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?

Winter’s Depth

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”  ~Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays

This post is a little bit reflective … a little bit writerly … but mostly, it’s about what it means to be human and to love and laugh and cry. So, read it anyway and just maybe you’ll come away with something you needed to hear today.

Life is so painfully short.

You already know this. Even in reading those words, your eyes probably scanned over them in the same way you glance at the date on your calendar—just long enough to register what they are. But, per usual, I want you to stop and think about that for a moment.

Life is so painfully short.

We are so often inconvenienced by the small things. The chill in the air. The discomfort in your rear end during the extra five minutes spent by the side of a sick friend with whom you’ve already kept company for far too long. The destination that’s out of the way and then some. Throwing that tennis ball for the dog one more time. Writing that love letter. We have ‘things’ to do. We have agendas to keep, people to please and scenes to pen. We are busy … so so busy. Consumed even.

We are also speeding through a life that’s only being halfway lived.

I’ve been accused of saying “I love you” too often. Hugging too much. But, a very long time ago I learned that if we will only look closer, there is a gift in each and every moment we are given in this world. And more often than not, that gift is easily overlooked as we search and pine for bigger things. We set lofty goals, but forget that along the way, are all of the things that make reaching our goal so wonderful. Yeah, you’ve heard that it’s the journey … we all have. Yet, there is a huge difference in knowing that and applying it to your everyday life. It’s the same sort of warm and fuzzy moment after a good Sunday sermon or a tear-jerking movie. You know, that hour and a half where everything is suddenly more meaningful. It fades because, like most things in our fast food world, it isn’t truly absorbed.

When it comes to your writing, however, and your life, let me assure you that if you don’t slow down and savor these small things … there will come a time when you regret that choice. A moment will slip past you that you didn’t even know to hope for. A detail. A kiss. A hug. A sigh. A whispered declaration of something seemingly simple. In that lost moment, could very well be the beginning of a much larger dream you’ve been pining over for years. Had you only stopped to breathe it in, you might have caught it and hung on.

We are all so richly blessed. I say this in the midst of a parent fighting cancer, and the tail end of a painful divorce. So, don’t think this a trite bit of pithy advice. Through this years’ trials, I’ve come to further appreciate the unbelievable gifts in my life—the people who have made that life worth living. Worth continuing. I’ve never been more grateful to have resisted some of the darker thoughts that I courted these last few years. Sure, I could have avoided the pain and the lessons learned the hard way. But, my God, what I would be missing out on now.

My mistakes are countless. I’ve hurt others and then sacrificed my pride in owning those actions and the pain they caused. For that reason also, I am ‘aware’ of every day I get to live. I have more than I deserve. More than I could ever rightfully ask for. And I want nothing more than for everyone else who I have the pleasure of knowing, even virtually speaking, to be given the same kind of gratitude for the trivial. It will change your writing. It will change your life and those who have the honor of living it alongside you. Don’t let the day end without telling those you love, that you love them. Be inconvenienced. Be uncomfortable. Be silent. Touch. Whisper. Breathe.

Allow the depth of winter to show you all that it has to offer … and be everything you were intended to become in this life.

Harvesting Engineered Fiction

Harvesting Engineered Fiction: By Vanessa Cavendish

“When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow.” –Anais Nin

In her July 7 post, “Wholistic Writing, Part 2,” Breanne posed a slew of questions to get us thinking about our own writing. I personally think each of those questions deserves a post unto itself. I’m working my way through them as best I can.

Question #: What genre do you prefer and why? Would you ever try a different genre on for size?

It’s hard to know, these days, what kind of hybrid vegetable you might find at the grocery store unless you shop organic. Same thing at the fiction store. One hellofalotta genre-splicing going on. Dubya Tee Eff, as they say. What don’t kill you only makes you stranger. A genre is a label, like the sticker you can’t peel off a piece of fruit. We got some engineering yet to do before that bar code is embedded in the double helix of a watermelon, but you can write your elevator speech and start marketing your novel before it’s written, provided you know how to pick a genre and stick to it.

We don’t grow a lot of elevator speeches locally. They are a big city variety of conversating. Out where I live, the only elevator in town has CO-OP painted on the side of it in big blue letters. Red winter wheat might talk a good game as it thrashes to and fro in the wind, but once the custom cutters roll through, it don’t have a whole lot more to say. I’m kind of the same way, being a flatlander. Twister might take you by surprise, but people ought not to. Them you can see coming for miles. Gives you time to size a person up.

We are a reticent people until we get to know you, which might take all of five minutes or five years, but we don’t speak blurb, and what we’re interested in about you has got diddly to do with your unique selling proposition. We might ask who your momma and daddy is and if they’re still living and whether there’s a chance we might be remotely related. Pretty quick after that, we’ll get down to which church you belong to. If you’re me and you see that one coming, you can sometimes head it off with a comment on the weather and then, quick, pretend you got your cell phone on vibrate and you can not afford to miss this call.

Genres are the denominations of fiction. You can talk all you like about how we all serve the same Lord, but the minute you start in like that, we’ve got you pegged as a Universalist Unitarian, which means three things:

  1. Not from here.
  2. Don’t have a clue about Jesus
  3. Fair game for proselytizing

So you better come up with something quick, Vanessa, and quit your stalling.

I write American Gothic. I might could say Country Horror or Rural Fantasy or Farm Punk, but what I like about “American Gothic” is right away you get that image of the couple with the pitchfork that everyone knows is brother and sister but is too polite to come right out and speculate on what the Keerist is going on out there in the wilds of Indiana or Iowa or wherever the hell that is. The other thing is, is I like to think it sounds a little bit less like something I made up. I can point to my “American Gothic” antecedents, which is a fancy way of answering where your folks come from.

