I’m Just Saying…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m just saying …

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Paper Crowns and Battle Cries

 

“It started out as a feeling

Which then grew into a hope

Which then turned into a quiet thought

Which then turned into a quiet word

And then that word grew louder and louder

Until it was a battle cry

I’ll come back

When you call me

No need to say goodbye

Just because everything’s changing

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

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

As you head off to the war

Pick a star on the dark horizon

And follow the light

You’ll come back when it’s over

No need to say goodbye”

~Regina Specktor (from ‘The Call’)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gold will come later, I promise…

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Biggest Lie of Them All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sex and the Art of Author Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Own Your Story

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

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

Are you leasing, or buying?

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

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

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

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

So what are the story’s terms?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Reap What You Sow

How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.”  ~Wayne Dyer

The literary industry can’t withstand what happened to the music industry. We can’t build houses of sticks and straw and expect them to weather the storm. Media piracy sucks the lifeblood out of the entertainment business, but as wounded as musicians have been over the illegal distribution of their material, they won’t hurt like authors will.

Just two weeks after the release of Son of Ereubus, a ridiculous amount of downloads have been completed. Really, it’s staggering. I had to take a screen shot because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing (still don’t). Compounding this is the fact that it went viral. I’ve seen it in forums, multiple free torrent sites and a few membership only ones.

I’m not Stephen King folks…and I’m flattered that someone out there, somewhere, thinks it’s good enough to steal. Honestly. But that warm fuzzy feeling, like a good strong night’s worth of drinks, leads to nothing but a vicious migraine and one hell of a stomach ache.

With the dawn of new technology and the ever-changing format of material, our rear-ends have to get in gear here or we’re going to be left in the dust. Again. Why do I say again?

How many authors, who are signed with large publishing houses, who have awesome (big name) agents, can afford to write full time? Answer: Not as many as you’d think. 

Artists are often in this same boat. Even being featured in well-known galleries doesn’t mean that your work will necessarily afford you a decent lifestyle. I suppose it depends on your definition. But, how do you take what isn’t there to be taken? An author’s royalties, even before you take out an agent’s 20%, are SO minimal…that the idea of losing a good portion of that income because of piracy makes my insides hurt. I’m not saying that this is the case with Son of Ereubus. I’m published with a very small press, so I don’t expect to earn a ton anyway. I’m sure sales have been affected, but I’m talking on a wide-scale basis here. This hits home with everyone who ever hopes to earn a living from selling their fiction, whether they realize it yet or not.

Now, pair this with all of the other “hot  topics” out there right now: E-book vs Paper, Paperback vs Hardcover, Self-publish vs Traditional, POD vs Print Run, Large Print Run vs Small Print Run, Small Press vs Big Five, Literary Fiction vs Pop Fiction, Listed at P&E as Gold vs Listed on P&E as Evil, To Blog vs Not to Blog, Social Media Savvy vs Being a J.D. Salinger Hermit, All Rights Contracts vs Limited Rights Contracts ….really??? Are you guys hearing me here? WE HAVE ISSUES….and not the kind of issues that “I”m OK, You’re OK” can fix. And don’t even get me started on the whole audio rights and ereaders thing… 

Back to the problem of piracy…a lot of these torrent sites are over seas. Right now…there’s next to nothing that can be done about it. So, I did the only thing I could do—I went to my J.S. Chancellor FB page and asked that if anyone had downloaded it illegally, liked it, and was on my page as a result, would they please consider leaving a review of the book somewhere. I don’t exactly consider that an even trade, but I know what it’s like to not be able to afford to read a book you want to read. Yes, I’m aware that some downloaders can afford to buy it but are too cheap or lazy to do so…you reap what you sow and like the quote above states, the best thing I can do in this situation is to find the silver lining and be grateful for it. This may gain me readership that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

The issue though, still remains…our industry is already in shambles. Less books are being signed and published now than in recent years (no smartass, keep that in context. I’m not comparing 2010 to the dark ages here).  Yet, it’s easier than ever before for authors to network and submit their work. We have computers to write on, instead of relying on type writers (talk about revision hell). We don’t have to send queries via snail mail anymore. It’s also harder to avoid things like reviews and reader reactions. Nearly everyone with a keyboard has a blog these days (with ample opinions and snark to accompany said site).

Have I ever downloaded music illegally? Without answering that directly, I’ll simply say that I’m not a saint. Anything I may have done though, I paid for in spades later out of guilt.

