Book exchange and new opportunity

I hope this week finds you all well and safe. Summer is well underway here in the states and, as always, one of the greatest literary events is the summer reading list. Recently one of my friends on social media shared a post regarding a book exchange that allows one to get to know more about their online friends, and I thought it sounded like the perfect thing to try here! So what I am challenging each and every one of you to do is join the book exchange and share it far and wide to help inspire reading and literacy to everyone you know, and with any luck to everyone they know and so on and so on.

Joining is really very simple. All you have to do is like or comment on the blog post and I’ll send you a message with specifics. After that you just send a copy of your favorite book to the person who shares the exchange before you. In this case that would be me, of course. The book can be a new or used copy, whichever you’d prefer. The exchange provides all of us with a chance, not only to read the favorite books of our online friends, but also the opportunity to have hours and hours of conversation about what makes the book great.

Personally it is conversation about literature that makes the reading experience even more amazing for me. As a writer I have tons of ideas flow through my mind as I read a book and I love to discuss these ideas with others. It’s particularly great when I can discuss my favorite book with someone else and when I can discuss someone else’s favorite book with them. So please like or comment on this post if you are interested in joining a book exchange and I’ll send you the details. After that, make your own post on your blog or on social media (or both!) and start spreading the joy!

On another note, I have sent one of my recent short stories in to attempt publication in a new journal an author friend referred me to. If I get in the journal, I will be published in the very first edition of a brand new literary journal! Hopefully I’ll hear something about the piece soon, and I’ll let you all know when I do. In the meantime I’ll keep writing and reading and I hope you’ll all join in on the book exchange and help make the experience bigger and better than ever!

Huge Announcement and New Work

Hello friends and fans!! I’m coming to you live on my brand spanking new site, and it feels great! As many of you know I used to have a separate site from my blog that, although fairly successful, left something to be desired for me. After this year’s writers symposium I found myself in a state of improved ambition and confidence, as is usually the case, and I came home to tell my wife that I wanted to make some changes and set some goals for myself and that I needed her to help. She didn’t hesitate for a second.

We put our heads together and worked out some things that needed to happen, the first of which was to get a new website going for me and keep it going and updated regularly. I relied on her expertise to build the site, and together we got the ball rolling. So, here, with a whole new round of current headshots, the migration of my old blog and followers and the inclusion of a brand new newsletter (which I sincerely hope you’ll all subscribe to) I give you my new site! Take some time and browse through at your leisure, but not before taking a peek at one of the things I have been most excited about in recent weeks.

On the bottom of this post I am going to include my latest short story, completely free and exclusively for followers of my blog! I got this story idea while working on the presentation I was teaching at last year’s symposium and I let it cook for a while before jotting a version down.  After this year’s event I looked at it again and decided that I would update it and put it out to give you all the first chance to read it! The story itself draws from folk tale styles and local color writing in my area, and is honestly unlike anything I’ve done before.  I hope you’ll all take the time to read it and give me some honest feedback, because it may end up being part of a larger announcement and project soon. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the story and the site and I’ll be writing again soon!

Lefty Smith and the Right Handed Corn

“I’ve seen some mighty queer things in my travels,” the old man said.

I nodded and smiled, agreeing with him without saying much. I didn’t really have any plans that I needed to hurry and fulfill, and somehow I thought I wouldn’t have been able to walk away even if I wanted to. I don’t know what it was about the man, but just hearing that phrase and seeing his strange brand of fashion and body language, I felt like I had to listen to him.

I settled into the seat across from him, looking over his tattered jeans and faded deep blue button down shirt that he wore over dirty, scuffed boots. I had seen him once or twice in the last ten years while I helped my father work the store, usually sitting around the woodstove right where he was now, where all of the old timers in five counties eventually end up at some point or another.

“Yep,” he said as I nodded for him to continue. “Some mighty queer things.”

The store was empty that morning and I could tell I was in for the long haul, so I reached to the pot on the stove beside of me and poured myself a cup of coffee, topping off his chipped mug as he held it out.

“I went to the deep South to lay claim to my heritage,” the old man said, his dark eyes meeting mine and seeming to pin me to my chair. “My father fought in the Civil War before moving north to Ohio. I made a straight shot to the Mason-Dixon line and stayed a night near the border of North Carolina before heading down to Georgia.”