Children of the Corn, I might say. Or Frailty or Cape Fear. Because, look here. If you say Flannery O’Connor and Joyce Carol Oates, you risk sounding like a poor relation putting on airs.

So what is my point, exactly?

If I identify with an established fictional religion—let’s say horror, for the sake of argument and imagery—then I begin to feel like I have to toe the line, adhere to the doctrines, the esthetics, the rules of that particular genre. I even get to feeling like if I don’t dress a certain way I won’t fit in, and somebody sooner or later is going to say something to me about my target audience and reader expectations. I’m not going to let it get to that point because, deep down, I can’t bring myself to believe that the only way to get to Writer Heaven is to scrub-a-dub-dub in the blood.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to human sacrifice, I just think we can leave room for the Romantic Comedites and even the adherants to certain forms of Literary Fictionism, if they will but give up their excesses and repent their moral torpitude.

I am more goat than lamb, is all I’m saying. Still sacrificial but a touch less complacent about it. A herd animal that likes to butt heads with the fencing. The meek will always feed low to the ground and where the shepherd lets them, figuring that’s where their inheritance lies. They’ll graze a field down to the stubble, and that’s fine by me. There’s a certain resourcefulness about it that, in a more generous mood, I might admire. Being goatish, I’ll give most anything a try, but I do like to rear up on my hind legs every now and then and, you know…reach?

Alarm, Foredoom and a Ripped-open Bag of Metaphors

Alarm, Foredoom and a Ripped-open Bag of Metaphors:

Vanessa Cavendish

“There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described. I photograph to see what something will look like photographed.” — Garry Winogrand

In her post, “Wholistic Writing, Part 2,” Breanne posed a slew of questions to get us thinking about our own writing. I personally think each of those questions deserves a post unto itself. So if she’s game, I’d like to start with the first one and see how it goes.

Question #1: Does suspense play a part in how you reveal information to your readers, or do you lay it all out on the table in the beginning?

I’ll go first. Feel free to interrupt me if you can or talk over me otherwise.

You should know two thing about me before I get going: First, I got a mind like a pack of neighborhood dogs. Seems like anything I toss into this lidless bin of a brain will end up strewn across the yard like a ripped open bag of writing metaphors. Second, I got a poster rolled up and stashed in a closet somewhere of a portrait by the photographer Garry Winogrand. In the space below an indescribably plain-faced and therefore highly mysterious woman, is that quote I led off with. To my mind, writers and photographers are the same degree of dog. We tell our stories primarily through a combination of imagery, manipulation and disregard for your landscaping. For some of us, like Winogrand and (I wish I could say with less reservation) myself, life is so full of suspense already that we see little harm in showing the cards we deal. The black-and-white school of photography that Winogrand associated with apparently felt that even color film allowed too many opportunities for cheating. They had a profound, zen-like appreciation for the world as it was handed to them through the aperture of a camera. They held sway in the late sixties and seventies. Photoshop I don’t think was even a noun yet, never mind a verb.

There’s something classic about a just-the-facts-ma’am approach to any art form. An old-school journalist will tell you to lay down your who, what, where, when and how in the first sentence of a story, if you can do it, and to get the why nailed down before you call it a paragraph. Say the word “classic” and my mind makes a beeline for Greek tragedy. Oedipus Rex in particular. If you lived in Athens back in the day, or if you got your Sophocles from a college textbook like I did, you already knew the whole story before the actors took the stage. Oedipus killed his father, answered the Sphinx’s riddle, became king and married his own mother.

Got that? Okay. Now we can get to the good stuff.

See what I mean? The introduction to the play reads like a headline from the point-of-purchase rack at the grocery store.

What follows—and what mystifies me more than anything in human literature is that the play itself—is a freaking detective story! The murder mystery to end all murder mysteries—an entire genre killed off some two millennia before it was born. I don’t know of a single thing written before or since that’s more of a nail-biter. Not Psycho, not Jaws,  not nothing. Reason being? Sophocles hid not one thing from his audience. He only withheld information from his protagonist. What we know that Oedipus doesn’t keeps us on the edges of our seats.

My life’s ambition is to tell a story that good. Which means, I have to learn to write like a journalist. Which goes against my nature.

It’s hot where I live. I can’t wait for summer to get over and be Halloween again. I like to hide in the shadows around the corner of the house when kids come to ring my doorbell. Leave the lights on inside and the curtains drawn just a little, the TV playing, everything looking copacetic. Make the little bastards think it’s all cool as shit, like they themselves are the scariest thing ever to set foot on my porch.

I’ll show them.

Why do I, a grown-ass woman, take such delight in scaring the bejesus out of defenseless children? Is it because one or the other of their mothers has probably slept with every decent-looking man in town, and I haven’t yet?

(I don’t have to answer that.)

Is it because those same uptight prisses have the gall to smile and say they missed me in church last Sunday—every Sunday of the year, in fact?

(I will answer that one: Yes, maybe.)

Is it because those kids shriek and run off, but you and I both know they’ll come back for more and bring their friends, since a terrified fit of the gibbering giggles trumps a bite-size Butterfinger every damn time?

Absolutely. But the real reason is simpler than revenge, simpler even than rotten good fun.

It is my nature to be powerful.

How do I know this? Because I pay my “authentic movement” coach good money to tell me so. And to make me repeat it out loud and promise to repeat it again to the mirror when I get home. And every morning when I crawl out of bed, looking way too much like a fact clearly described.

Repeat after me, Vanessa: It is my nature to be powerful.