Double-edged sword if I’ve ever seen one. I swear if I ever become independently wealthy, you guys will never see or hear from me again. I’ll legally change my middle name to Hermit.

SO, what now folks? What’s your suggestion? Better yet, what’s your prediction for the future of our industry?

Even a Little Foolish…

“Fear knocked at the door.  Faith answered.  And lo, no one was there.”  ~Author Unknown

If you do something in faith and the world thinks you are a fool for it, does it mean any less? If you do something in faith and are proven to be wise for having done so, does it mean any more?

I bought stationery with my pen name on it, long before this day. Had this day never come, I would still be writing, still be dreaming, still be venturing into worlds previously unknown. But, this day is here…this day, awaited for so long, brings with it the release of my first-born, Son of Ereubus. In the grand scheme of things, it means very little. In the whole of my life, it carries no more weight than any other day. But, somehow, to my soul and perhaps my heart, it bears more weight than any day in my past or any day that has yet to come. How can I know the latter?

Because, like so many authors, it isn’t about the day the world recognizes me. It never was. Today marks more than the birthday of my debut novel’s publication, it marks a permanent change in my spirit. It’s a beautiful, breathtaking thing, that I didn’t foresee anymore than I foresaw the process being so heartbreaking. 

There is more than a silver lining…

Through the response of readers, I’ve seen Adoria anew. I’ve felt the crisp, biting winter wind on my cheeks like never before. I’ve felt love’s kiss with untested passion. I’ve borne the guardianship of Man with unshakeable resolve. I’ve seen the slavery of Eidolon, the tyranny of the Laionai, the cruelty of the Ereubinians, and the faith of Man through more than the eyes of a listless vessel.

Saturday morning, I woke up to a stunning bouquet of lilies and roses. A dear friend and fellow author (Douglas Brown and his gorgeous wife Angie) sent them to me to congratulate this milestone, but today I did something for myself—something to once again show the universe that this venture, this calling, I do for me and me alone…

I bought a silver birthstone necklace, on which I had engraved the three principal characters in Fable (Guardians). I chose an April birthstone (3) because it’s as close as you can come to white Adorian stone. On the back, I engraved the date and the title of the first book. The keepsake box that came with it will read, “Guardians of Legend.”  

Am I being dramatic and ridiculous? Probably. Do I care? Not even a little bit. Do I care that this is the release of a small press book over a debut with Tor, or Del Ray? You should know me well enough by now to know the answer to that. If this is your first post here at The Asylum, let me recommend that you start from the beginning and work your way forward. The madness will make a lot more sense that way.

So here’s to being utterly selfish, dramatic, ridiculous and even a little foolish…

The Telling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Breathe…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Around Here Somewhere…

“It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a façade of order—and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.” ~Douglas Hostadter

It’s 3:30am. Again. And here I sit at my kitchen table, wrestling with a hundred thousand voices, every one of which is screaming for my sole attention. This schizophrenic existence that is every writer’s life has its benefits (you’re never lonely–ever), you’re very rarely bored (and if you are, it won’t be for long), and you certainly have the ‘get out of jail free’ card for being the eccentric one in the family.

But there are moments like this one, where my heart and head and hands are on such different wave lengths that it feels like I’m a fractured spirit, drifting through a single-souled world. Would I want to change even if I could? You already know the answer to that.

There are plenty of authors who have everything down to a science, when it comes to order and organization. I am not among them. Ideas come to me at all sorts of weird, inconvenient  and usually unwieldy moments—including when my body is supposed to be resting. I don’t even know the meaning of the word anymore. Neither do my stories, apparently.

And, per usual, this got me thinking about chaos as it relates to us as artists. Think about a painter’s studio. What do you see in that mental image? The first thing that comes to mind for me, aside from the large loft windows and high ceilings, is the staggering amount of ‘stuff’ that’s hanging around on tables, chairs—the floor. Paint is everywhere, canvases are in places they probably shouldn’t be. There is a blanket half tossed, along with a pillow, onto the couch (and a bit on the floor) because the artist slept/tossed/fretted there the night before.

