The Waiting Game

Hey there, friends and fans! It’s been a crazy week, guys. Last Tuesday I took a huge leap that will lead to big things for my future as a writer. After editing and re-editing and debating and waiting and being a nervous wreck, I finally pulled myself up by my bootstraps and sent query letters to a number of agents. For those of you that haven’t done it, the query process is quite stressful at times, but it can be the difference between having a book on the shelves of your local literature haven – or gathering dust in your desk drawer.

Personally, I sought dozens of articles and opinions on what makes the best query letter. From different styles, different lengths, different organizational suggestions it was not hard to get bogged down in the insane possibilities. This type of novel should have this type of query, that type should have a different kind, your contact info should be one place vs. another. Needless to say it was quite daunting. Fortunately, while seeking out the help of as many print and web sources as I could deem fairly reliable I was also asking some close author friends of mine for advice.

Through all the muck and the mire one piece of advice really helped me organize my thoughts and figure out exactly what I could do to get myself moving in the right direction. A close friend told me that no matter how many bits of advice and how many query suggestions I read I needed to remember that they were all just opinions. As long as you include the necessary information and present your story in an understandable and exciting way, it’s going to ultimately be in the agent’s hands. If you send a query that doesn’t quite match what they expect, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s hitting the trash (unless of course you blatantly disregard some type of styling request the agent personally has).

At the end of the day, based on what I saw and what I’ve been told, the important thing to remember is making sure whoever reads your query is going to want to read your book. To the best of my ability, that’s what I did. I picked my first round of agents and sent the first communication to them with the best of hopes. Now I’m a week into the waiting game and every email I get sends new shivers down my spine. Of course, I’ll keep you all updated when that positive news comes rolling in (confidence, right?!). In the meantime, I plan to keep jotting down ideas and smatterings here and there. I’ve had some interesting inspiration hit recently and I’ve got a couple of works full of potential brewing, along with others that I’ve already started. The real task next will be to figure out which project I should pursue to completion now that Maverip is wrapped up (at least for now).

Have any of you sent query letters before? In your opinion what, if any, are the benefits of going the self-publishing route over traditional publishing or vice versa? I’d love to hear how this process went for you all and what your thoughts are on the various publication possibilities available to the 21st century author. Feel free to leave your comments here or send me a private message. I love hearing from you guys and I can’t wait to have good news to share with you! In the meantime, enjoy the beginning of your summer and get out there and take advantage of these warm summer nights – but don’t step too far into the shadows. You never know what might be lurking there!

My Grandfather

I love Autumn. I love October. Leaves are changing, the spooky nature of the world is being celebrated, the weather is cooling off and nights are growing long and, most importantly, I got married in October! Tomorrow will make two years since my wife and I said “I Do.” The last two years have flown by and we’ve fallen more in love with each passing day. It definitely doesn’t seem like two years, so it’s a little hard to believe. But it’s harder to believe that it has been 13 years since my grandfather passed away.

As happy as the month makes me, October 3 is one of the hardest days of the year for me. October 3 was my grandfather’s birthday. For 13 years I’ve woken up knowing what day it is and knowing that I won’t be able to tell him to enjoy the day, or tell him how much he means to me. My grandfather was the biggest male role model I had growing up. From the time I was a little kid I can remember staying with my grandparents and knowing, if I didn’t wake up as he was leaving (or if he didn’t take me with him) that he would be gone fishing until at least breakfast time – closer to noon if he was having good luck. When he came in and ate he would immediately go outside and spend hours prepping or taking care of his garden, often while I “helped.”

The man wore hats and flannel nearly every day of his life, his white hair often sticking out below the back just a little, protecting the lightest part of his dark skin, the Native American blood in him more obvious than ever at the end of a nice long summer. In the winter he wouldn’t shave, a habit left over from the days he farmed for a living, knowing the best trick to keep the winter wind from biting too much was to keep as much body heat in as possible. I can still remember him teasing me if I got a haircut during the winter months, telling me I’d freeze if I wasn’t careful.

He and my grandmother raised their 3 children on a farm-hand’s wages, moving where the work took them and providing what they could for their kids. Retirement was kinder to him, my grandmother working when he was no longer able. He wasn’t a shirker by any means, working through at least one heart attack without stopping, only finding out he’d had it later on. Even after he stopped working for a living, he farmed and fished nearly every day of his life. Only the most extreme heat or cold could keep him from the water most of the time, and he always produced enough crop to feed most of the family – even just working out of his own backyard.

He saw the world much differently than others, in more ways than one. Being blind in one eye, he had to learn to do everything in his own way, but it never slowed him down. He could fix most things wrong with the family vehicles, could do basic home repair – and he could tie a hook on a fishing line as fast as anyone I’ve ever seen. He also wasn’t much for what he called ‘putting on airs.’ You are who you are, and there’s no reason to hide it. That’s one of many lessons from him I’ll never forget. From the time my grandfather opened his mouth until he closed it he was as real with you as anyone in the world, never pretending to be something he wasn’t. He loved good jokes, and loved to laugh – but he hated nonsense.