“I camped out in a field under the stars on the border of Virginia, eating a bit of the road provisions I’d packed and passing out in no time, the sounds of the night always make for the best lullaby,” he added, a smile on his face.

“I woke up the next morning when the sun got just over the tops of the rows of corn to the east of me and began driving. Before long I came across a batch of cars and machinery set up in a field and stopped in to see what proved to be a lively county fair.”

I could tell the man was getting into the story, his right leg thrown over the left, his foot bobbing higher and higher the more he talked.

“At first everything seemed fairly normal,” he continued. “There was music, food, some games… and a whole lot of corn. I didn’t think much of that, since the fair was set up in the middle of the largest corn field I’d ever seen. The more I looked, though, the weirder it got. I noticed something weird about the people, too,” he said, leaning forward and looking at me with squinty eyes set deep in his wrinkled face, a mischievous grin exposing his age-worn teeth..

“Everyone I saw eating this corn was eating it with their right hand. Only their right hand. Skewers were stabbed into one end of the corn and everyone was gripping it with their right hand while their left dangled freely, occasionally coming to life to swat a pest or pick at a piece of fabric in their shirts. I was a bit confused, I admit. I thought maybe I’d just stumbled into a community of overly-ambitious right-handers who still viewed Southpaws a thing of the devil,” he laughed as he imagined the sight again.

“Being adventurous in my youth I decided, come life or limb, to test my theory. I walked amongst the din of conversation between old friends and neighbors and plucked my dime down and got my own steaming ear, slathered butter up and down over the golden kernels and sat down in the middle of everyone, my left hand gripping the stick so tight the knuckles were white.”

He leaned back and cackled, drinking deeply of his coffee while I sipped my own, finding myself more interested in this mystery than I cared to admit.

“I noticed a few of those closest to me stop eating and look at me in horror,” he said, clearly loving the opportunity to share his tale. “As I took my first tender, juicy bite I felt the butter run down my chin as the corn rolled around in my mouth like hot coals, burning everything they touched.”

“As I chewed I noticed a low murmur run through the crowd. ‘Lefty’, I would hear one whisper, to another or to themselves I couldn’t tell. Before long all other sounds had stopped and most every eye was on me. Halfway through my corn I looked up and smiled, asking my neighbor what was the matter. He only shook his head at first, eventually cracking out the one word I’d heard for about five minutes. Lefty.”

“I couldn’t describe my confusion if I tried. Were they commenting on my eating habits alone, or trying to insult me by being derogatory,” the old man said, his amusement showing on every part of his face.

“Laying my corn down on the table and wiping my mouth with my shirt collar, I spoke up in my own defense.”

“ ‘I apologize if I offended anyone with my eating, but I’m not actually left handed,’ I told them.”

“At first no one spoke. Then a man, a little shorter than most, sitting a little straighter than others, made himself known.”

“ ‘It ain’t a matter of being left handed, sir,’ he said. ‘We’re all just shocked that you don’t seem to care about the curse.’ ”

“ ‘Curse,’ I laughed, ‘I didn’t know about any curse. I was just driving through and saw the fair and thought I’d stop in.’ ”

“A dull roar went through the crowd as they collectively relayed that a stranger was breaching some curse they were scared of.”

“ ‘The curse ought not to be ignored,’ said the man. ‘Maybe if you heard the story and find out what happens to them that don’t listen you’d respect it more.’ ”

“What could I say,” the old man asked me, his story still thrilling him, his foot bobbing higher than ever as he drained his cup, shaking his head and continuing the tale when I held out the pot to offer him more.

“ ‘I’m a guest in your town,’ I told them, putting on my best southern charm just as my father had taught me, ‘and I’ll listen to anything you’d like to tell me.’ ”

“ ‘Good,’ the little man said. ‘It ain’t something we take lightly around here. I’ll get Tom Hunter to tell the story, since he’s most directly involved.’ ”

“ ‘Thank ye, Doctor,’ said a man no younger than 60 who looked to be nearly as wide as he was tall. ‘I’ll ask ye to listen kindly, stranger.’ ”

“ ‘Fact of it is, my grandfather was the third Hunter in line that owned this here farm. The town nearby was still sorta new, made of a buncha cast-offs from the Civil War. Fact is, this very field was the site of a major battle in the area. Nigh 200 lives were lost in this place. ‘F ya ask me it’s the blood in the ground what makes the corn grow so tall.’ ”

“ ‘But anyway. ‘Twas the night before the town’s first fair and my grandfather was out with the mayor and some of the church deacons, pickin’ corn for the event. Knowin’ they’d need a lot, the men worked late into the night, only stopping to empty their baskets into the wagon they had.’