It is my nature to wear big, ropy gorgon hair and to spread a look of alarm and foredoom across my brow, to carry a big stick and to scream bloody murder and, like the pop-up monster in the Tunnel ‘o Terror, to fold myself back into the darkness once you pass by, and to wait in suspense for the next opportunity. To hide. To bide my time. To keep secrets. I make it my modus operandi to obscure the facts of life from small children, the better to make them shriek and run away and turn to the Lord for deliverance from the likes of me.

It is my nature to be powerful, because I am very, very afraid of what I’ve got coming. It is my nature to be mighty, because I am brief and everything I care about is temporary. It is my nature to say, “Would you look at that bloodshot moon?” and to distract you for as long as possible from the fact clearly inscribed on the headstone of one more friend this year than last.

It is my nature to pull my punches. Not because I don’t want to hurt you or because anybody is paying me to throw a fight, you silly ass, but to soften you up and to blind you to the sledge hammer sneaking up from behind us both. Don’t look now!

Okay, too late.

My nature and my ambition have gone to war with one another. I mean to write like a Garry Winogrand photograph. To tell a story because I want to see how the world looks through the lens of a deliberate fiction. When instead, because I’m not feeling my powerful nature, I attempt to cheat the mystery out of a situation by gaming the distribution of information, it is (in my case, I am quick to italicize) either unnecessary or an outright error in judgment, like wearing a disguise in the dark room, camoflage to a debutante ball, my best poker face to a tarot reading.

I would like to step with greater authenticity into the shadows at the corner of my front porch, not in order to hide, not for the sake of a special effect or a good scare, but because I know what’s coming. Because I am and you are and those adrenaline-and-sugar-stoked children are going to die one day. I want to describe that god-awful gorgeous fact clearly while I still can, through image and the gods’ honest manipulation of light and angle and timing, because I want to see what the everyday mystery and foreknowledge of inescapable doom looks like in a fiction plainly told.

Holistic Writing Pt.2

“Write from the soul, not from some notion of what you think the marketplace wants. The market is fickle; the soul is eternal.”  ~Jeffrey A. Carver

Take any ordinary shirt and a pair of pants, picture them in your mind, and now picture them on you. Picture that same pair of pants on someone else you know. Then someone else. Quickly, the obvious truth becomes that they look absolutely different on each person. The craft of writing is the same way. We use similar words, most of us. All of us who use the same alphabet use the same letters. The same characters that make up the words of ‘Macbeth,’ make up ‘The War of the Worlds.’ The writer makes all the difference.

I don’t expect this to be a shock to anyone, rather I intend for that simple illustration to be a lead-in to the purpose of this post: What you do as a writer defines your fiction. Let me expound on that a little. As an example, there are certain things that I naturally tend to do as a storyteller. I never, ever, show all of my cards to the reader. Some authors do, and some readers love them for it. I don’t. I am fascinated by the idea of perception and the power of assumption and how those things play into the daily lives of my characters and their relationships with others. I’m equally transfixed by the utility of a reader’s assumptions about what will or won’t happen in a story. That seems to be the driving force, not  behind how I plot, but how I show that plot … how I reveal the events. I love the gentle unfolding of things, be they awful, terrible or beautiful. I write, in a sense, how I like the stories I read to be told. ‘The Village’ is one of my favorite movies for a reason.

Consider your favorite authors and your favorite stories told by them. What are their tendencies? What is the foundation upon which they craft worlds? It’s easier to detect someone else’s ways than our own. We aren’t able to see ourselves as accurately as we see others. Why is this important? Well, for starters, it helps ground you. When things like, reviews for instance, come around … if you know who you are as an author, and what your cornerstone is, then your internal structure is less likely to come crashing down around you.

Do you write with a lot of description, or do you prefer to leave a lot to the imagination (I’ve been told my work is woefully bereft of detail)? Do you excel at dialog, or is your best work done in conveying the subtler aspects of human interaction … the slight turn of hand, or bodily gesture? Do you like drama or do you show all your cards to the reader from the very beginning?

These things are important because when they come into question later, you’ll know in advance that regardless of how the critic felt about it, you did them on purpose. They are part of your signature, per say. I was talking with a friend earlier and it came to light that as authors, we’re trained emotionally in a similar way to how our bodies are physically trained to deal with homeostasis. Right now, are you aware that your left foot isn’t hurting? If I randomly picked a part of your body that was hurting, then pick another part of your body that wasn’t and bear with me. Why weren’t you aware of it? Because nothing was wrong. Your body is designed to only send signals for things you need to pay attention to … to problems that need to be addressed.

As authors, we see criticism much in the same way. Suggested “solutions” automatically equal problems in our manuscripts. We’re trained to only pay attention to the negative, because our sense of balance and literary homeostasis tells us to do so in order to fix what’s “wrong.” Even if nothing is wrong at all.

As authors, we never believe the good reviews. There is a dark side of us that believes those people must be lying. Even the mediocre reviews are suspect. Yet, when the negative reviews come around, we cling to every sentence as if … not only is this person unquestionably a literary authority, they are suddenly keenly educated on the ins and outs of not just stories in general, but our story and all of its intents and purposes. We grant these nameless voices titles and power that they, frankly, don’t have. We’re built this way. We’re wired to see things this way. Those few of us who thrive and flourish under scrutiny should consider yourselves blessed because you are the exception. You’re able to appreciate that your left foot isn’t throbbing right now.