As authors, our lives aren’t any different—not really. You just can’t walk into our studios because we carry them with us, but rest assured they’re just as messy and chaotic. This isn’t the same thing as my waiting room analogy. This is more like the fragments of what will be, the tools we use to create our worlds and that internal space in which we do so. The muck and mire of possibility; the thread and fabric of imagination; the cords that bind a reader’s disbelief; veils to mask the twist at the end of novel #35; a helmet from a slain warrior; a pool of dark water complete with a smidgen of enchantment and a scrying spell; the unraveled ends of our sanity; a broken spinning wheel for yarns that have taken on a life of their own…you get the idea.

So where the hell is my ability to go to sleep at a decent hour? I had it—I know I did. It’s around here somewhere…

Requiem

“If man were immortal he could be perfectly sure of seeing the day when everything in which he had trusted should betray his trust, and, in short, of coming eventually to hopeless misery.  He would break down, at last, as every good fortune, as every dynasty, as every civilization does.  In place of this we have death.”
~Charles Sanders Peirce

I can vividly remember sitting at the conference room table, on my lunch break, beginning the journal that would eventually serve as my plot book for Fable. About a month later, towards Halloween, I sat down with my laptop and without any thought to when I would finish it or if it would be published or even if anyone other than myself would ever read it, I began to write. I’d realized, through the most sundry conversation in the world, that I had to either step out in faith that I had talent enough to do what my heart wanted, or give up and walk away. No more talking about being a writer, no more saying that one day I’ll get around to it. That was 3 1/2 years ago. On March 30, 2010 I was offered a publishing contract on Fable, which will tentatively launch sometime in November/December of this year.

And just as I embarked on a journey then, walking blindly into unknown territory, I am doing so again as I go through the process of negotiating the contract and beginning a relationship with Rhemalda Publishing. It is the death of one part of my life and the birth of another. And even now, before having stepped farther than two feet down this path, I can assure you that it has brought irrevocable change to who I am as an author.

I once had fears that I would never be able to finish Fable; not that I wasn’t motivated but fears that I was unable (in more romantic moments I would have said unworthy). But, the words never stopped coming and within 12 months I’d finished all three books in the first trilogy. And even though there may have been a point in my writing life where I was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would be too thrilled about a contract to care about anything else, I still fear being unable. I’ve grown considerably as an author since I wrote or even revised book one, and of course there will be an editor going through the manuscript and hopefully fixing my adverb abuse (wasn’t aware that I had this problem until recently). All that aside, there is this little part of me that feels like I’m standing on the edge of this huge precipice staring into utter nothingness and everything in me wants to cling to the cliff and not leap off. But, I will leap. I owe the book that much.

Evergreen

“If in my youth I had realized that the sustaining splendour of beauty of with which I was in love would one day flood back into my heart, there to ignite a flame that would torture me without end, how gladly would I have put out the light in my eyes.”  ~Michelangelo

I hear, from time to time, other authors speak of their old work in hushed tones, often in embarrassment or disdain or both. I’ve grown considerably since I first began to try my hand at this particular art of storytelling, but I realized something tonight that I’d known, yet forgotten all the same; youth is exempt from the fear of mortality and therefore has no concept of future misgivings. For most children there is always the promise of tomorrow and with it, the possibility of everything they long for. The fear of failure, when it comes to their dreams, is as foreign as the reality of income tax and termites.

After sending out a submission and getting unrealistically (and unnecessarily) wrapped up in all the ‘grown-up’ stuff we authors have to deal with, I sat down in my oversized chair and randomly went through a few old files—stuff I hadn’t so much as glanced at in a decade. I flipped absentmindedly through the papers and before long, I found myself stunned by my own past, in awe of a love affair with worlds I’d long since forgotten. I knew I’d written five ‘books’ when I was fourteen or so, in collaboration with my best friend at the time. I’ve read over them now and again for old times’ sake, but what I’d apparently put out of mind was a staggering amount of work—prologues, story sketches, scenes, character and plot maps; pages upon pages of what probably amounts to over 500,000 words or so. This is just prose, not journal entries (which exceed that number by far).

You’re probably asking yourself why you’re still reading this post by now, but give me a second here. My point in bringing this up, is that I want to remind you what it meant to write with such abandon. I clearly, clearly couldn’t have cared less if those words ever saw daylight, let alone publication. As adults, we still write with ourselves in mind (mostly—then editors, our readers, etc), but there is such a tremendous difference. It isn’t merely the lack of experience or lack of quality that would accompany any childhood ramblings that makes these penned worlds what they are. There is something else, something evergreen that literally jumps off of the pages. This girl, who worked free of boundaries, is why I started writing again three years ago. I didn’t merely love to write: I wrote with no concept of what it meant to be an author. I walked through the divide between what is, and what can never be, with no consideration of how it affected me personally.

