A Really Big Stick

“Don’t ever mistake my silence for ignorance, my calmness for acceptance, or my kindness for weakness.”  ~Anon

Life isn’t fair. You probably already know this. People will do and say things to you that you don’t deserve. At least once in your life, you will be misjudged and kept from the opportunity to defend yourself against harsh untruths. As writers, as human beings, we have no choice but to accept this. How you choose to do so will determine the outcome of any number of situations you’ll encounter in your life and it will say more than a little about your character. The question isn’t ‘What can I endure?’ because … we will always endure. So long as there is breath still in our lungs, we are enduring. The question, is ‘How can I endure better?’

Attitude is everything. This you know as well. But, how often do you really apply that knowledge to your daily life? To your writing? A great many failures were people who were mere moments away from success when they gave up. So what if you just got back your 47th rejection letter? What if the 48th reply contains the ‘yes’ you’ve been looking for all along? Knowing that in advance, would you get that far only to toss in the towel? Of course not. Problem is … we don’t know for sure, so we must assume, always, that success is achievable. We must always believe that if we are doing the right thing, the very best that we are capable of, that we will accomplish what we most desire.

Truth is … hardship never ends. It takes on different forms, but some years will simply be tougher than others. Shit happens, as the saying goes. Do you stop living? Do you sink into a depression? You could. I could have. But, you know what? I haven’t come this far just to quit now. Life is still unfair. It never stopped being what it is. As soon as I think I’ve gotten a reprieve, a moment to take a breath, I feel another blow. Know what else though? Blessings come in bizarre packages sometimes. And all we can do is our damnedest to seek out the positive in every situation, however unfair, however untrue to the goodness that we’ve sent out into the universe, however undeserving we are of the circumstances we’re currently in. Because the reality is, if we change how we see our circumstances, then the circumstances will change.

No, I didn’t start working for Hallmark. I’m just tasting the dust in my mouth from having fallen enough times to know how to get up again … to know that the ‘getting up’ will never really end. It may get easier at times. But it will never truly end, and the fire fueling greatness doesn’t come from waiting idly by while others blaze trails all around me. Know who you are … know where you stand … that way, when others question you, in whatever form they do so, the only response necessary will be to exist. Let your life, in and of itself, be the answer they’re looking for.

Live in such a way that even your silence leaves an echo.

Dare to be your best. Dare to do whatever you do, with skills you can’t even imagine having. Breathe like you know how to hold your breath forever. Walk like you’re an olympic runner. Speak as if your words will be the last they ever hear, and be kind accordingly. Listen as if what you’re hearing is the most important thing you’ll ever hear. Hug like it’s a final goodbye. Love others like they’ve never known love before. Forgive them as if it’s your last day on earth. Give without remembering and take without forgetting. Feel gratitude for even the slightest of things. Dream like the world is limitless.

Because it is …

Your dreams won’t come true overnight. They manifest through small changes that all add up to becoming greater than yourself. Dare to see the world as it really is … wide open. We too often place limitations on ourselves because if we allow the oh-so-small thought, ‘What if I could …’ to take hold, then we’re responsible for our own failures and successes, and it’s far easier to leave it up to fate, or the actions of others.

Oh … I believe in fate. I believe in karma. They’re in my employment, and I assure you they’ll have an end of the year bonus after all the overtime they’re putting in. But, for now, there are no limitations and I won’t, for another moment, sit back and wait on others to make this life any easier. It’s already in my ballpark. And if all else fails … you can always fall back on the West African proverb that Teddy Roosevelt loved to quote: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”

Is this soft enough?

Two Pronouns and a Funeral

“Barring that natural expression of villainy which we all have, the man looked honest enough.” ~Mark Twain

The word anti-hero has been thrown around a lot lately. The concept of a mandatory likable protagonist has also made its loathsome rounds. Both proponents have aspects of them, and applications, that are correct. In the wrong context, and paired with the wrong character, however, they can be devastating to fiction. Allow me to expound.

But  wait … won’t an unlikable protagonist kill the narrative?

No, not unless you’re writing a romance novel. In that case, one of your two leads has to make up for the other’s initial likability issues. But barring that sole exception, no … this is a myth.