Never mind that you wouldn’t spare this guy a second glance in line at Wal-Mart. Once they’ve penned something about your work of love, they’re deemed “knowledgeable.” Or worse, “educated.” Sometimes they will be just that. Educated. And in truth, it depends on your definition of the word. But in reality, I’ve known an awful lot of quasi-intelligent morons. You know exactly what I’m talking about. The kind of people who still say certificated like it’s a real word.

And that’s part of being a holistic writer—understanding and being familiar with how we are interdependent on our writing and the worlds we create. In a sense, we’re not just what we write, but how.

Now, on another note, assuming what I’ve said is true and holds water, this means that we’re keenly apt to feel threatened when our writerly constructs are under fire. When someone says that how we’re writing is wrong, or lacks skill or interest or any number of things, we fold first. Emotionally anyway.

“Remember: Writing can get you fed to a lion whose teeth draw your whole face into its foul wet breath and cut your skull with knives. There’s no soft way to put this. A black hole swallows you up. Willpower’s no help. Getting in print is like beating cancer but losing a lung, staying in print is hopeless. Your best work goes begging…..Today’s paragraph comes, a word from the heart of the universe, and shines in the darkness, unquenched. And you ask for power, wisdom, and love as you make the anvil sing.”   ~Donald Newlove

Bottom line: Writer, know thyself. It’s the only protection you have against the instant gratification of this fast food world … this five minute mass … this three minute throng of misguided souls who are only passing through your worlds, the ones you create. They don’t live there. You do.

Bonus Round:

Here are a few questions to ask yourself. And keep in mind that your writer identity may change over time … and that’s perfectly normal. But, you’ll go a long way on that path just by knowing who you are right now.

1. Does suspense play a part in how you reveal information to your readers, or do you lay it all out on the table in the beginning?

2. What POV do prefer to write in? First, third? Present, past? Why? Would you ever try a different POV or tense on for size?

3. What genre do you prefer and why? Would you feel comfortable trying on a different genre for size?

4. Do you give lots of detail, or do you leave it up to the reader?

5. Do you plot in advance, or wing it?

6. How do you feel about sequels?

7. What kinds of themes do you weave into your work? Religion, politics?

8. What kinds of things do you incorporate into your writing that are only for you? If you don’t put anything in your work for yourself, why not?

9. Are happy endings important for you? If they are, are you capable of writing a tragedy?

10. What are your pet peeves? Do you like chapter titles, etc?

11. Are there issues that you tackle repeatedly in your narratives (child abuse, etc)?

12. Are you a social author who likes to hear the public’s opinion, or are you private? Do you read reviews or avoid them?

13. Do you work within the familiar or do you stretch to be original (both are OK, so be as truthful with this one as you can. Some authors excel at the familiar)?


Hemming the Bone Veil

Yannick Bouchard

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed in my years of blogging that once an author snags an agent, the focus of their blog usually changes. Once they sell a book, it changes even more. Once their book is close to its release date, they start to seem distant. They talk about publishing a lot. Their posts contain carefully planned honesty. Something seems like its missing, and more often than not, that missing piece is never shown after they are published. A sort of veil goes up. A wall, even, and thus we come to the division between the published and the unpublished.”  ~Michelle Davidson Argyle

I was going to blog today. No, I mean really blog. Not whine and then take the post down less than 24 hours later. But, then I read my dear friend Michelle’s post and realized that she’d eloquently laid out what I wanted to talk about today. We’ve been talking in-depth about this subject for days (months really), so I suspect that it is keenly present on both our hearts.

Here is that post. And I want … nay need … you to read it and even if you’re not where we are right now, at least if you’re destined to wind up there, you’ll understand what’s in your future. Then, come back and let’s talk about it a little. I think there might be more truth in that post than in anything else I’ve read in years on what it truly means to be a career author. And it’s worth a discussion.

Yes, I’m not kidding. Go read it. I’ll wait.

OK, do you understand now why I wanted you to read it? The analogy of the veil is anything but mere analogy, and I want to expound a little on it in a personal context. Or rather, how I see it beyond the beginning stages of its placement … the “why” of the veil, if you will.

We’ve taken an artery, a thing that feeds our hearts and minds, and we’ve made its homeostasis a public matter. We’ve taken our somewhat protected world  of alpha and beta readers (whom we trust) and blown it all to hell, by introducing a third party. The Public. And to me, it feels like the equivalent of introducing a third person into my marriage bed.

In other words, it might sound to some of you like a blast in the moment, but the long-term consequences are reprehensible when you consider how they affect that initial relationship. Nothing is the same. Nothing will be the same, and if you’re going to keep your ‘marriage’ solid, you need to know this going into things. You are, in effect, taking another lover.

The veil is your only protection. Imagine it, if you will, as a separation of your lifelong commitment and your illicit affair. No, you can never fully reconcile with your soul mate, but if you must exist in this way, then do your best to devote 100% to each when you are with them. It’s the only thing you can do. I liken it to an affair for a variety of reasons, but the most important of them is this: The unspoken rules of your affair will change dependent upon the participants, but your marriage vows never will. If you are a wholistic writer, as I suspect a great many of Asylum readers are, then you will always be true to that first relationship. You will always be tied to that fiery love of writing and that dogged determination when it was all about the story, that Michelle spoke of so beautifully in her post.

But, like me and like Michelle and so many others, once you’ve changed the dynamics of that relationship, it will change you. How it will change you, and your craft, is entirely dependent upon you and your intimate details. But, don’t ignore those subtle shifts in the flow of your creativity. They can, and have in some cases, proven fatal and I mean this literally.