What I’m saying, is that I didn’t care about voice, or style, or genre; I didn’t have any notion of royalties or advances or contracts. I didn’t fear rejections because frankly, even had I known what they were, I still wouldn’t have given a damn. Put simply, the story was all that mattered. We say this all the time as adults, but do we mean it utterly?

And really, when the day ends, what differentiates good prose from great? What distinguishes one work and discards another? That single quality, that crucial element that will, without fail, lend validity to your work is its ability to be evergreen. The irony of it, is that it isn’t something that can be forced. It either is, or is not. The choice is up to you and how willing you are to let go of your boundaries. As youth, we gather our materials and ready ourselves to construct mythical kingdoms, great and lofty palaces. Yet somewhere along the way our adulthood steals our confidence, tells us that all we have collected is of no consequence, convinces us that degrees and titles and awards are the only things that will build a future.

To hell with adulthood.

It’s in my blood. Perhaps I am romanticizing this time, but you didn’t spend the last three hours reading what I read. I’m ashamed of how much fear I’ve let slip in over the last year or so. But, the good thing about writing youthfully; there is always tomorrow. And tomorrow, I start fresh…no more fear or doubt (or Dragons if you’ve been reading this blog), only evergreen.

Guest Blogger: Ien Nivens

“You don’t mind putting in long hours, and you like punching people, so let’s combine the two. I’m going to teach you ‘chanting’. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of precision, and doing a whole lot of steps exactly right, but when it works, you can make some pretty awesome stuff.”

Bone Shop

“Awesome would be a nice change,” Marla said.

–from Bone Shop, by T. A. Pratt

Available at http://www.marlamason.net/boneshop/

Foul Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart
By Ien Nivens

Tim Pratt’s Bone Shop is the foul-rag-to-dubious-riches story of a street urchin’s rise through the ranks of sorcerers in the East Coast city of Felsport.  A prequel to Pratt’s Marla Mason series, the hectic urban eclecticism of this introductory novella is wound in prose as frank as baling wire—tarnished here and burnished there—and bound by the spittle of broken promises, dire prophecies and talking jawbones.  I’m going to say this once, maybe twice:  Download it.  Read it.  It’s as free as a dirty needle, and the odds are better than even that it will infect you, leaving you jittery, addicted, and wondering if you’re sick. It’ll be OK.  There’s more where this came from at http://www.marlamason.net

Pratt has peopled Felsport with a cast as intriguing as the magical artifacts they find, finagle and fiddle with in this tale of jiggered hopes and cracked dreams. Jenny Click deserves a novella of her own (but don’t give her a copy; she’d only set fire to it) while Artie Mann’s ideas about sorcery deserve at least a spread in a dirty magazine.  In the end Bone Shop is, oddly enough, a morality tale.  At least, I think so.  I can’t tell you what the moral is exactly, because that part of my memory has been wiped clean by a tincture of lethe water.  But I’m pretty sure that it has something to do with cobbling one’s ambitions together around a vacant heart.

There are problems with the hodge-podge of narrative fabrics and other magics that Pratt has grabbed off the racks at the thrift shops of myth and imagination. Nothing so threadbare that it can’t be mended, but a little backstitching here and there would keep this dream from always threatening to unravel.  In a few places, where the seams are turned needlessly inside-out, a little clipping is all that’s needed.  Let me show you what I mean.

Bone Shop begins with Marla Mason as a sixteen-year-old dropout.  Literate and homeless, she spends a lot of time at the public library, reading to keep warm.  We never learn why she’s on the streets and not in school, but we do come to understand that it’s a matter of preference.  She is mentally tough and determined to improve her circumstances but certainly not by way of a traditional education.  She is not a stickler for rules.  Except, apparently, grammatical ones.