But wait … doesn’t your reader have to care enough to read on?

No shit. I mean, really, does anyone NOT believe that? Come on. I can think of TONS of horror novels whose main characters weren’t the least bit likable, but the story/plot/secondary characters were all interesting enough to propel the narrative to the end. Likability has nothing at all to do with whether or not a reader will carry on reading. Compelling is the word you’re looking for.

Hate me or love me … doesn’t matter whether you love the lead or hate them in the beginning, the motivation has to be there in enough measure to make you either want to see the character get his/her ass handed to them; Or, you have to like them enough to see them triumph. There is a breadth of psychological reasoning behind why merely ‘liking’ a character isn’t sufficient motivation to care what happens to them.

Think of it this way … how many funerals have you not attended for people you liked, but didn’t love? We’ve all been there. A distant relative, a neighbor, a classmate, a sort-of-co-worker … you liked them, but not enough to feel comfortable going to their funeral.

On the other hand, and be honest here, how many people have you known (directly or indirectly) whose death (untimely or otherwise) brought a tad bit of … dude totally had it coming? Keep in mind, this includes famous serial killers who were put to death.

So really, you have to create one or more of the following emotional environments:

1). Interest enough in the plot to compel your reader to rubberneck the impending train wreck.

2). Love enough for one of your leads to compel your reader to weep at the figurative funeral.

3). Hate enough for one of your leads to create an urgent sense of heroism (justice needs to be done here) and compel your reader to emotional action.

Still think I’m full of it? OK, fair enough, how about some examples from books that have done well? And keep in mind too that these aren’t anti-heroes. Not by definition anyway.

* The Shining, Stephen King: “Here’s Johnny!”

* Just about anything Jane Austen has ever written: Can we say, Mr. Darcy?

* Just about anything Bentley Little has ever written: The Resort anyone? What about The Vanishing?

* Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment (Dostojevsky): If anyone did like him right off the bat, please enlighten me as to why.

* Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray: Come on … you can’t argue with this one. You KNEW he had it coming.

* Becky Sharpe from Vanity Fair by, William Makepeace Thackeray. She grows on you eventually.

* Just about everyone from Lolita by, Vladimir Nabokov.

* Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights by, Emily Bronte: And Catherine for that matter. But who’s counting?

* (I’d be remiss not to include this) Garren from Son of Ereubus by, J.S. Chancellor (ahem … that’s me).

And what about movies with unlikable protagonists?

* The whole cast of Blair Witch Project: No, really, go watch it again.

* Just about anyone in the whole of Stanley Kubrick’s portfolio: Brilliant characters, but … likable? I suppose it depends on your definition.

* Napoleon from Napoleon Dynamite: He rocked … he was a train wreck … but again, likable? Not really.

* Martin, from Martin: That’s kind of a trump card, I know …

I’m slowly realizing that this movie list could go on forever. There are too many horror movies to name them all, and a whole host of science fiction flicks. Frankly, I love Star Wars, but Han, Luke and Leia were all kind of a pain in the ass to start off with. Just go back and watch the scene where they’re about to get squished in the trash compactor and listen to all the whining and screaming. They become likable, but for me … definitely not right off the bat.

Bottom line, is that regardless of whether or not he/she is likable, so long as your protagonist is compelling your reader to either attend the ‘funeral’ or cheer at the ‘execution’ … then you’re good!

A Thief of Nightshade

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

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

But, I LOVE … no, I LURVE it!!!!

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

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

She’s like my daughter.

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

 

 

 

Natural Selection: Writers Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got Writing?

“I try to help people become the best possible editors of their own work, to help them become conscious of the things they do well, of the things they need to look at again, of the wells of material they have not even begun to dip their buckets into.”  ~Tobias Wolff

If you’ve been a regular follower of The Asylum, you’ll know that at one point we’d had the ambitious idea of producing an anthology. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a serious lack of publishable material, we decided against it in the end. One reader, whose story had been accepted, responded that this move on our part didn’t surprise him and that for future reference, we shouldn’t promise something that we can’t deliver.