I can remember the sound of his laugh even now as I told him my lame jokes, and I remember how quickly that laughter dried up whenever someone turned on a goofy 90’s Jim Carrey movie. If he didn’t like something he made it obvious, and if he didn’t want to be somewhere he left. It was always easy to tell when he didn’t want to be around someone, because he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t be rude to them, but if someone came in a room that he didn’t want to be around he would silently stand and leave. I think he realized that life is too short to waste it doing things that don’t make you happy. Of course, I like to think he had a lot of life’s answers tucked away in his hat somewhere, so maybe I’m putting a philosophical spin where one wasn’t intended.

I could write about my memories of him and tell stories of how, as I got older, my grandfather would talk on the phone with me for hours sometimes, even though we just lived across town from each other – but when we went fishing together the talking was minimal and hushed, so as not to scare the fish away.Of his grandchildren I think I was the only one that had the connection with him I did. We had our understandings and we liked many of the same things. We could sit in a room together for hours without uttering a word and could say all we needed to say in a moment.

I could tell any number of stories of how he was so selfless that he often went without in his own ways, wearing his clothes until they were threadbare and falling apart before he would worry about trying to buy a replacement. I live for hours in these memories sometimes, wishing for just one more day, one more hour to talk to him. Granted, I understand he wasn’t perfect. He smoked, he drank, he ate food that clogged his arteries and he lived life in an antiquated fashion. He was very much a product of his generation. But I think I would be the only one who would get the full effect of all of these stories and memories.

My grandfather would have been 76 years old today. So much has changed over the last 13 years. The world is nothing like it was when he left it. Technology has taken over, racism has become breaking news again, and everywhere we look there is a fear of bombs falling. I know none of these things would have changed him, though. He wouldn’t own a cellphone, and he certainly wouldn’t pay attention to things like vegan diets and low-carb foods. If there was ever a constant in my life, it would still be Calbert Mathews. He would get up at the crack of dawn and make coffee, watch a few minutes of the local news (I’d love to hear his opinion on his favorite weatherman retiring) and would hit the river bank or lakeside. Like clockwork he’d spend his afternoons weeding, tending the garden and resting on the porch until a little after sunset. I miss knowing that if I wanted to find him, there were usually only half a dozen places I’d have to look.

I often wonder, though, what he would think of me. He wasn’t one to talk about the future much, so I can’t be sure what he had in mind for me as I grew up. I chose a very different path than he did as I went on in life, picking books over farming equipment and writing over being a full time farmer. He always encouraged me in my reading, though. He maintained an interest in my grades and never seemed to mind if I did want to pick up a novel instead of weed the garden or fish. I had not made the decision to be a writer before his death, though. I would definitely like to have gotten his opinion on that. I wish I would have been able to see his face at my high school and college graduations- although I’m sure he would have ducked out and avoided the crowd after seeing me walk across the stage for each one. I wish I could have been able to hear his reaction when I told him I got my first post-college job or hear his frustrations that his house was just outside of the delivery range of the newspaper I worked at later on.

I would have loved to have seen him at my wedding, sure his dressy flannel shirt and fresh, clean jeans would have been perfect contrast to my own suit and Chuck Taylors. I’d give nearly anything to be able to pick up the phone and tell him that I still look up to him to this day. That his hard-working nature rubbed off on me, whether it is in a different field or not. That I strive to be myself as openly as possible and that I don’t ‘put on airs’ to make people think I’m someone I’m not. I like to think that he would be proud of the man I’ve become, the way I’ve handled myself and my life through thick and thin. I know one day I’ll see him in Heaven, and I look forward to seeing what he has to say about everything we never got to talk about. Until then, I have my memories, I have my mementos, and I have the strong will and morals that he provided me with – whether he knew it or not.

Happy birthday, Papaw. I love you and I miss you every day. I’ll see you again on God’s great golden shore and we’ll go fishing, or maybe just take a walk and catch up. It will be a glad reunion day.

Bridge to Terabithia

Happy Banned Books Week! I’ve always been a huge fan of celebrating banned books, partly to stick it to the ridiculous censorship-loving administration, but mostly because I find that the books that people don’t want you to read can often offer you the most. This book is definitely a part of that list. I absolutely LOVE it. My first experience came from the movie, but I was immediately enthralled. For the last ten years I have adored the movie and the book. It is actually one of the inspirations behind my own decision to move forward with my desire to be an author.