Marla finds Artie—the man who has taken her in, made her his apprentice, given her a semblance of a home and a family—disemboweled.  She must go in search of his murderer.  Whatever sense of loyalty she may (or may not) feel toward the sorcerer has been augmented in advance by a magically binding oath of vengeance called a geas, which takes the form of Artie’s voice screaming in her head until his killer is dead.  Stalking the killer, Marla “[pushes] open a door marked ‘Employee’s Only’ – that stupid apostrophe [makes] her grit her teeth…”

Mind you, apostrophe abuse annoys me, too.  But an author poking his fingers through the fabric of a story with his pet grammatical peeve, while his protagonist is breathing down the neck of a serial killer is enough to make me wince.   (But I wax as pricklish, surely, as Pratt’s sanctimonious angels, who stumble about in bum’s clothing, accusing everyone of…well, of something not quite proper.)  I reluctantly absolve Pratt of the little crimes he commits and move on to Bone Shop’s bigger sins—of omission.

First is the baffling failure to introduce Somerset—a sorcerer of great historical significance in Felsport, apparently, but who knew?—until Marla needs a new nemesis.  Somerset is brought back from the dead, before we know that he ever lived, to fill in a plot hole in the next to last chapter.  We learn that the democratic structure of the sitting “sorcerer’s council” is a reaction to Somerset’s “reign of terror” while he was alive.  Since this is information that a teacher/sorcerer like Artie Mann might have imparted to his apprentices in memorable detail, its absence from Marla’s early curriculum is regrettable.  It leaves the final levels of the fictional structure top-heavy and out of joint.

While Somerset’s tardy appearance damages Bone Shop’s rickety structure, a lack of sufficient character development with regard to Marla’s one and only love interest, Daniel, saps vitality from the novella’s soul.  The peripheral and superficial treatment of Daniel’s personality prevents two important events from achieving sufficient credibility, or even comprehensibility.  The first of these is what Jenny Click, believing that Daniel must be dead, decides that she must do about it.  (I won’t tell you what that is, because she is one of the most intriguing minor characters I’ve met in recent fiction, and you really should get to know her for yourself.)   Jenny’s action stretches the cables of my suspension-of-disbelief bridge to the snapping point, not because it isn’t possible or likely, but because Daniel has so far been presented as little more than a cute butt with a vague Southernness that we never quite hear, see or feel, and the rare ability to nourish himself on the energies of other people, places and things.  Marla has fallen in love with Daniel, apparently, but how hard and what for?  We just don’t see what she sees in him.  We aren’t given the opportunity.

Pratt is not a prudish writer, but he glides over the intimacies of Marla’s and Daniel’s relationship with an almost juvenile coyness.  Maybe he assumes that telling us about all the wild sex these two teenagers are having is enough to convince us that they mean something to one another.  It’s not.  A little tenderness in these early scenes, an emotional resonance that the reader can tune into, would go a long way toward making the finale as unendurably poignant as it’s meant to be.

Hearts are ripped out of their chests in this story; guts get wrenched, mangled and left steaming.  But not the reader’s heart.  Not the reader’s guts.  And that’s a crying shame.  This improbable structure of bone and magical gewgaw that Pratt has somehow rigged together is surely sturdy enough, complex enough, lifelike enough to support the organ of poignancy he tries, too late, to animate.  We end up surprised by an ending that might have shocked his story to life—and shocked us numb with its bitter beauty.  But owing to a simple lack of preparation early on, that doesn’t happen.  Pratt fumbles for the heartstrings of a strong plot and plucks them hard, only to find that they haven’t been properly tuned.  They could be.  They ought to be.  The independent publishing platform that Pratt employs would allow for it.  Bone Shop has all the claws it needs to rip, wrench and mangle its way to an awesome conclusion. All that’s missing is the tender vitals.

Ien Nivens’ reviews of independently published fiction also appear at http://www.berkshirefinearts.com/

Painting by Cindy Kaplan

Thank you Ien! As always, your presence in and support of The Asylum is always appreciated.  ~J.S.

*If you’d like to write as a guest blogger for Welcome to the Asylum, feel free to email me at batman0762@gmail.com.

I Do …

I’ve read plenty of commentary on the dread middle, that no man’s land section of a novel that sits down in the center of the map and refuses to be anything of value. I’ve tread there. It’s rocky terrain. It’s also not what’s irritating me right now.

The map is drawn. The plot hath been plotted. I’m seeing the finish line. In fact, I’ve already planned the victory party (If you’re fond of cigars, then you are automatically on the guest list). I’ve written the next to last scene for Nightshade and plotted out the last few chapters for Icarus. Both works are absurdly close to being finished (first draft). So why can’t I finish them? Because…well…same reason the psychic runner that knows how the race will end, has trouble getting motivated to run. Absurd analogy, but I’m going stir crazy in my non-writerlyness…how’s that for a new word? Blog posts this week are no problem whatsoever. Prose? Utter disaster. And it’s all because I didn’t take my bi-annual week of solitude in December.