Why do you think so many authors suffer from depression, anxiety and why so many creative individuals wind up taking their own lives? Because this one thing … this private endeavor, is not something many of us can afford to lose to public scrutiny. To many of us, this relationship is the very fabric of our beings. It is in a sense, our truest God. We would never seek to harm it or do something to dishonor it. Yet, the world and especially the media and the consumerism of that world, forces those of us who are not independently wealthy to do so if we are to write full time.

I’m not saying that getting published is wrong. Or that I regret it. Physically, financially and realistically, it isn’t. But, to my real soul as an author, it’s more than an abomination, it’s disillusionment at its core and regrettably, has shown me for what I really am. Human. It was bound to happen, but did it have to happen quite like this? With this symbiotic of a relationship? For me, and for a good many of you … yes. It’s meant to be this way.

We don’t live in the world of Dickens, or Tolstoy or any of the greats who had to purposely go buy a paper to hear how people responded to their work … to be reminded of just how crudely commercial the literary world has become. They didn’t know what a book trailer was, let alone a blog or book review websites or the soul-sucking darkness that is Goodreads. Their veil was firmly hemmed to their being. I’d even venture to say that it might have been a tad easier to read reviews in some cases because once you walked away, assuming the author didn’t keep the review, they could really walk away from it.

We can’t. It’s blogged, cached, eternal. That infiniteness of our criticisms does not escape our subconscious. It festers and works at moth-holing that veil. So, the bottom line is this: If you find yourself there … with a wad of fabric in your hands and no clue what to do with it … start sewing it to your foundation. Hem it firm and keep the remnants. You’ll need every last stitch because this fast-food, instant gratification society that we exist in, will require you (if you’re to stay sane) to mend and patch those weak places.

Good news is, we are all hemming the veil together and once you’ve reenforced a hole, it’ll never tear in that exact place again. That’s why I’ve called it the Bone Veil. It isn’t just fabric, since I firmly believe it’s a part of our being. And once torn, the fabric threads back together like a bone, ever stronger for the strain.

The Role of Author Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re worth a lot.

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

You’re worth a lot.

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

My name is _________ and I’m an author.

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

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

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

Who are you? What are you worth?

The Most Dangerous Game

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”  – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

I’m going to do my best to put this into words, despite my suspicions of their inadequacy to convey what I’m feeling.

We’re told as artists, from reliable sources, not to take things personally. Yet the act of being an author, or musician, or painter, is quite tied to our intimacies and close relationships. Any career that deals, even a little bit, with reputation is by default a career of duality. The self is suddenly shifted from a thing of sole possession, to a commodity to be bought and sold.

Don’t kid yourself—as an author, you are your writing. That simple truth is the reason why many authors choose to publish under pen names. It protects them. It shields them from some of the inherent pitfalls of this industry. In retrospect, I wish I’d used my pen as a true pen, instead of a novelty leftover from when I was a girl who once dreamt of being an author.

Why?

Because—just like in Son of Ereubus, nothing is what I thought it would be. I don’t feel like I thought I would. I am not reacting as I thought I would, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it.  Blogging only goes so far. “Getting over it” only goes so far. “Holding your head up” only shuts out so much.

I mentioned, months ago, that everything was changing for me. Part of that change includes  sudden interest in my life, attention from people with whom I’ve tried desperately over the years to rekindle relationships—with whom I’ve tried to start friendships with, in some cases. It’s a double-edged sword. I am both grateful and heartbroken: Grateful because the support has been overwhelming; heartbroken, because it has nothing at all to do with me as a person.

I am now the equivalent of my accomplishments. This isn’t universally true—of course–there are some folks who have been in my life and been by my side since long before any of my dreams started to appear even remotely possible. This post isn’t about them.

So, with all of that in mind, let’s talk about relationships for a moment.

Brutal honesty, while honorable in some circles, is simply cruel in others. Siblings, parents, close friends and spouses often bear the brunt of our less-civilized selves, in part because we know they love us and that they aren’t going anywhere … when in truth, they should be granted only the best of what we are as human beings. They deserve our highest respect and deepest consideration. Yet, we seem to reserve those things for veritable strangers … people we want to impress or from whom we have something to gain.

We are not immune to this as storytellers.

Our fellow authors deserve nothing from us but the kindest regard and the sincerest empathy. Instead, we’re often consumed with jealousy or simply too absorbed in our own pursuits to realize how our actions affect our peers in publishing. It all stems back to this childish competition mode that a good majority of writers fall into … as if one person’s triumph has anything at all to do with yours.

Seriously, as a whole, authors can be the most self-serving assholes on the planet. I’ve watched writers tear each other apart, disregard favors, back-stab and sabotage till they’ve flat run out of ideas. Then they wait till opportunity knocks. If you don’t have any clue what I’m talking about, then good for you. But, read on anyway because if you stay on this career path, you will eventually understand me. It might take moving up the food chain a few notches. The darkness of human nature, in some ways, seems at its most raw and excitable in the creative world. Maybe this is because we deal with the soul on a daily basis. I genuinely don’t know. And religious authors are not exempt from this untoward behavior. They just do a better job of hiding their nastiness.

Not all authors are this way (yet those who are, are unavoidable). Some of us will genuinely do anything and everything we can to help out other people. We want to see others succeed because we remember what it was like to feel the all-mighty Power of Suck. Hell, I’ve given shards of my soul away for the benefit of others, and you know what … it was worth it. I’d do it over again in a heart beat. The problem though, is that a great portion of up-and-coming authors are downright selfish. Pure and simple. A great many mid-level authors, who’ve been in the game for years are even worse. They’re not just egocentric, they’re ravenous and exhausted from treading proverbial water. They’re tired of being the sum total of their achievements to their friends and family, and especially strangers, and some are out for blood.