One of the greatest things about this novel, for me, is the fact that it points to the total liberation of mankind via the imagination. Being written in the 70’s, it was kind of published in that time when kids were first being encouraged to let their imaginations guide them through portions of their lives, and this book captures the cusp of that idea. Jess’s family and fellow students represent those who feel imagination is not something to be given in to. Jess’s parents, consistently burdened with the challenge of feeding the children and running the farm in the fragile economy they live in, can be seen as the old style of shunning imagination and things that aren’t ‘real,’ where others – Leslie in particular – represent the new and liberating views of allowing imagination its place in life.

Leslie’s introduction into Jess’s life really allows him to open up and be who he is meant to be. She doesn’t act or think like the rest of the kids, or even the adults (with the exception of Ms. Edmunds) that he is used to, and that makes him feel more free than he ever imagined. When Jess and Leslie create Terabithia I truly resonated with his description of the mythical magic of the place. He allows Leslie to bring him into this magical realm, but he still has his doubts. Many times he says that he can’t do it without Leslie, or can’t think of it the same as her. His love for Leslie and Ms. Edmunds is what allows him to embrace the creative side of his own life. After Leslie’s death Jess is obviously devastated, particularly considering the fact that his day had been spent further embracing his own love of art and imagination.

I love the way Paterson brings Jess to reality while allowing him to avoid everything involving Leslie’s death. He adamantly denies that she is gone, so much so that after he runs away and is brought home he wakes up almost completely convinced that it was all a guilt-ridden nightmare because he didn’t invite her to the museum. When he is forced to confront the fact of her death he reacts in much the way a child would, destroying memories of her in anger. Once he calms down he begins to instantly doubt himself again. The inspiration and freedom that Leslie brought him threatens to leave. When considering Terabithia he is terrified that he won’t be able to make the magic happen without Leslie, even worries that the make-believe kingdom won’t be there if he goes without her.

The fact that he is able to make the magic happen is, to me, a testament to the amazing power of love and imagination and creativity. Jess is able to keep the magic he and Leslie created, is even able to be in touch with her memory as he reflects on his friendship with her. I love that. I feel like it is a huge representation of the strength we all possess, even in the midst of a tragedy that threatens everything we hold dear.

Another thing I loved about this book is the way Paterson makes Leslie and Ms. Edmunds strong female figures who refuse to fall into the social norms. The feminist themes that offer these two strong female characters a whole other kind of freedom were both embraced and feared when this book was published (and still are today). I find it very important that there is so much emphasis on Leslie and Ms. Edmunds breaking the norms and being their own women, without holding to social construct or listening to “girls can’t do that.” It is a huge testament to the nature of the piece and its deep running themes of freedom and exceptional behavior.

Of course, this is one of the things that has lead to the book being challenged. The language and the obviously difficult ending are two others. The fact that Paterson wrote such a strong and impactful book 40 years ago, that still stands the test of time today, says a lot about the topics and her own prowess as a writer. Putting my own hatred of literary censorship aside, I find these reasons to be abhorrent for shunning such an awesome work of literature. When children can pick up a book and see that their creativity and imagination should be embraced, find out that it is OK to be different, even see someone their own age faced with and learning how to handle death, that book is a treasure. To push it out of libraries, schools and off of reading lists is a real travesty and I shudder to think there are parents out there who think otherwise.

But I’ll get off my soapbox. I don’t have many faults with this book. I would like a little more explanation of why Jess’s father doesn’t show affection to him the way he does the girls. Granted, this was 40 years ago and many people, particularly in rural America, were still under the impression that showing too much love to boys made them ‘soft,’ I think that knowledge is lost on a lot of youth and they may come away with the impression that the father is just a jerk. Which is harmful to an overall interpretation of the text, I think.

Overall, this book will always have a huge place in my heart. Aside from being a piece of YA literature that truly has the means to empower kids, it is an easy-to-read work that is educational about real-life issues. I love it. I hope you all enjoyed it as well. But what are your thoughts? Do you agree with its challenged/banned status? Tell me your thoughts! And be sure to give me your ideas for the best horror novel we can cover in October!!

You Know Your Work

This has been a bit of a crazy week on the writing front. I’ve been doing this for quite some time, as you all know, and it still has the ability to absolutely blow me away. The unexpected can be both good and bad, and this week I had both. I stumbled across a really great contest offer on Wednesday, and by the time I found it I had less than nine hours to format and publish a novel through a particular service.

Of course I tried it. The only real regulation was that the piece had to be at least 24 pages in print. Not too difficult, and easy to do. I went through the formatting process, created a book cover and was ready to go through with it, when the service pinged a message back my way telling me that my novel was three pages short of being able to have my title fit on the spine. Three pages. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a problem, but for some reason it got to me.

I’ve worked on that particular title for more than a year and have gone through edits at least three times. I felt so great about it that I’d been querying agents with it and trying to look into the best way to get it on the market. But after all that time and work it still came up three pages short of being able to be identified from the side. I know it sounds silly, but it really got me discouraged. I’ve never been one to really worry about how long a piece is. I write and listen to the characters and the story itself and let them tell me when the end is coming. That’s what feels natural to me.