See what I get for skipping my routine? Madness ensues. I’ve brainstormed a lot these last few days and while it’s been fun, it isn’t what my heart wants. I want, no—I need to finish the other two works and I really need to get through the last few chapters of the second draft of book two in the Fable trilogy. Which means I need to get away from everything for a few days and force myself through the sludge. And believe me when I tell you, writing on anything right now feels like mucking barefoot through a derelict horse stall. Loads of shit…

I’m okay tuning everything out while I am working on a project, right up to this point in the process. Here, is where I’m no longer rushing to the story in order to hear what it has to say, because I know already. The honeymoon is over, we made it through the seven year itch and are complacently settled somewhere between midlife crisis and retirement. We’ve put a down payment on the camper for God’s sake.

It’s time to renew our vows. And so, with any luck, I’ll go hide away somewhere for a few days (soon!) and return triumphant, suffering the writing hangover to beat all hangovers.

You might be my dog if…

Are you serious??

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

“Are you serious?” I ask.

“I didn’t do it.”

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

“Can I?”

“NO!”

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

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

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

“You’re such a big jerk.”

Later…

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

“It’s called writing, twerp.”

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

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

“But you just said…”

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

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

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

Later still…

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

“Nope.”

“Is dad home?” *chomp chomp chomp*

“Nope.”

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

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

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

Latest, or perhaps really, really early tomorrow…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later still…

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

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

“Walk on my back”

“I got in trouble for that last time.”

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

“I don’t know…”

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

“ELLA!!!!”

Sweet Dreams

Last Rites--Yogoro

I’ve been asked on more than one occasion where I get my ideas from. I’ve said loosely that I get most of them from dreams, and perhaps that answer has been thrown out insincerely by others. I was never joking (weird, right?) when I said it. Which can only lead me to one conclusion: I’ve got one hell of a twisted mind to come up with some of the dark, eerie things that wind up taking form in my dreams. Consider the image I chose for this post—welcome to my world.

What brought this on? I had another dream night before last that had me furiously scribbling images before they could flee. The novels of ‘undetermined genre’ that were wrecking the pool table, well, this was one of them. I laughed when I woke up, right after breathing a sigh of relief that I had been in fact dreaming, because I knew it was coming. And all of this got me thinking about things that are truly, deeply, terrifying. What scares me? Well, subtly scares me worse than anything blatant. The moment in the movie where the camera is focused on the main character and pans across something in the background that makes your skin crawl, that has you clutching the arm of your chair going, “Wait, WTF? Did you just see that?”

The trick will be figuring out how to do that in a novel. I’ve never written horror before—and being me, this will of course be dark fantasy and not truly Horror in the purest sense of the genre. Nonetheless, it will be as close to horror as I’ll ever come as an author. Because the images are so random in my head, and trying to string them together right now to tell you a story is impossible, allow me some room to give you a brief glimpse of what I dreamt.

The beginning of the story (and what I saw first in the dream) shows a girl who is either with friends or alone in a car, driving at night, and suddenly wrecks. Nothing is said as to what happened next or how it relates to the rest of the story.

The main character is a man, somewhere in his thirties, a physician. He is playing a game with friends—maybe at a holiday party, or birthday party, something. Somehow this will lead them into a world that feels like a cross between that of Silent Hill/Pan’s Labyrinth & American McGhee’s Alice in Wonderland. There is clear, yet dying goodness beneath all of the dark, otherworldly stuff—flowers choked by weeds, figuratively speaking. He realizes somewhere along the way that they are inside of the girl’s head, where she is trapped by whatever ‘evil’ force rules that world. The main character comes to this conclusion after it is revealed that he is her doctor—she is in a coma at the hospital where he works. At some point the others (those left alive—lol), will have a chance to escape and he will decide to risk his own life and stay behind, to go after her. So, there is a classical fairy tale element here, but much, much darker than anything I’ve ever written. This is not to say that I’m new to these types of images though. I’ve spent years telling these stories—and for some of you reading this on Facebook, who have known me for a while, you may remember me at some point scaring the pants off of you. Sorry about that, by the way.