And in a way, it reminds me of the 1932 film ‘The Most Dangerous Game.’ Why? Well, here’s the plot (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Famous big game hunter and author Bob Rainsford  swims to a small, lush island, the sole survivor of a shipwreck. There, he becomes the guest of Russian Count Zaroff, a fellow hunting enthusiast. Zaroff remarks that Bob’s misfortune is not uncommon; in fact, four people from the previous sinking are still staying with him: Eve Trowbridge, her brother Martin, and two sailors.

That night, Zaroff introduces Bob to the Trowbridges and reveals his obsession with hunting. During one of his hunts, a Cape buffaloinflicted a head wound on him. He eventually became bored of the sport, to his great consternation, until he discovered “the most dangerous game” on his island. Bob asks if he means tigers, but Zaroff denies it. Later, Eve shares her suspicions of Zaroff’s intentions with the newcomer. The count took each sailor to see his trophy room, on different days, and both have mysteriously disappeared. She believes their host is responsible, but Bob is unconvinced.

Then Martin vanishes as well. In their search for him, Bob and Eve end up in Zaroff’s trophy room, where they find a man’s head mounted on the wall. Then, Zaroff and his men appear, carrying Martin’s body. Zaroff expects Bob to view the matter like him and is gravely disappointed when Bob calls him a madman.

He decides that, as Bob refuses to be a fellow hunter, he must be the next prey. If Bob can stay alive until sunrise, Zaroff promises him and Eve their freedom. However, he has never lost the game of what he calls “outdoor chess”. Eve decides to go with Bob.

Eventually, they are trapped by a waterfall. While Bob is being attacked by a hunting dog, Zaroff shoots, and the young man falls into the water. Zaroff takes Eve back to his fortress, to enjoy his prize. However, the dog was shot, not Bob. Bob fights first Zaroff, then his henchmen, killing them. As Bob and Eve speed away in a motor boat, a not-quite-dead Zaroff tries to shoot them, but he succumbs to his wounds and falls out of the window where below are his hunting dogs, it is assumed that the dogs kill him for good.

Head on a wall anyone? There are days when this plot certainly seems to do a damn good job hemming up the publishing industry. And it certainly sums up what it means in this current climate to be an author in general. Whether it’s by fellow scribes, or old friends, we’re hunted once we’ve joined the game … one way or another. We can deny it all we like. But, we’re in this for better or worse. We agreed to this. Didn’t we? This most dangerous game?

 

Why it Doesn’t Matter How Your Novel Opens

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

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

Holy smokes, did she really just say that?

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

In other words, NOBODY CARES EITHER WAY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one else is.

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

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

Passport Please

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

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

Yeah … me too.

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

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

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

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

Because they don’t know.

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

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

In brave writing … there are no assurances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creativity Coaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Bizarre Behavior (and other revolutionary concepts)

 

**If you don’t care for profanity, or get offended easily, or if you already have your panties in a knot, I’d suggest you skip this post and go find something else to read … maybe something about puppies … or the Junior Women’s League.**

“No matter how calmly you try to referee, parenting will eventually produce bizarre behavior, and I’m not talking about the kids.”  ~Bill Cosby, Fatherhood, 1986

And I’m not talking about literal parenthood.

This quote perfectly explains how I feel about being a career author. If you’re going to get anything out of this post, then you might as well get over the fact that I use children as an analogy for my writing. Or else you’ll find the next few minutes an utter waste of your time.

You see, I just finished getting my second child ready for graduation. We’ve been through birth, the terrible twos, the worse threes, and all of the educational, meet-with-the-teacher kind of stuff, and here we are, a few months away from taking the final exam (the final exam being the moment where the novel gets sent out into the world). It’s all over. The fat lady has sung. I’ve had my last chance to wipe lint from his shirt or smooth down his unruly hair. And funny enough, I don’t feel like I did with the first one.

Like with children …. you mellow out a little with time. I’ve noticed this more as I speak to fellow authors whose first novels are releasing this year. They’re hyper-sensitive. I was hyper-sensitive … though I didn’t know it at the time. Now, I’m kind of … well … over it. I’m excited, enthralled, and all of those other buzz words. But, I’m OK with everything. I feel a tad less neurotic this time around. It’s nice. It’s a pervasive feeling of, “I’ve been down this road before.”

By the time June 30th rolls around, I will have turned in my third and fourth novel. Come March 2012, numbers five and six will have passed on as well. What then? Will empty nest ensue? Who knows. That’s new territory. I’m looking forward to finishing that horror/dark fantasy novel that has been DYING to be written (Of Blood and Bone). If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to write it a little bit at a time between revising and polishing and proofing everything else.

But, the point in sharing all of this with you, is that if you’re destined … correction … if you work hard enough to make a life out of this calling, then most likely you’ll be where I am as well, and I wanted to tell you that it’s a nice place to be. There is peace to be had. And I think a lot of this comes from steering clear of reviews and media-hype. What am I talking about? I’m talking about getting caught up in blog-talk about the industry, reading reviews of other books (which we’ll invariably relate to our own work), Facebook, Twitter and all of those other, totally-useful-yet-insidious time traps.

I swear a little bit of my soul gets sheared away with every hour I waste ‘marketing’ and ‘networking’ on those various sites. I don’t give a great goddamn what the authorities on this stuff have to say about how valuable all of that can be. It depends on you personally. It’s the same idea as this drivel you read in parenting magazines … not every concept will work in every situation, or with every child. There are thousands of theories on parenting … this isn’t without good cause. The idea of pimping yourself and your work in order to make a career out of your writing, may work for some folks, but I’ve got to be careful how much involvement I have in that aspect of things. Because the separation between my writing life and my personal life is non-existent (see Holistic Writing), I can’t shut off my emotions like a lot of authors can. Believe me, I wish I could. I’d be a better marketer.