“ ‘Long ‘bout one in the mornin’, way he told, they finished one row and was movin’ to another when they saw ‘im.’ ”

“ ‘Saw who,’ I asked the farmer, genuinely unable to hide my curiosity.”

“ ‘Lefty Smith. A veteran of the great war that hadn’t lasted a month after coming home. Mean as sin and twice as scary is what his own wife said about him. Lefty was called Lefty because he got his right arm blowed off in the battle. It was an infection in his blood what finally killed him off.’ ”

“ ‘He was dead?’ ”

“ ‘Been dead about 3 months,’ Hunter told me. ‘ Infection took him quick. But not before he got mean. Terrorized the whole dern town, he did. Started claimin’ everything left and right as bein’ his left-handed property. That’s where the curse come from.’ ”

“ ‘From the dead man,’ I asked him, doing my best not to let my skepticism show.”

“ ‘Yessir. My granddaddy and half the church was out in this very field, like I said. They was pickin’ away for the fair when it happened. They went from one row to the next and seen him standin’ there.’ ”

“ ‘Lefty?’ ”

‘Yessir, Lefty Smith, a haint if a haint there ever was, standin’ there munchin’ a ear of corn. Granddaddy said they stopped dead and Lefty looked at ‘em with that mean old look in his eyes, threw down his ear of corn and grabbed another off the stalk.’

“ ‘Listen here,’ he said to ‘em, pullin’ the shuck off with his teeth, ‘Y’all better not be givin away my corn tomorrow.’ ”

“ ‘Your corn,’ my granddaddy spoke up, ‘Lefty Smith you know this is my field. Has been for 30 years.’ ”

“ ‘Your field or not, Jeb Hunter, you keep away from my corn. You can take all the right-handed corn you want, but you mark my words – all the left-handed corn in this field is mine and any man I see eatin’ it will pay the price.’ ”

“ ‘What happened then,’ I asked Hunter,” the old man told me, seeing I was just as interested as I could imagine he had been.

“ ‘Well they ran,’ Hunter said with a laugh. ‘They hauled tail out of that field and spread the word about the curse. That was almost 50 years ago and I’ll tell you now, only a handful of people in that time has eaten any left-handed corn – and each time it’s ended bad.’ ”

“ ‘I do appreciate the warning, Mr. Hunter but I’ve finished over half an ear with my left hand and I haven’t seen any trouble,” the old man said with a cackle. “Do you know what he said?”

“I have no idea,” I told him.

“He looked at me real serious and said ‘well, how’d it taste?’ ”

“I told him honest that it was actually pretty delicious. Then he asked me if it was hot or cold.”

“ ‘Quite hot,’ I told him.”

“ ‘Did it burn your mouth,’ he asked.”

“ ‘As a matter of fact it did cause a little discomfort,’ I told him.”

“ ‘That was the curse,’ he told me without hesitation. ‘I bet Lefty just decided to take it easy on you seein’ as how you didn’t know about his left-handed corn.’ ”

“ ‘Well if that is the case, then I certainly appreciate Lefty’s generosity, and I’ll keep it in mind until I’m out of danger,’’ I told him.”

“I finished my corn with my right hand and was accepted as the newest member of the community. I was so respected, actually, that when I left it was insisted that I stop on my way back through. As I climbed into my car the mayor himself handed me another ear of corn for the road, which I happily munched with my left hand once I was well out of eyeshot of the superstitious new friends I had made.”

The old man sat back when he was finished and gave me the biggest, crookedest grin I’d ever seen.

“Any more evidence of the curse,” I asked him, unable to help myself.

“Sure,” he said with a wink, “I felt like I hadn’t taken three bites before I realized all the corn was gone off the cob, and I hadn’t had near my fill.”

 

There you go guys! I would really appreciate it if you would let me know what you think about the story. Send me a message or leave me a comment and now go check out the new site!!