I’ve always loved horror—movies, novels, the whole nine yards. I’ve always liked the rush and adrenaline that comes with feeling like you’re flirting with death. I guess it’s no different than people who go bungee jumping or cliff diving. I prefer to do so with my imagination. My mother asked me lovingly at lunch the other day, where she went so wrong? (She was kidding—right mom?)

Ah, I’m perfectly sane. Balanced. Just darkly imaginative. My mind is always speeding at ninety to nothing—can’t help it. Wouldn’t want it any other way. So what about you? What frightens you? What makes you leave the light on?

The Utility of Tangents

Monster in the Tub--Roadio Arts

I like to think that there is a place in my mind—a waiting room of sorts, where all of the stories that I’ll pen, are mulling around, interacting with one another—perhaps arguing about whose turn it is and why it shouldn’t be so. Some are allowed out in pairs, some are solitary. Oh, I know that there are a multitude of things that I (as an author—and occasionally a human being), will encounter that will inspire me.

You see, that’s what decides the order in which these stories are imagined. It’s like the number they assign you at the DMV. You wait your turn until you see your number, in little red lights, pop up on the box. If you miss your turn, they’ll continue to call you for a set amount of time, and then that chance will be given to someone new. My stories all have numbers—I don’t know what they are. But, I’ve learned a valuable lesson this week: I have no say in their distribution.

That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes believe that I do. I argue with myself quite a bit, on one story’s progression or another. But in the end, they all have turns and it’s of no consequence how hard I might try to force one in another’s place. They don’t stand in single file lines, as I’d like them to. They stand like five year olds, perpetually asking absurd questions or fighting with whoever happens to be in front of them (and in some rare instances whoever is behind them). What brought all of this to mind, is the apparent story that I was accusing quite literally of being in the wrong room. It appeared with number in hand, excited, and all I could say was:

“I’m very sorry for the inconvenience, but I’m afraid you’re mistaken. I don’t write romance novels that don’t have some element of the supernatural in them.”

“But, I have a number.”

“Yes, I can see that. But as I said, I’m simply not who you are looking for. And I can’t imagine how you wound up here. I’ll have to get with the frontal lobe about that. What time did you arrive here yesterday?”

“I didn’t. I’ve been here. And I have a number.”

“You couldn’t have been here long, I would have at least suspected you might be approaching the front of the line. Now, let’s talk about the last place you were before you were here and maybe that will help me figure out where to send you.”

“I’ve already told you…I’ve been here. And how do you know that there isn’t anything supernatural involved? I’ll tell you what, lets just sit for a moment. I won’t take up much of your time—I swear. I have a story to tell you.”

So, 38,000 words later—I have a very conceited romance novel in the works (There’s nothing worse than a story running around saying, ‘I told you so’). Perhaps there is utility in tangents—in those wayward stories that wind up somehow wandering into our brains and picking up a number somebody else dropped. I’ve discussed this in depth with several portions of my left brain and that’s the only logical conclusion we can come up with. Either that or someone’s getting fired. Not to mention how loudly Nightshade and Icarus are complaining that it’s still their turn. There isn’t much you can say to soothe stories like those. They’re impatient to begin with, being single volumes and all.

I suspect there is a slight element of the supernatural—though it appears arguably as my main character’s brain and not the ghost of his dead sister, who is whispering cryptic hints in his dreams about the killer’s identity. The story is also refusing to identify itself with a title, so for now I’ve lovingly dubbed it, ‘Not a Novel.’ It doesn’t appear to appreciate this much, but that’s what it gets for being so damn close-lipped.

Oh, and just to add insult to injury, the story let it slip that there are more than a couple horror stories hanging out in the billiards room (of course my brain has a billiards room).

“Oops, did I say that out loud? I meant to say that there are some stories of ‘undetermined genre’, wrecking the pool table.”

“Self-righteous son of a…”

The Etiology and Treatment of ‘Authoritis’

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

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

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

Clinical Features of Authoritis

ADOLESCENT ONSET

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

CYCLIC ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOR

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

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

CYCLIC PSYCHOSIS

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

OBSESSIVE BEHAVIOR

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

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

GOD COMPLEX

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

Causes of Authoritis

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

Sociological Model

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

Biological Model

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

Psychological Model

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

Treatment of Authoritis

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

Prognosis

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

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

That First Step

 

 

I’ve already referenced myself twice concerning my thoughts on world building, but I am drawn to say it a third time for the benefit of a dear friend of mine–another author, who is at the edge of a tremendous undertaking.