Don’t get me wrong here, the novel was well over the limit for the contest, and it’s not too short overall, but it does fall short of the generic industry length suggestions for the type of novel it is. As much as I  hate to admit it, that hurt a bit. I’ve written in the past about how easy it can be to get discouraged if you set yourself up to follow strict industry guidelines. Not to say that you shouldn’t listen to your agent and at least make an effort to make your book match length and style guidelines, but if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work. I had to remember that the hard way.

I beat myself up for hours. I could have gone ahead and pushed through the issue and given myself over to the possibility of ridicule (or winning), but the whole situation really made me look at the book and at myself as a writer. I felt like a bit of a failure. I spent over a year on this book, telling this unique tale that I was so proud of, and it came in at only 97 pages in print. How could that be a good book when the industry standard is at least 150 for most similar pieces, and usually at least three times that (if we’re looking at Stephen King up to ten times that length)? I stopped the formatting, stopped the editing and let the contest timer run out. I spent the rest of the day considering what it takes to be a writer, what the industry standards really mean, and whether or not my work is worth the effort. I honestly felt lower than low for a little while.

Then it hit me. I am a writer. I always have been a writer. I was meant to be a writer. What does it matter how long a book is? Can a standard formality really tell me that my work isn’t worth as much as a book that may have an extra 50 or so pages of material? If my story only calls for 97 pages to run itself through and wow an audience (my beta readers have seemed to enjoy it), then should I allow someone else’s book length determine the worth of my work? The answer isn’t just no, but Hell no. I was put on this earth to be a writer. I eat, sleep, drink, breathe and bleed literature. It is one of the biggest parts of who I am, and I don’t see that changing. So who has the right to tell me that my book is too short, or too long for that matter? The industry standard says that a book shorter than 70,000 words is too short ( my own comes in at just under 69,000) and any longer than 100,000 is too long. To clarify and put a bit of a spin on these numbers The Great Gatsby comes in at right around 50,000 words – 20,000 words less than “industry standard”, while Stephen King’s The Stand comes in at more than 470,000 words – four times the length that is considered the cutoff.

So tell me, if two of the greatest and most well-known pieces of writing of the last 100 years don’t fit “industry standard” how can my work be considered lesser quality for the same fault? Who is to say that any novel less than or greater than a certain length has less worth than others? Granted, I understand industry standard also has just as much to do with economic printing costs, etc.. It’s a harmful restriction to put on someone who is trying to get their writing to the world. When self-publishing is not the option you want to use, and agents won’t look at your work if it’s outside of their span, what options do you have?

For a new author trying to come on the scene, being told that you have to adhere to a certain length requirement can be devastating. Speaking from experience, it’s a bit of a shock to find out that a piece of work is in some way restricted based on its length. But that’s ridiculous. No one on this planet can tell you that your book has to be a certain length. When you are writing a work and you feel it flowing from you, through you, and it tells you its done – or it tells you to keep writing – that’s it. It knows. YOU know what is best. You absolutely can’t let anyone out there tell you that they know your work better than you do. That’s not to say you can’t accept constructive criticism. If someone tells you they think you could add this or add that, or take this out or take that out, it probably pays to at least momentarily consider it and not get upset – that’s the point of beta readers after all. But that doesn’t mean you have to do what is suggested. Again, no one in the world knows the story like you and no one else on the planet can tell the story the same way you can. The same goes for any type of art. When it is ready, you’ll know. There are literally people out there who have sold blank canvases as a statement – and they are loved for it. You know what a piece should be.

As an artist you are endowed with power over your work that no one else has. The idea came to you. The story is coming from you. The characters are developing within you. Without you none of it would be possible. If you ask me, that’s pretty darn special. So follow your gut, follow your heart. When the story feels done, maybe it is, even if it could fit on the back of a Cracker Jack box. If the story tells you it’s not done, but you’re looking at a piece that would put Gone With the Wind to shame, listen to it. It knows how long it should be. Never let industry standards or the expectations of others discourage you or make you feel any less incredible. You have the power of the story with you. It is entirely in your hands. If changes are suggested and you think they work, give it a shot. If you don’t agree with them, stand your ground. It’s your masterpiece. Any given piece can be your Mona Lisa. Treat it as such. Hell, what if someone had told da Vinci she should have been  blonde, or should have had glasses? Can you imagine one of the world’s most famous paintings looking any different than she does (except the Mandela Effect’s smile issue; but that’s another post).

