

My first novel, as most of you know, debuts in a few months and I’m experiencing what all new authors (and seasoned) go through: cold sweats, tears, laughter, woe, etc. I’m learning to develop, as Ien called it, a filter. It’s tough. I don’t know how to avoid the media and yet maintain a presence in it all the same. In but not of, I suppose.

It will always be Fable to me. And now, as I feel the heat inherent in public viewing, I resort back to that title in my mind. Guardians, is what has been picked up and published. Guardians is what will be reviewed and pulled apart and critiqued—for better or worse. Guardians is what will either sell or not sell and what will ultimately bring in royalty checks—or not.

Fable is the story I fell in love with long ago—the characters who rest as much in me, as beside me on the page.

The decision to step out in faith and welcome a career as an author, instead of living that calling without the professional validation, feels a little like dying inside. And perhaps that is also what Porchia was referring to. In an effort to move closer to completion, you lose a little of who you once were. You die a little. But, so long as you’re still breathing, you’re not done yet.

Your first crush took your breath away. Your first real, deep, chest rattling cry, took your breath away. Your first love took your breath away. Your first loss threatened to take it away permanently. Your first rejection did the same. Your first job interview, your last day on the job, the birth of your children…all the important stuff, whether good or bad, mimics death in part because it is a birth of sorts. A new beginning. And don’t newborns cry? Perhaps my response to this isn’t so unusual after all. Maybe no one talks about this internal struggle because they feel obligated to express only sheer elation over being published.

Allow me, if you will, to once again be transparent. Yes, there is a wonderful, magical sense about all of this. But, like cracks in glass, I feel the cold seeping in. It keeps me real and makes me who I am. I’m not complaining. But, if anyone else is feeling this and thinks they’re alone…rest assured…you aren’t.

So I guess this isn’t it. I’ve still some story left in me. And there’s only one thing to do…

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.