Trying Harder

Hey there friends and fans!! I hope life has treated each and every one of you absolutely wonderfully of late.  Personally my adjustment to a new city, new job and new home has finally lead to a fairly adjusted schedule, at least for now. Hopefully things will continue to work out well.

As many of you may remember from earlier in the year, last weekend was the Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium.  It was an amazing experience,  as always, and it inspired me even more to make a dedicated effort to my writing. With any luck this will work out well, since it seems that life may be calming down a bit and I will hopefully be able to set a schedule that will allow me to dedicate time each day, or at least each week,  to attempting to get something out there!

In addition to this general hope, I have decided that I am going to try a few new ways of advertising my work to anyone who may be interested, one if which I am hoping you’ll all participate in. I am starting a newsletter! I’ll be setting it up this week, and hopefully have the first one out by the weekend. I plan to make a post on here and on my Facebook author page giving the details on how to sign up for it. I plan to use it to give people an idea of what I am working on, where my works in progress are in the development and editing process and will even be giving some exclusive excerpts to those who subscribe!

My goal, in case I haven’t run it into the ground yet, is to have something in the process of publication by the end of this year. With the help of my friends and fans, as well as dedication and effort on my part, I know I can make that happen.  So I thank you all for your support and well wishes. You have no idea how much it means to me. I sincerely hope to have some new work to share with you all very soon!! Feel free to contact me and leave any and all comments you wish! I’m glad to be back!

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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Is It Still Mine?

Sometimes as artists we have a piece that resonates with us so deeply and becomes so precious to us that it takes a very long time to go from start to finish. Now, that’s not to say that this particular piece is going to be any better or worse than any other thing that we produce, but it is just more uniquely “us”, I think. One such instance of this comes from (of course) Stephen King and his work on the Dark Tower series. King got this idea decades ago and just recently published the final piece (at least for now) of the Dark Tower puzzle. The books, a series of 7 with a stand alone follow-up, tell the tale of Roland Deschain and his urgent attempt to right what is wrong with the world by find and fixing the Dark Tower. Each book is deeper and more dense than the last and, with the exception of the stand alone (which I own but haven’t yet read), each one is larger than the last. King has called this series his magnum opus and has actually found a way to weave most of his other pieces into the world of Roland and his Ka-Tet. At the beginning of each book there is a foreword, at the end an afterword, and in almost each one King explains that the world of Roland grows a little more every time he attempts to visit it, the story becoming more complex every time he begins to work on it.

This is what I’m talking about. Speaking from experience, my own magnum opus (Maverip and its prequel/sequels) have gone through more phases than I ever imagined when the idea hit me some 9 years ago. That’s almost a decade of work. Each novel has taken me more or less three years to complete so far (yes, that means I only have two of them fully ready for beta readers), and the ideas keep coming. I can look at the notes I made when the idea first hit me, can actually still remember the experience of the idea flowing through my brain while listening to music in the car riding through the mountains on a warm summer night, and I can see how much the piece has grown and changed without effort.

But what does that mean? Has my idea gone from one thing to another? Have I butchered my own work by adding to it and allowing it to change? As an author, when that big piece comes to you and rides the years in your brain, letting every single day of your life affect the outcome and progression, I can promise you that you will end up asking that question at least once. I have asked it of myself and my work more times than I care to admit. But it’s nonsense. As I’ve talked about countless times before, when a piece that is really alive comes to you, begging to be written, it will often times end up writing itself and using you as a tool. Your ideas will put themselves on paper with little or no effort from you, with the exception of punching the keys or holding the pen and flipping the page. This is when you know that you are meant for the work and that the work is meant for you.

So why should it scare us when the work guides itself in a different direction than we originally saw? The answers may differ from person to person, but in my experience they often come back to one simple and brutal concept; Failure. We are afraid that if we can’t guide the work along exactly as we thought when we first humored the idea then we will never be able to convince someone else to read it. This is crazy. Why should we be afraid of our own abilities? The ideas that come to us in such depth that they allow us to build an entirely new world based on our own concepts are not ones that will fail us. We need to have faith in ourselves, our talents, our abilities and our ideas. Basically, we have to give ourselves artistic freedom if we ever hope to have real and true success in whatever craft we have chosen. Personally I would love to discuss this more in depth with anyone who is willing, so I would like for anyone who has felt this fear or questioned their work in this way to leave a comment or send me an email regarding what inspired the feeling and how you handled it. I hope you’ve all found this useful!