Be happy with your talent. Use it to the best of your ability and don’t ever allow anyone else to belittle it. Your book might not fit what others expect, but isn’t that part of the point? No one can say how long a book should be. No matter how hard they try. It doesn’t work. Be confident in your ability. Don’t ever give up. I won’t say don’t get discouraged, because I know it happens, but understand why it happens. Figure out what is bothering you and figure out how to overcome it. That will help you improve more than you can imagine. The world deserves your book. There are 8 billion people on the planet, all with different personalities and desires. If someone out there is waiting on your  book to be published in exactly the way you first write it, is it fair to deprive them of that? Just do you. Be yourself. Follow your own desires and your own instinct. You won’t regret it in the long run.

What discourages you? What advice would you give others? Have you had a similar experience to mine? Leave comments and share this with others to help give someone out there the encouragement they need to do something great! Look for the review of “Powers of Darkness” on May 29! Enjoy your weekend and keep up the good work!

13 Reasons Why

I hope everyone took the time to read this awesome book by Jay Asher. I honestly felt it was more than just a novel; it was an experience. Asher uses Clay to take us on an insane journey through Hannah Baker’s life and, ultimately, death. I finished this book much quicker than I thought I would and I don’t think I’ve been quite so invested in a YA novel in a long time.

From the first page I could feel the pain and angst Clay was experiencing. The writing in this book was more or less what you would expect, coming from the perspective of a teenager.  It was very conversational and relatable. At first the feeling of trepidation was almost tangible. I could almost put myself in Clay’s shoes as he put that first tape in the player and heard Hannah’s voice come out of the speakers. The feeling of shock as he realized just what he was listening to is still with me.

I loved reading as Clay wrestled with whether or not to actually listen to the tapes. The idea that there could be literally anything on them, that he had absolutely no idea what effect he had had on Hannah’s life, was one of the most intense things in the book. With the turn of every tape, with every new detail Hannah expressed, Clay’s tension got greater and greater and I felt like I gripped the book tighter and tighter. Seeing the pain his friends and classmates caused and knowing what the result of that pain was made Clay all that much more tormented by the tapes.

One of the most important things the book really brought to light is the real and true effect that our actions can have on others. To hear the description of how the actions of Hannah’s classmates lead her to make the decision she did was really astonishing. As someone who (believe it or not) is just over half a decade out of my teens, I remember things like what Hannah described happening in my school. Casual discussions of who was the most attractive, who was into whom, rumors of which girls (and guys) did what and with whom – those especially – were everywhere in high school. Unfortunately, some of it even lasted through to college, but that’s a whole different story. Really seeing what effect those things can have on someone is hopefully eye-opening to anyone who feels they need to do such things.

As Clay got to his own story, the feeling of relief he felt at knowing that his own page in Hannah’s story was actually a relatively good one was seriously heart wrenching. Seeing the words on the page was almost like watching a movie. For the most part with large portions of this book it was always like watching a film that words couldn’t compare to. I know that’s an odd way to put it, but hopefully some of you understand.

The last bit of the book was insanely powerful. Clay kept listening to the tapes despite the intense pain he was feeling over the matter. He talks so much of how he felt he could love Hannah, may even have loved her before she killed herself. The biggest thing that hurt him with this tale is knowing her whole story, knowing what else had happened to her. Seeing him continually wonder if there was something he could have done to save her, seeing him practically begging the universe for a second chance for her, was heart-breaking. Anyone who has lost someone – to suicide or not – knows this feeling. I think the stage of life you are in has something to do with just how hard it hits you, as well. While I was in high school I actually lost someone who was very special to me, and I took it very hard. Although it was not a suicide I wondered why it happened, what more could have been done to prevent it and if similar situations could end differently.

I think the main point this book brought forward to me is the way people process what happens to them, what is said about them, what we can do to change that and how wide our circle of impact really is. So many people are effected by anything and everything we say or do, and I feel like we really don’t consider that most of the time.

With this book, I don’t think I really had many complaints. Given that it was a YA novel, told from a first person point of view, there were things that you had to attune yourself to with the tone of the writing and the voice of the author, but it definitely didn’t take away from the story. I guess my biggest complaint would be that, for a good portion of the book, I was hoping it would be revealed that Hannah hadn’t actually killed herself. I hoped that on the last tape she would explain that, despite the problems she’d faced, the pain others had caused, the rumors they’d told and the suffering she’d experienced she was going to rise above. I hoped to hear her say she had asked her parents to take her to another town, that she had decided to run away, that her death had somehow been a hoax, but it didn’t happen. Her final words affirmed her plans and ended the 13th part of her story, leading to that mentally taxing scene with Clay falling asleep listening to the static of the other side of the final tape.

Basically, this book was enlightening, incredible and educational. I think anyone and everyone would benefit from reading this awesome work. I chose this book because one of my high school English teachers asked me to look into it and it has been on my radar for a while. It’s a book that her students have been interested in, but she was worried that it may glorify suicide and cause problems. If anyone is worried about this, I’m glad to say I don’t feel like it glorifies suicide in any way. I think the book serves as a warning for our behavior and the pain and problems it can cause. In addition to being a warning for us to monitor our behavior, I think it also serves as a bit of a warning to anyone who  may be considering suicide. It shows the reader that suicide, like rumors and other painful things, has an effect on everyone around us. Although the pain of life may be over for one who commits suicide, the hole we create by not being there is still very much a problem for those we leave behind.