Frankly, we never promised anything. Sometimes, believe it or not, shit happens. I was heart broken over the decision. I’d previously extended the deadline for submissions because I didn’t want to let the idea go (this is likely why said reader responded so negatively. I suppose he thought I was pissing my time away, when in reality, the fact that I pushed the pub date out was my polite way of saying that all I’d received was unpolished material). He wasn’t alone in his negativity. Several contributors were curt in their response to my email. Why do I mention it now?

Because I was just graciously offered the position of Associate Editor at Suspense Magazine.

In other words, there is a lesson to be learned here: Be professional no matter how much something disappoints you. I recall those names quite clearly and I assure you, I’ll remember them if they show up in my inbox. It isn’t retaliation. It’s my unwillingness to work with that sort of an attitude. If you can’t grant me grace during an experimental project (which I was CLEAR about up front when it came to the anthology), then I’m not going to extend you any grace, whatsoever, now.

There are some folks, whose stories/essays were accepted, who I will likely solicit material from because of how they handled themselves.

It’s kind of like those kids in High School who were picked on, only to become their bully’s boss later on. You never know where you’ll run into someone again. You never know what bridge you’ll need to cross back over to reach your goal, so it is in your best interest to refrain from burning them.

I responded as gracefully as I could to the negativity. I’d already apologized for any disappointment I’d caused, so I went on to assure one writer in particular that there would never be a next time. I wasn’t ever going to attempt an anthology again. And I meant that. I’m not. I am now, however, involved with a well-known, established, magazine that needs good writers … with good attitudes.

Oops … guess who I won’t be emailing?

SO, what am I personally looking for? (disclosure alert: if your feelings get hurt easily, stop reading now)

Damn good short stories in the thriller/horror/mystery/dark fantasy genres: And when I say damn good, I mean it. My name is now attached to this stuff, so unless I’m excited about giving my recommendation, I won’t accept it. Period. I might love you like a sibling. Doesn’t matter. So, don’t send me stuff unless you know it has a clear beginning, middle and end. If it doesn’t, then the writing itself must be strong enough to carry the narrative. I’m OK with excerpts from larger works so long as they can carry their own weight. Teasers are fine too. But don’t send me some random snippet of whatever from your unfinished work. If it’s an excerpt, I want to see a publication date attached to it (it’s OK if you’re publishing it yourself, I’m cool with that).

Pieces on the craft of writing. I LOVE stuff that looks like it ought to be a guest post here. If you’ve got something genuinely inspiring and helpful to say, then PLEASE send it my way and let’s make me look good, lol. Don’t send me the stuff you read everywhere else: The Pitfalls of Praise, etc. I HATE that crap. If it’s glaringly obvious, then leave  it in your ‘filler content’ file on your computer.

Interviews. Right now, anyone who manages to track down Bentley Little, will be on my hero list for life. I’m working on it, but if you can track him down first I will owe you a serious favor. Will I accept interviews from debut authors? Sure! But please remember that I need really thought-invoking stuff. It’s in their benefit and mine for you to ask the tough stuff. Dig deep. Make it interesting. If they sound like stock questions (where do you get your ideas from?) then don’t ask them!!

Artists. You’d better be Oliver Wetter or Eve Ventrue calibre if you send me stuff for consideration. Just because your grandmother bought you colored pencils for christmas doesn’t mean anyone else wants to see your stuff. Oliver and Eve work their hind-ends off, so don’t expect to do a half-ass job and have it work out for you. This, above all else, annoys me the most. Why? My mother is a professional artist. I’ve grown up in a house full of oil, acrylic and water color paints. I know what good art looks like and if you think your stuff is high enough calibre to submit it to me, then you’re tough enough to hear me tell you it isn’t. SO, before you hit submit, check your pants to see if you’ve got the balls for this. I won’t be kind if you send me one of those anime/manga sketches that you drew in chem class. And for the record, I’m OVER wolves. So unless yours has Red’s cape hanging out it’s realistic-looking mouth, I don’t want to see it.