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Preparing for Advancement

In addition to trying to always write helpful and inspiring blog posts for all of the budding artists out there, I occasionally like to let those of you who are fans of my work know a little about what’s going on in that part of my life. 2016 has treated me fairly well so far, allowing me to submit pieces to a number of different venues, some of which I am still eagerly waiting to hear back from. In addition to this, I have begun taking the first steps in preparing Moonlight, my latest novel, to send to an agent.

To be brutally honest that process somewhat terrifies me. In the past it has always made my heart stop when I sent works out, but this feels even more serious. Obviously it is, but I think many of you will know what I mean. I put blood, sweat and tears into this novel, and stayed up much later than I should for I don’t even know how many nights trying to write it, only to have to sort through the last few paragraphs in front of me the next morning to make sure I hadn’t jotted down some inexplicable jumble of nonsense. So far in this process I have been trying to work with beta readers, some of which have been much less helpful than I’d hoped, and have gone through three previous edits. I tell myself that I would love to have a few more opinions, but at the same time I wonder if that’s just me trying to put off the rest of the process.

Either way I really want to make an active attempt to get myself published and get my work out to a larger audience and use the gift that I feel God has given me. I have a feeling this process may be a long and arduous one, but I am more than ready to get it started. I have worked with small journals and publications for almost six years now, taking the route of self publishing when I felt the smaller venues weren’t getting me where I wanted to be. I think I chose this route, for one, out of curiosity, but also largely because there is a part of me that is terrified of allowing someone else the opportunity of breaking my work down and tearing it to shreds. But that’s the whole point isn’t it? Centuries later and we are still tearing Shakespeare apart and trying to find his meaning, his purpose, utilizing every tool we have to analyze his voice and his work.

Isn’t that what writing is all about; letting others read it? In addition to trying to get this novel figured out, I am still tweaking on my Maverip series and trying to make sure that it is getting completed and trying to make sure that I haven’t strayed away from my original plan and purpose for the works, which is something that I seriously worry about after having worked on the pieces for 9 years. Again, I know a lot of you will probably know what I mean when I say that. The longer you work on a piece, the longer it takes to get it finished, the more you will worry that the work has altered from what you originally intended and has instead become something very different. This isn’t always a bad thing, of course, but that is a topic for another time.

I will wrap this informative piece up by letting you all in on one of my more exciting accomplishments of recent weeks. I entered a writing competition around the end of December with high hopes. At the time of entry the reveal was set for January 16th. The 16th came, with a notification from the contest runners (the contest was Neoverse, for anyone interested) that the reveal was actually pushed back to February 29th due to the fact that they had actually received several thousand entries, a fact which blew me away. So i waited for another month, as patiently as I could, until February 29th came and went. I checked my email almost hourly that entire day, finally going to bed a little before midnight only to wake up the next morning with some exciting news. Out of several thousand entries the judges had narrowed their possibilities down to 5% of the entries- and I was on that list! I know that might not seem like a big deal to some, but it made my heart absolutely SOAR. So now I am waiting to see if my piece will be picked for a spot in the winner’s circle (which consists of 20 pieces) and will get published online and in print via Neoverse. I’m not sure when that particular announcement will be made, but rest assured, when I know so will all of you!

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Sorting the Jumble

Sometimes when you’re an artist you will find yourself seemingly bogged down by more ideas than you know what to do with. When you are a writer this can be both a blessing and a curse. Some authors find themselves putting out two, even three novels a year at times. If you are at all familiar with the publishing process you will know that this is absolutely not an easy feat. Often times when you submit a book to a publisher you’re looking at somewhere between 3 and 6 months before your final product arrives in your hands – and that’s if you aren’t asked to do an extensive amount of editing. Of course, there is the running theory among the fans of some of these authors that there is a safe somewhere housing dozens of completed documents the author finished ages ago that they just toss out and update if they’re stuck on a piece. Regardless of how you look at it, the fact is that someone who can produce that many works with that amount of regularity certainly has a gift.