Finally, Asher tells the story without really using the word suicide very much. I thought this was a good thing. It made the act as well as the word seem almost taboo. While telling the story, he shines a light on some of the common signs exhibited by those considering suicide. He even mentions a list of signs of suicidal thinking, which can be found online here; http://bit.ly/2mrmpWD among other places.

I couldn’t do a post like this without saying I can’t stress enough that if you are considering suicide, you have to find the light in life. As someone who has been there, I can definitely say that, if you look, you’ll find many more reasons to live than you could ever find to die. Suicide is final. It is not a way out. It is not good. It can’t solve the problems, it can only cause so many more…

Anyway, that’s a post unto itself as well. I hope you all enjoyed this book as much as I did, and I really look forward to reading your thoughts on it. My announcement for the next book in the book club will be posted on or around Tuesday. Leave me suggestions in the comments or send them to me in a message. I want to know what you guys want to read and discuss! Share this as far and wide as you can to get a lot of eyes on it. There are a lot of people who could benefit from reading this book, and hearing that it’s not a terrible representation of the issue might help them get motivated. Thanks for reading with me, and I look forward to seeing what’s next!

Cutting the Red Tape

As you all know last week I made a post announcing my new job opportunity. I have received immense support and congratulations from you all and I couldn’t be more appreciative. One thing that is always a part of taking a step to better yourself and your family is the red tape associated with changing locations and jobs. My wife and I currently live around 45 minutes or an hour away from the office I’ll be working from, so we are looking to relocate to make my commute a little shorter and we are definitely seeing the red tape show up with that process. Between trying to get our student loans on a solid repayment plan to getting pre-approved for a mortage, the obstacles are everywhere. When discussing what to blog about today, my wife suggested I discuss a bit about that red tape in a way that is relevant to all of you as well (since it’s pretty much all we can focus on this week due to the mind-numbing stress of it all), and I ran with the idea.

Red tape can come in many forms for an artist, and can be as simple as checking the format on a submission, or it can be as hard as nailing down the best time and place to have a meeting with someone interested in your work. Sometimes the red tape can be easily avoided, and other times it will wrap you up until you’re almost certain you’ll never get free of it. One such instance of this comes in the form of getting your piece ready for a certain venue. For instance, you may have a piece that you have written entirely in Arial Bold, your favorite font, only to find out that the publisher you are looking into will only accept pieces submitted in Times New Roman. This isn’t that big of a deal and is really a simple fix (control + A and change the font, for those of us who don’t do computers). In this case you’ve gotten through the red tape quite simply.

Other cases may find you scrambling a bit to get your work ready. The submission process can be one of these things. Less than a decade ago most journals and publications still worked in hard copy submissions, email submissions unheard of for some of them. Unfortunately  that is no longer the case. Most large publications now only accept online submissions either via email, through Submittable or some other platform. This in itself may not be all that difficult since most of us, even if we don’t write our pieces completely on the computer, will still have a back-up electronic copy ready to go whenever it may be needed. But what can be a problem is when the journal doesn’t specify how best to submit. Most do, granted, but there are those that don’t, and this can be a big issue. If we submit via email they may not get it, or may trash it as many journals who use other platforms tell you they will do with email submissions, or they may just not get it.

One of the worst cases of pre-publishing red tape that I’ve come across recently comes into play when you are using the tactic of simultaneous submissions, which can be both helpful and maddening at the same time. Simultaneous submissions means that you send the same piece with its respective cover letter to multiple venues in order to broaden your possibilities for publication. This isn’t a secret, of course, as most journals will flat out tell you that they accept simultaneous submissions as long as you tell them if the piece has been accepted elsewhere before they get to it. Of course, there are those who say that they don’t accept them, but honestly I don’t think that is going to really stop many of us in the long run, if you’re determined to get the work out there. The complication comes in when you look at the submission guidelines for the venues in question. I occasionally go on submitting sprees where I will look at a dozen or so venues and get pieces ready to send in, and sometimes that process can take hours, even if your work fits the basics of their specifications.

What I mean in this instance is the way you have to submit. The minor, but potentially devastating red tape. In my experience, most journals have their own way they prefer to get submissions. Most of the time this, in some way or another, involves having your piece attached to an email, often with no name or labels other than the title in the piece itself in order to maintain anonymity until chosen, while the body of your email gives you a chance to tell them your name and perhaps give a summary of the piece and why you think it fits, and a small bio. But there are the exceptions. I’ve come across editors who tell those interested in submitting to put their name and submission title in the subject of the email and copy and paste their piece in the body of the email, saying any messages received with attachments will be discarded without being viewed. Now, in the era of the ever hungry computer virus, I can understand that to a point, but when preparing multiple submissions, one little slip-up can result in a rejection or even having your submission overlooked by default.