Opinion/Essays on the industry, your experience as a published author (successfully self-pubbed or traditional), or on being an author in general. This is a little different than the whole, ‘stuff on the craft’ bit because it deals directly with you, not the craft. In other words, if you got shit for years from family and friends, before becoming a full time writer, I want to hear all about it—juicy details and all. Got an, I Told You So that you want voiced to the world? Let her rip.

What do I NOT want to see?

Stuff that hasn’t even been spell-checked. I don’t care about your learning disability. I’ve got one too, but I’ve learned how to deal with it. If you can’t turn in a polished, professional piece, then you won’t get my recommendation. End of story. I’m not talking about typos. Hell, I make typos ALL THE TIME (I’m sure there are some in this post). I’m talking about consistent issues and laziness. If I see it, I WILL tell you it’s unpublishable.

Poetry. Yeah, I know … there is a trend right now to crank out story-length dark poetry, ala Poe. But unless you are Poe, then I don’t want to see it. No, I mean this utterly. You aren’t an exception.

Graphic erotica, tons of cursing, or anything else I’m not allowed to turn into my own publisher. Look, I just spent two hours taking most of the F-bombs out of Icarus. I’m not saying you can’t curse or slip in an act of gratuitous violence here or there. But, it has to have a point. The fewer words you have to impress a reader with, the stronger your narrative has to be to hold their attention. In a short story, you can’t waste 15% of your verbiage on pointless vulgarity.

So, where do I submit?

jschancellor@suspensemagazine.com

I’ll respond to you within two weeks. I WILL RESPOND. To everything. If you don’t hear from me, don’t bitch about it, send it again. A lack of response means there is something wrong with the correspondence. I’m not ignoring you. If you don’t hear from me after sending your sub a second time, track me down on FB or here. On FB you can reach me under my pen name J.S. Chancellor (fan page) or my real name, Breanne Braddy.

Thanks guys! I look forward to seeing your stuff!

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 …

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.

Doesn’t Play Well With Others…

It isn’t that I feel your criticism unworthy of making my work better—that isn’t the case at all. It simply makes my work yours and I’m not willing to share the burden. You see, I don’t play well with others. Well okay, I didn’t just figure that out—I’ve known most of my life. It has just been brought back to my attention.

Yeah, I understand that this is part of the industry, get a thicker skin, blah, blah, blah. I’m not talking about career moves here. I know better than to argue with the editor who is trying to get my manuscript in shape, or to refuse my agent’s suggestions. I do have a brain and a smidgen of common sense (not much past that, mind you). I simply have a different opinion on the value of a ‘critique’ than most.

Before I say anything else, let me make clear that I have beta readers—a couple of which are brutally honest and I handle it just fine. I want to hear what they have to say, because I trust them. I know where they are coming from—I know their bias and their preferences. We don’t always agree on things and more often than not, we clash. But the dialog is always beneficial because I know what to do with it. Now, with that said, let me state that I personally would never join a critique group. Why? Because my belief in positive reinforcement pervades my ability to give what others consider ‘useful’ criticism, and I am an independent creator. I’m not alone in this viewpoint. There are a slue of other authors who agree with me, but an even larger population that doesn’t. When I’ve voiced my opinions on this in the past—without fail, I always get the you should toughen up and take what’s good for you lecture. It’s always well worded and backed up with solid logic. Problem is, Thalidomide also had fairly sound logic behind it…oops. Feel that an unfair comparison? Toughen up and take what’s good for you. Thalidomide is a powerfully effective drug, and works wonders for patients with Multiple Myeloma and Leprosy. In other words—what’s good for one person, isn’t necessarily good for everyone.

I did a little research to see if I was being a sissy. Turns out there are more than a few authors who swear by cautiously accepting critiques on their work. According to Kristen Painter:

“Luna/Berkley author P.C. Cast doesn’t use a critique group for two reasons. One is that she feels her writing process works best as a solitary endeavor. “Often it feels as if I’m soughing through mud, but it’s mud I have to fight through myself. That’s how I resolve plot problems and how I develop characters. If I had help, or even too much input from others, I don’t think my end product would be the same.” (http://www.kristenpainter.com/writers/CritiqueGroups_RWR.pdf)

Painter goes on to list the second reason Cast doesn’t use a critique group as time. “Many authors produce work at a greater rate than a critique group can critique.” To be fair—in addition to the authors she lists as not using groups, Painter also shows the other side. So, I’m not saying that there isn’t value in it. I’m merely saying that it doesn’t work for me. I find it infinitely more useful when a reader points out areas of strength than when they comment on what they personally didn’t like. If eight out of nine readers mention my character development as being strong and no one ever says anything about the worlds I’ve created—I’m going to get the idea that I need to work on my level of description. Maybe some authors don’t take subtle hints…rest assured, I do and have no need for others to tell me what they would have done had it been their story.