What I mean by all of this, is that ever since I made a firm decision to step back … I’ve written more and been more productive than I have been in YEARS. It doesn’t have anything to do with stars on a calendar (though, I’m still doing that because it’s a cool idea). In other words, I stopped giving a flying frack about how other people see my work. Or me, for that matter. I didn’t realize how much I’d started to care. But, after taking a lengthy emotional inventory, my give-a-shit meter was set on ‘high’ and it shouldn’t have been plugged in at all. You catch my drift here?

Two dear friends, Vin and Michelle, came to visit us in January. Vin knows how to do handwriting analysis (among many other really cool things … and you should SEE how gifted his wife is. AMAZING peeps). Anyway, he analyzed my handwriting … and months later, two things that he said still ring loud and clear in my head.

“Wow … you really don’t give a fuck what people think. I mean … I knew you didn’t, but … you really don’t.”

“You aren’t living up to your potential, {insert lengthy dramatic pause for effect}, and heaven help us all if you ever decide to start.”

No, I’m not paraphrasing. I actually wrote that down in the journal I had in my hands right after he said it (yes, all the way down to ‘insert lengthy …’ cause that’s totally how I roll).

I thought long and hard about that. Especially the latter part. And I had to ask myself what was going on that was preventing me from deciding to go down that road, and came to the startling conclusion, that nothing was keeping me from doing what I want to do with my life. I was putting roadblocks up by doing everything in my power to make myself give a damn about acceptance and peer approval. I guess, somewhere down inside, I thought I was supposed to … give a damn that is … that maybe I was a bit inhuman for not caring.

Then it dawned on me, that such a crotchety attitude, is what allows me to write the way that I do in the first place. If I take that away, then I take away everything that makes my life worth living. And frankly, whatever I deem to be a life worth living, is all that should matter to me.

No more crap. No more ploys or gimmicks or wasting time with useless ‘strategies.’ I’m focusing on my craft alone, and sharing what I learn with others here, and that’ll just have to be enough. It’s the only way I’ll keep living that life worth living.

What does this mean, literally?

For starters, I’m not doing another blog tour. Sorry. I can’t slow production down to a crawl, which is exactly what happens whenever I do stuff like that. It isn’t worth the five extra copies that it will sell of whatever book we’re pimping. I’ll still do guest posts and all of my stuff at Best Damn and Suspense (especially Suspense, which has given me some newfound sense of purpose and responsibility). But as far as drawings, or contests, or whatever … sorry … not happening. You’ll have to win an iPad2 somewhere else, from some other really-way-too-excited author.

I’m also done soliciting reviews. If you want to review my stuff, the right people will find you. Or you’ll find them, I’m sure. Or you’ll flat out ask me. Why would I go this route? Because what really, really, really sells a book anyway? Great writing. I can’t give you great writing unless I’m .. gasp … writing. Yeah, I know … all writers must market: **cough cough** I get it. I was there for the memo. Truth is, I can’t remember the last book I bought from a blog comment, a review, or a stupid contest. I buy books because people recommend them to me, or I like what I read of the excerpt. That’s it. Occasionally, I’ll look into a book because the cover is too awesome to bypass, or the title. But past that, it’s sheer dumb luck if I come across a book and buy it without being prompted to. There are all sorts of reasons to argue this, and there is plenty of ‘proof’ that certain strategies sell books. Look at James Patterson. He’s a brand.

I don’t want to be a fucking brand. Allow me to rephrase. I’m NOT a fucking brand.

And besides, the majority of the ‘evidence’ for low-level marketing hype reminds me of television ratings. Have you ever had one of those boxes in your home? I sure as hell haven’t. Who ARE these people who are buying books out of the great blue nowhere? Who are these illustrious individuals who buy into these gimmicky strategies? Talk about bizarre behavior. It’s like the father I heard behind me with his son a few days ago at target. I’m SURE he sounded like a rational, sane, human being before he had children. But by the time he was there in line behind me … he’d lost at least 50 IQ points. How do I know this? Because he said to his seven year old, “You betcha, sodas are yucky ucky!”

Ahem … yucky ucky? Wow. You’re wearing a suit and tie … and not a cheap suit either. Somehow I don’t get the impression that you use that phrase in your day job. What the hell comes over a parent?  And before you say anything, my parents never baby-talked me. Because of that sound parenting decision, I had a better vocabulary at seven than most fourteen year olds.

What comes over writers? When did writers first get roped into the whole media, one-liner, catch phrase bit and start sounding like total douche bags? We’re not used car salesmen folks! We’re already at the very, rock bottom of the food chain here. No, really, we’re the ONLY part of the equation that can’t be removed, yet our percentages are the lowest. We make less off our own books than anyone else involved in pushing them in the marketplace, INCLUDING the twenty-two year old chick who rings you up at the register at Barnes and Noble. Yup, she makes more than most published authors. **smacks gum to paint a mental image of Obnoxious Register Girl**

I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in …

Take away agents, and publishers would be forced to deal with authors directly. Take away publishers and agents, and authors would become their own publishers and would still continue to write and distribute their stuff. Take away authors … do you see where I’m going with this? Yet the average percentage an author gets for a novel is what? The average advance (assuming you are lucky enough to get one in the first place) is what? And yet … there are some well-known publishing houses who require authors to put a percentage of that advance back towards marketing? Even those who don’t require it, expect it. Most expect it. All of them expect you to market your stuff like hell online, in-person, and on the radio.