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

As authors, we have at our disposal legions of excuses and perfectly rational reasons to not sit, alone in our chair, submerged in our own head for hours on end. I mean–what sane person would? But here’s the thing–and the reason I brought up the world building thing again…you’ve gotta take that first step. Writing is exercise and if you don’t do it religiously, you’ll feel out of shape. Which means, don’t expect to run a marathon on your first try. Take it slow and set a word count each day, or if you are more comfortable–each week. I find that per day is better, simply because I am the queen of procrastination. Case in point, I have two Adairondak chairs sitting in my office because I have been putting off water-proofing them. You’d think two giant, awkward wooden objects obstructing the path to my desk, would encourage me to get it done. Nope. I just step right over them–well, okay, I stumble right over them. Whatever–you get my point here. Take a deep breath and dive in, because nothing feels more amazing than holding in your hand a finished, ideally polished, novel.

I’ve encountered fear and discouragement in different ways and at different times in the last few years, in regards to writing. The hardest block I’ve ever run into was at the completion of the third book in the Fable trilogy. I hadn’t bothered editing the first two books ( I wrote straight through to 370,000 words), I realized suddenly how massive the undertaking was before me and froze. I didn’t write more than damn it for nearly three months. It took the iron clad deadline of a prepaid freelance editor for me to go back to the unbelievably shitty first draft.

So Matt, November 15th. Mark your calendar. No excuses, no apologies and no whining! I expect at least 10,000 words. Totally doable if you break it down by a five day writing week. =) You’ll thank me for this later–it might be when we’re 80, but still…you’ll appreciate my obnoxious meddling eventually.

For everyone else, If you are on facebook and feel like commenting (which I love and greatly appreciate), please remember to do so at the actual blog post : http://www.jschancellor.wordpress.com.

 

Writer’s Conferences, Ravens and Writing Desks

Our trip was restful and rejuvenating. I am sleeping well and while I am not fully where I’d like to be on my current projects, there is at least a little more hope on the horizon. I found myself looking up writer’s conferences today, along with low residency MFA’a in popular fiction…only to find myself at a loss as far as where I fit into all of this ‘professional’ writing business. See, I don’t write short stories and with great frustration I found that MOST endeavors require them to be in your portfolio–if you are to attain any level of serious respect, as an author, anyway. Hmmm. I simply don’t manage ‘brevity’ well. I write epic level, worlds at war, kind of stuff. It doesn’t occur to me to write in short order.

Oak Mountain 2009

Oak Mountain 2009

So, after flipping through one non-encouraging blog after another, reading all of the necessities to become a successful full time writer, I decided that I should do something wholly non-official and unproductive (professionally speaking, of course)…I signed up for NANOWRIMO (or National Novel Writing Month). Now, before you laugh or condemn me to hell, let me explain why I don’t give a damn about your opinion on this either. See, I’m not doing it for you, I’m doing it for me. And I’m fairly prolific anyway, so 50,000 words in a month doesn’t sound like any big whoop–considering that I can easily crank out 30,000 in a week if I don’t have anything else (much) going on. Yes, dear, I realize that quality is more important than quantity…but talk to Asimov (actually, I think he’s deceased) and King (whose status among the living has been debated since the publication of ‘The Stand’) if you want reasons for why being prolific doesn’t mean you’re a naffin at your craft. But, there are MULTITUDES of bloggers, experienced writers and generally recognized nit-wits out there who loathe this whole idea and spend an absurd amount of time whining about its existence in the universe. That might also be the other reason I have decided to devote November to this endeavor. You say it is ridiculous and a waste of time and will likely produce nothing but drivel…well, ‘swell’ I say. I wasn’t producing much more than that these last few weeks anyway.

So, in November, I will ideally begin work on a novel loosely titled “Ravenwood” and leave all of my other projects on a shelf till I have at least 50,000 words down (which if success is to be mine, will be the end of said month). I’ve drafted the characters and have a general idea of where the novel will go–it deals with warlocks and whatnot, since I’m all vamped out for the time being (what with playing vampire wars on facebook and all…*sigh*). So, wish me luck–or laugh at me, whatever fits your fancy. Why did I title this blog this way? Well, just why is a raven like a writing desk?