I suppose that gets to the heart of my issue. When you hand your work to other writers, you are asking for just that. No writer can read something in the draft stages without the question, ‘what would I have done here’ staining their ability to be objective. And that’s the problem, it isn’t your story. You’ll never hear me tell another author how a story should have gone—that isn’t valuable feedback. Nor will I ever suggest tearing a story apart because it isn’t ‘marketable’ the way that it is. Critique groups as they are now, are a relatively new creation. A writer in decades past would have a few trusted readers, if he/she showed an unpublished work to anyone aside from their editor. The concept of a collective or collaborative effort is an invention of mass market production. If you want to produce a manuscript to please the masses, show it to them first.

Personally, no thanks. I’m a purest when it comes to fiction. If it didn’t happen that way, I’m not changing it or adding fluff to make it more palatable to the market. Period. Burn me at the stake for it—the masses are good at that. I’m simply tired of seeing it worded as an absolute, when it isn’t. I’m tired of reading that in order to take yourself seriously as an author, you should sign up for the unsolicited criticism of an anonymous online community or a face to face, weekly commitment with other authors…because no serious author does it alone. This simply isn’t true at all. While we may be the exception, we aren’t a myth.

I’m not interested in hearing critique groups or critiques in general defended. I’ve heard it all, more than once, and saying it again won’t change how I feel about it. Writers get up in arms over this…which makes no sense if you think about it—I’m criticizing the norm and you’re immediately rushing to the defense…doesn’t that fly in the face of your argument? Shouldn’t you take my words for what they are and maybe see if you can’t learn something from them? Improve? My favorite argument thus far is the assumption that since a work hasn’t been published yet, there must be something inherently wrong with it. Really? You believe that? And passing it through enough critiques will eventually whittle down the ‘errors’ and you’ll have a ‘publishable’ novel at some distant point in the future? Formulas don’t work. That, is a formula. To hell with those who say it needs shredding. Tolkien himself told Lewis that he should scrap Father Christmas from The Chronicles of Narnia. Several years ago a poll was done in the united states that asked grade school children what part they liked best, and wouldn’t you know…Father Christmas won by a landslide. So, it isn’t even a matter of who is giving the criticism—whether they are qualified or not—you know when something is right or wrong in a story. Have a little more faith in yourself and your ability to write.

Stephen King said it best, No, it’s not a very good story – its author was too busy listening to other voices to listen as closely as he should have to the one coming from inside.”

You might be my dog if…

Are you serious??

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

“Are you serious?” I ask.

“I didn’t do it.”

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

“Can I?”

“NO!”

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

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

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

“You’re such a big jerk.”

Later…

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

“It’s called writing, twerp.”

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

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

“But you just said…”

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

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

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

Later still…

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

“Nope.”

“Is dad home?” *chomp chomp chomp*

“Nope.”

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

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

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

Latest, or perhaps really, really early tomorrow…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later still…

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

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

“Walk on my back”

“I got in trouble for that last time.”

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

“I don’t know…”

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

“ELLA!!!!”

The Etiology and Treatment of ‘Authoritis’

Authoritis is an unfortunate syndrome, which has only recently begun to receive attention from mental health professionals. It has, however, been in existence for ages and was only considered to be more than merely an ‘inconvenience’, with the invention of the Gutenberg press in 1440. With the dawn of the information age, it is now a recognized syndrome (Gore, 1983).

Those suffering the condition in years gone by were told to “take two aspirin and see if the urge passes (source anon).” Despite a history of clinical neglect, it is estimated that more than half of all books found in brick and mortar stores, were penned by someone suffering some form of Authoritis, also called an ‘author’. According to the DSM V-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), American Psychiatric Association (2009), there are five characteristics required to warrant a proper diagnosis of Authoritis.