The same goes with the red tape in life. If we forget to dot an ‘i’ or cross a ‘t’ our whole process could come crashing back down just for us to have to start all over again. Granted, the margin of error in things like a mortage application varies quite a bit than, say, a short story submission to The New Yorker, it’s all relative in its own way. In this day and age we definitely have to make absolutely certain that we have an eye for detail, because the red tape can sometimes be a bit confusing, but with the proper determination and the right amount of preparation you’ll be through it before you know it, sitting in a new house or opening your sample copy of the journal with your story as the center piece. Obviously I haven’t covered all of the possibilities here, so what other forms of red tape have you all encountered in your journeys, and how did you cut through it to make it where you are now?

In the meantime, if any of you have a topic suggestion, I ask that you definitely get it to me. Leave your comments below and happy writing!

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The Road to Greatness

Last week I made a post talking about what I would like to be remembered for. I asked for feedback from my readers and got some great responses as well, and it made me think about something that I’ve often had on my mind in regards to writing and the future. The simplest way to say it is this; I want to be great. Not just at writing, mind you, but that is the task at hand here. I want to be great, I want to wow people, and I want to create something that is not just going to be remembered, but something that is worthy of remembering.

One of my favorite movies (developed from an amazing book that I am just now getting my hands on) that addresses this best is Eddie and The Cruisers. Eddie Wilson was a man with a passion that few people could understand. It burned inside of him so hot and so strong that he literally couldn’t be happy unless he was letting it out in his music. He struck it big with an album and his band toured the East Coast for a while before things got a little hairy. The movie, obviously straying a bit, portrayed this by having The Cruisers cut an album with a different style of music than most people were used to in the 50’s, which the execs of their label flat out condemned. Eddie, driven mad by rage, left the studio and wasn’t seen again (spoiler alert), at least not until the second movie. Eddie left in a rage because his passion, the thing that he felt he was created to do, was being stomped on, his ideas being viewed as poor quality. Eddie felt immensely betrayed at being told his ideas weren’t good enough and he uttered a statement which always sends chills through me.

“If I can’t be great then there’s no sense in ever playing music again.”

Since I first put pen to paper I have felt this way about my writing. But during that time; during the writing, the stress, the feeling that I’ll never make it to the top of anyone’s slush pile long enough for my work to be considered, I’ve never taken the time to define exactly what ‘great’ is. To Eddie Wilson it was creating a sound unlike anyone has ever heard before. But what is it to me? After some deliberating and thinking, I think I have one potential tentative definition to strive for.

To me great is; having someone read my work and be inspired or moved by it. Having someone read one of my books and rethink what they thought they knew of the topic before finding my work. Having someone who considers one of my book to be one of their favorites. Maybe even someone who can’t stop thinking about words that I wrote, something that I created. To me that’s great. Of course a million dollar book deal, book signings in at least 5 major U.S. cities and a book tour where I get to read from and discuss my work after riding the top of the best seller list would also be great, I think the others hold a similar impact. At least for the person affected by the work.

That leads me to another instance of asking for all of you to tell me your own opinions on the matter. We all want to be great at our respective crafts, to have the satisfaction of knowing that we did our best and that our best is pretty darn good, but what exactly puts us over that line? So tell me, when you all think about what constitutes greatness in regards to your work, what exactly do you see? Are you presenting your art work to a group of a few dozen at a private show, playing music for a state leader, or are you sitting around the campfire telling scary stories to your children and knowing that the story will then be passed down to your grandchildren because the words were so powerful they stuck and became a solid foundation in your child’s memory? Leave a comment or, if that’s too open, send me a message and tell me what you think of when you think of greatness. What level do you think your work must reach before you will finally consider yourself having achieved greatness? And, furthermore, why?

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and I welcome all comments and questions. If any of you have a topic suggestion, I ask that you definitely get it to me. I would love to know that I’m talking about the things that you all want to hear more about. Leave your comments below and happy writing!

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Exciting Announcement

I do apologize, friends and fans, for my absence so far this week, but I have been preparing to make a very exciting announcement. As many of you know I have been working as a library specialist for the last seven or eight months and I absolutely love it, although it doesn’t give me much of an opportunity to exercise and better develop my journalism skills.

I have always been fascinated by journalism, but had no opportunity to actually put my interest to the test until my final year of college, during which time I was made Head News Writer of my college newspaper. This job made me realize just how much I loved being a news writer/reporter and it allowed me to truly branch out and hone my skills as a writer. Upon graduation, I continued to blog and to write, but didn’t have many opportunities for practicing formal journalism – until now.