I’m not saying that I’m not going to help market my stuff. On the contrary, I’ve decided that I’m going to do what I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the ONLY thing that will help my career and assure longevity in the marketplace (brace yourself for this revolutionary concept): I’m going to be a writer.

A real honest-to-goodness one, who writes more than markets, and who only engages in the kind of bizarre behavior that comes naturally to a Holistic Writer.

Consequences be damned …

Any Way But Lightly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the Power of Greyskull!

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

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

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

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

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

Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Thief of Nightshade

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

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

But, I LOVE … no, I LURVE it!!!!

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

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

She’s like my daughter.

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

 

 

 

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!

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!!

Guest Blogger: James Thayer

A character’s weakness is a story’s strength.

“Your characters are going to make or break your story,’” Stephen Coonts said.  No matter how deftly the plot is put together, not matter how exotic the settings, no matter how vividly written the story is, readers won’t become involved with the story unless they are attracted to a character.  Novelist Sol Stein said, “Readers value and remember extraordinary characters long after tricky plots are forgotten.”

Sometimes creating that magnetic character is difficult.   James Michener said, “I have tried every device I know to breathe life into my character, for there is little in fiction more rewarding than to see real people interact on a page.”

Here’s a proven technique; give the character a weakness.  Nobility, intelligence, determination, wisdom, humor: all of these attributes can work well in fictional hero, but nothing endears readers to a character more than a weakness.  And Simon & Schuster editor Michael Korda said, “Characters’ weaknesses are more interesting than their strengths.”

An example is Sherlock Holmes, who was brilliant, daring, and witty.  But, as Sol Stein points out, Holmes’s “drug addiction worried his friend Dr. Watson.  Watson is critical of Holmes’s habit, but does not condemn him for it.  The reader wishes Holmes would abstain, and knows he can’t.”  Holmes can sometimes be arrogant and waspish, but Stein says the addiction helps the reader feel compassion for the detective.

Even well-crafted superheroes have weaknesses.  James Poniewozik said that we need superheroes “to suffer our heartbreaks, reflect our anxieties, embody our weaknesses,” and notes that Clark Kent’s “sad-sack personality is as essential to fans as Superman’s ability to turn steel girders into pasta ribbons.”  Stan Lee of Marvel Comics listed Spiderman’s weaknesses: “Despite his super powers, he still has money troubles, dandruff, domestic problems, allergy attacks, self-doubts, and unexpected defeats.”

What about more down-to-earth characters?  In Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara’s weakness is blind love that makes her fail to find true love and happiness. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein’s weakness is an amoral scientific curiosity.  Macbeth was undone by arrogance, and Othello by misplaced trust.

In Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander novels, Jack Aubrey’s weakness is befuddlement regarding how the world works on land, as opposed to the sea where he is indeed a master.  In John LeCarre’s novels, George Smiley’s weakness is his baffling tolerance for his wife’s affairs.

Anne’s weakness in Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is a touch of haughtiness.  In I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe, Charlotte’s weakness is naivety,  Same with Jim Hawkins in Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island.  In Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, d’Artagnan is plagued by a prickliness to insult stemming from a sense of inferiority.

A weakness endears a character to readers because we aren’t perfect, and so we see ourselves in character’s weaknesses.  We root for people with whom we sympathize, and so we want to accompany the character on her adventures, cheering all the way.

**You can find out more about James, and get more of his sage advice at his website here. I haven’t personally read his book yet (as I just recently had the pleasure of ‘virtually’ meeting him through comments on Best Damn), but if it is anywhere near as excellent as his blog, then it ought to be well worth the money to purchase it!

In the In-between

“Sometimes when I think how good my book can be, I can hardly breathe.” ~Truman Capote

Authors have love affairs. Some of them are lasting, life-long affairs that wax and wane like the cycles of the moon. Others are short bursts of passion whose fires fizzle out as quickly as they were lit. We don’t … however, marry.

I’m talking about our writing, of course. I’ve been happily married in real life for nearly 10 years.

And I’m not talking in general terms about our storytelling either. I’m speaking literally of how we feel about our ability to write. We crush on it at times, especially when we get a particularly glowing review from a blogger or critic, or better yet from an agent, our editor, or our publisher.

But we don’t love it.

We love the act. We love the stories, the characters … the worlds we create. We even think we love our writing at times. But, like all affairs, the truth comes out in the end and we, being the fickle lovers that we are, we change and look for other mistresses. Other mistresses, being however you chose to interpret this analogy. It’s different for each of us.

I’ve never read a single blog post where the author raved about their talent with words. Storytelling, sure. But don’t think for a minute that we don’t all feel that deep-in-your-gut dread that says none too quietly, “Wow, I’m absolutely horrible at this. I’m that girl in the church chorus whom they’ve doled out solos to because they pity her.”

Even the great Capote, who knew damn well that he had a firm hold on the English language (as evidenced by his many self-indulgent quips), had his darker moments. Note that in the quote above, he didn’t say how good his writing could be—how skillful his prose could be. He said my book. Big, big difference.

There are moments, however rare they may be, when we read a paragraph or a chapter (or if we’re really blessed, a whole book that we’ve penned), and we think to ourselves, “That was incredible.” But, it just doesn’t last—that feeling. It fades as quickly as oak furniture in direct sunlight.

So what do we do?

We love like hell in those passionate moments—in the in-between. And we learn. My God, do we learn. And we wait. We wait for the next breathtaking moment.

I promise you … if you are patient, it will come. Remember, feelings are fickle and are apt to betray. Promises however, if you mean them, can last lifetimes. And I promise to stay faithful to my writing, for better or worse.

Do you?