  1. Adolescent onset
  2. Cyclic anti-social behavior
  3. Cyclic psychosis; to include hallucinations (auditory and visual)
  4. Obsessive behavior; to include insistence of imaginary creatures called, ‘agents’ and ‘publishers’
  5. God complex; consisting of claims that one has ‘created whole worlds,’ and ‘characters’.

Clinical Features of Authoritis

ADOLESCENT ONSET

Clinicians aren’t certain why the syndrome begins in adolescence. It has been recorded in some children, as early as the age of six—though it is usually a less severe form of the syndrome and studies have shown that 78% of children, who demonstrated three or more characteristics of the disorder, would later develop full blown Authoritis (R.L. Stine, 1990). Typically, adolescents will begin by writing in what is called a ‘diary’: Recent research has shown that diaries are ‘gateway’ perpetuators and may serve by their use as an early indicator of the syndrome. Curiously, some adolescents may throw the term around loosely in reference to their identity, though it has been proven that while children showing signs are more likely to develop the syndrome, only 35% of adolescents claiming the diagnosis, ever go on to develop more than the characteristic God complex.

CYCLIC ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOR

This aspect of Authoritis, despite the hallucinations and psychosis, is the single most prevalent symptom reported by the friends and family of those with the syndrome and is typically what prompts interventions and eventual medical treatment. The author will be perfectly social one moment, only to sink into a depressive anti-social trance. This trance will often find the author sitting in one place for extended periods of time, often more than five or six hours straight, sometimes staring at nothing but a blank sheet of paper or computer screen. Phone calls, visits from friends and family, personal hygiene and health are all abandoned in favor of engaging in a trance or a trance-like state. Any attempt to break the author of this behavior has proven to be detrimental to the concerned friend or relative, and in some cases, fatal.

In the most critical cases, this anti-social behavior becomes what is known as a ‘writer’s block’. Hygiene is said to be at a critical low and will typically be accompanied by crying, cussing and screaming fits.

CYCLIC PSYCHOSIS

For those living with an author this may be the most unsettling characteristic of the syndrome. The author is often seen speaking to themselves, sometimes repeating the same sentence in a variety of tones or voices (King, On Writing, 2001). At times, particularly after a lengthy trance-like state, the author will even use more than one voice and appears to be conducting entire conversations between multiple personalities. Any attempt to question the sanity of this action results in a blank look, followed by aggression or the abrupt closure of the psychosis—which will only resume later with greater intensity. Clinicians recommend, in order to minimize the severity of the episode, that the author be left alone.

OBSESSIVE BEHAVIOR

This is reportedly the most curious behavior of authors. Despite habitual assurance that ‘agents’ and ‘publishers’ do not in fact exist and even if they did, they wouldn’t have any desire to see the author’s penned psychotic episodes; those suffering Authoritis press on and insist that their delusions will prove true by the achievement of ‘publication’ or representation by an ‘agent’ or some other ephemeral creature (Critique Circle, 2006). While half of all books are rumored to have been penned by an author, this is believed to be a classic situation of correlation not equaling causation (Miss Snark, 2005). This shared delusion among authors has even held its own against the adversity of being shown without doubt that books are indeed created and placed in brick and mortar stores by monkeys.

*As a side note, the CLC, or Coalition of Literary Chimps, is outraged by the publication of this article and is threatening libel, claiming that this will project their members into the spotlight and out of obscurity where they have remained since leaving NASA (CLC, 2009).

GOD COMPLEX

This is the easiest symptom to identify, merely by the author’s own need to habitually tell others about the worlds they have created (Facebook, 2006-2009). It manifests very early in the syndrome, and is seen by medical professionals as progressive in nature, sometimes leading to multiple worlds, characters and volumes of written or printed material to validate the author’s creative and God-like abilities. It is said, with no uncertainty, that this characteristic is directly related to the psychotic episodes, though some authors have been found to record words amounting to nothing more interesting or ‘creative’ than the phone book (Left Behind Series, Jenkins & LaHaye, 1999).