I am ecstatic to announce that I have been offered a reporter position with the Bristol Herald Courier, one of the most renowned papers in my region and I have graciously accepted. I will tentatively be starting my new job in the next two and half weeks or so and I couldn’t be more excited. I hope all of you will be able to check out my work with this paper. I plan to continue blogging at least once a week (but hopefully twice) while doing this job, but during my training and getting used to the flow of that job, things may get a bit jumpy. My wife and I are very excited about the changes coming in our near future and I can’t wait to be able to write stories and share the news of the region with all of the readers of this awesome production! Thank you all for your patience while I adjust to this much anticipated change of pace!

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Awesome Opportunity

I know I have spoken to you all before about the Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium, and I think it’s about time to mention it for this year, too. The event takes place on June 10 and 11 this year, and it promises great content and a great experience to all those interested in attending.

The keynote speaker this year is Sharyn McCrumb, an Appalachian writer who has tackled many topics during her career and has made quite a name for herself. The topics being discussed range from graphic novel design and fantasy writing, to the ever practical and useful topics of marketing and nonfiction writing and many things in between. This symposium, now in it’s seventh year, is one of the best writing events in my region and often has visiting writers from all over the country in attendance. We do, of course, typically hold the theme of Appalachian Heritage writing, but that isn’t all we focus on, either.

I have found that this symposium can be very useful and it has actually helped me develop my platform since my first year of attendance in 2012. I have seen a number of people leave the symposium with a lot of knowledge that they didn’t have before attending and have actually felt more encouraged with my own writing after speaking to the writers that attend. One of the most rewarding things about this particular event, in my opinion is that you are given multiple opportunities throughout the two days to have face-to-face and one-on-one interaction with these authors. Unfortunately with symposiums and events like this that isn’t always the case.

Another benefit of this experience is that, rather than being full of themselves and unkind, as some individuals in the spotlight tend to be, these authors are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet, often striking up a conversation with you before you even get the chance to start one with them. I have gotten to know most all of the Appalachian Heritage Writers Guild and most of the regular attendees of the symposium itself and I have to say that one of the reasons I find it so beneficial to keep attending is the level of camaraderie I feel whenever I go. This is a very important thing for an artist, especially one just starting out.

One thing that I also find very interesting about the event is that there is a writing contest (prizes included) that is all inclusive. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to be in attendance to win! So if you find yourself unable to attend the conference, but would like to enter the contest, follow the link at the bottom of this post for more information.

So I want to invite you all to try and attend. I know some of you are quite far from Southwest Virginia, but I assure you it is worth the trip. I will attach a link to the symposium website at the bottom of this post for any interested in learning more about it. Of course, as this is an event with a set schedule and meals included (Ha! I left that part for those of you that stuck it out until the end! The food is very amazing every year, so that is always another benefit), so registration is required so they have a head count and know how much to purchase in terms of supplies, etc. Also, there is normally a gift bag upon entering that includes a folder for the event, at least one notebook and pen, and a copy of SWCC’s Clinch Mountain Review.  There is a book signing event at the end of the first day and more festivities that you’ll just have to attend in order to know about! If there is anyone who has any interest in attending but feels unable to pay for the experience, please contact me. I really hope to meet some of you at this awesome symposium!

https://appheritagewritersym.wordpress.com/

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Unicorns are Real

Yes, I know this statement brings a number of things to mind, and it may be one that some of you are already familiar with, but I wanted to make this title and write  few words on this seemingly silly topic because the message many of will get can be applied to a number of things, including potential success in virtually anything we really set our minds to.

Of course, I could turn this into a rant about how a great many creatures thought to be mythological have since been proven real and use that as an argument for the possibility of the existence of most other cryptids out there, but that’s another topic entirely.

My point for today is this; so many people throughout history have used the legend and the image of the unicorn to be silly and stand for something that is impossible, but the truth of the matter is that nothing is impossible. Granted, the creature being referred to as a unicorn by science was much more akin to a cross between a rhino and a woolly mammoth, as it stood around 6 feet tall and weighed in at approximately 8, 000 pounds. Personally I don’t think that guy is going to be flying through any clouds or running across any rainbows.

But I digress. The reason this information is important is simple; anything is possible. I usually try to coach you guys through a specific issue that can have a crippling effect on some artists, but today I’m just addressing the real basics. You need to have faith. There are so many people who have risen through the adversity that met them to be some of the most treasured and celebrated authors in history. Critics and agents alike have torn some of our favorite authors apart countless times, and they still get right back up and keep putting pen to paper because that’s just what you do. I’ll keep this short and sweet today, guys and just leave you with a simple reminder that I think we could all use sometimes.

Your ideas came to you, so no matter what anybody says you owe it to yourself and to the world to keep at it. People who never thought they would see success are changing the world every day. Keep writing that book and don’t ever give up on your self. Remember, unicorns are real and anything is possible

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