Causes of Authoritis

With the official, medical, recognition of Authoritis, there has been a concerted effort at identifying its cause. So far, there are several models to consider:

Sociological Model

Most authors are woefully bereft of gainful employment. Some individuals who were discovered by the monkeys and had their books created, make the incorrect assumption that it was because they are authors and thus subsequently they report that this is their livelihood. This has been shown as unfounded time and time again with little or no impact on author’s claims (Harlequin, 1994). Other authors may be so incapacitated by the syndrome as to be unable to do anything else but write, which leads to poverty, eventual hermitism and in the most severe cases, suicide (Hemingway, 1961).

Biological Model

So far, cross-culture and regional studies have shown that while creativity may run in families, there is thus far no evidence that parents suffering the syndrome pass it on to their children (Tolkien Jr., 2007).

Psychological Model

There are a significant number of psycho-social and psychiatric based theories explaining Authoritis, the most notably being: Organized Schizophrenia. There are several more that claim the syndrome is not of any biological origin at all, but due to a lack of attention in early childhood; evidenced by the presence of imaginary friends and need to color on inappropriate things (Sesame Street, 1987).

Treatment of Authoritis

Treatment of Authoritis has proven most elusive. There have been centers created for the practice of group therapy (Also called MFA’s), and many institutions are offering classes in an attempt to help those suffering the syndrome cope with it .They are usually referenced as ‘English’ degrees, though very little evidence may be found relating their existence to effective management and in some cases may even cause the frequency of the psychotic and anti-social behaviors to increase significantly. They have however gone on to serve as more proof that being an author is not actually required to write books, as many non-author students have gone on to be discovered by the monkeys (Harlequin, 2005).

Prognosis

Prognosis of Authoritis is bleak. Medication has shown absolutely no effect whatsoever on the lessening of the syndrome’s most cumbersome manifestations. Authors can expect, however, a normal life-span. Despite this positive revelation, most authors will write for years or even decades before Alzheimer’s sets in or the syndrome mysteriously disappears. There is said to be some correlation between the loss of ‘agent/publication’ delusions and the remission of Authoritis.

This article was written after reading the brilliant ‘Etiology and Treatment of Childhood’ by Jordan W. Smoller, which you can find here: http://www.pshrink.com/humor/Childhood.html

The great and necessary solitude

What is it that beckons that inner voice? When the hours draw long and still, and the world quiets to merely a whisper, then it comes. Peace. A deeper solitude than can be found in any writing book, or literary commentary or within the tawdry lines of any blog. There is no price high enough to place on this state of mind to equal its worth.
I spent a long weekend at Oak Mountain, enjoying the crisp fall air and the smell of a campfire. I had originally intended on getting a fair amount of writing done, but found instead that the simple enjoyment of true rest was more beneficial. After a day of getting adjusted back to the monotony of city life, I am ready to write again. Its funny how much can be figured out by listening only to the silence.

For two years a question has hovered over my current project, reeking havoc on my concentration and muddying my plot lines. After listening. Really listening. I now have my answer, and it was there all along.
Tonight, I write!

Why so glum?

They say that being published will not change you. They say that being bitter early in the game is both a bad sign, and a predictor of future success. They say that perseverance is the key to breaking into the market. They also said the world was flat.
I began this blog to vent the frustrations of an author in pursuit. Gee, that’s never been done.
This is more for my health than for the pragmatism of it. I need to tell what part of the world wanders past this blog by accident, how frustrating it is to read 20 something different guides on how to write a professional query letter.  Yeah, I know that each individual agent is different from the next…thank you captain obvious. What confuses me is not the subtle stuff, it’s the universal rights and wrongs that they all claim. It’s a little like religion if you ask me, everyone has a monopoly on truth.
On another note, trying to find an agent is somewhat like dating. I assume this is not a new analogy. It just strikes me as funny every time I find myself getting overly hopeful. I just know this agent is right for me…sound familiar?
So, I suppose in a way that makes me single and searching. I have sent out a few queries, and like that first impression on a blind date, we’ll see.

If you happened to catch this blog early on…keep watching.