So how does it work? Some people can go through life and never get a single story idea at all, so how can others produce dozens of books in just a few decades? The simple answer is that such authors and artists have found a way to not only open themselves to new ideas, but to hone in on certain ones and tame their imaginations enough to allow them to focus on the task at hand before diving into another. Personally, this area is one that I could stand to work on a bit if I hope to ever find my works on the shelf of my local bookstore. As I’ve mentioned before, I can get ideas from just about anywhere, and often find myself working on multiple pieces at once, leading me to having more unfinished projects than I care to admit at times. Just in the last couple of weeks I found myself stumbling across I think four new novel ideas and one or two short story ideas, one of which I sort of started in a messy, lazy sort of outline. Before I go any farther here, let me elaborate that I am in no way complaining. I would rather have an excess of ideas than not have enough, but for some it can pose a true problem when trying to figure out how to manage the load.

So what do you do when this happens? There are two (probably more, but I’m only focusing on two) answers to this question, and they can be much more difficult than they sound. The first and preferred method for me is analyzing and looking deep into each idea that is currently on your mind. Look at these pieces, study what you already know about them, figure out what you still need to know about them and think of them all individually. Often, I’ve found, if you look at all of your ideas together and as an individual one will stand out more than the others. You may find that you already know more about this particular piece, or it may even just be that there is more urgency involved with one of them, as if this piece itself is more urgent to be written. Obviously, you take the piece that you know most about or the one that feels the most right and you run with it. If just focusing on the pieces doesn’t help clear the matter up, then you should take the step a  little farther.

If you’re the type of person who does an outline for your pieces, then try outlining them all. If you’re the type who will jot a few plot notes down and then feel ready to dive in, do that. Whichever of these two methods works best for you (and there may well be a post in that topic alone) is the one you should use, of course. Or, for those of you who  haven’t really used either but want to give it a shot, maybe try both if you find yourself in this situation. Once this process is completed for all of your works you may find that your answer has come to you in much the same way it did for those who found the first way helpful. Of course, if this isn’t the case and you still find yourself confused about which work to focus on, then just look through your outlines and/or notes and pick the one that you wrote the most about. That, I’ve often found, is the one that your brain is going to be most comfortable pushing forward with.

Now, for those of you who find that focusing doesn’t clear up the jumble and your outlines and notes are all just about the same length for every potential piece, then my suggestion is that you either take all of the knowledge that you have put on paper and give it a day or so to ‘cook’ and develop into a more solid possibility, or, if that doesn’t sound very appealing to you, then just pick the first idea that came to you (chronologically, or just for this experiment, whichever works for you) and run with it. You’ll often find that if this isn’t the right choice your mind will quickly let you know. Once the piece is settled and has asserted it’s place as the front-runner, you should be able to narrow your scope of ideas and charge into production. Of course, if you’re like me, this probably won’t stop the flow of ideas from coming. Fortunately, the methods I’ve put down here can be used as often as needed and will usually be very helpful.

One thing you may run into, however, is that your answer to the ‘which novel should I write first’ quiz may change every time, which is the issue I’ve run into numerous times. If this happens to you, don’t fight it. Follow your mind and let the story flow as you would any other time, being thankful that you’ve been given such a blessing. Eventually, no matter how many stories are on your to-write list you’ll get  to them all.  Granted, if you’re lucky enough for the ideas to keep coming right up until the day your own final page is written, maybe you have someone you can leave your notes to and they can carry the remaining pieces on in your honor!

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Avoiding Negativity and Getting in the Zone

Monday’s post addressed the ways we should handle the limitations others put on our work and how best to adjust our work to fit the pubic opinion (i.e., don’t). Today I will be discussing what to do in regards to negative commentary directed at you, your craft or a piece of your work.

First of all I must make the statement that seems very obvious here. You should always do your absolute best to avoid all negativity in your life and in your craft. I know this isn’t always easy, but it is necessary if you are going to maintain sanity and continue in what you love. I also have to say this, no matter how much it pains me; sooner or later each and every one of us will absolutely have to face the negative comments of someone who doesn’t like or understand our work or our craft. There is no way around that, unfortunately. There are almost 8 billion people on this rock, and whether we like it or not, they aren’t all going to love what we do.

The negative commentary we will have to face can come at us from many different mediums and they all can hit us in a different way. I think one of the most important things I can say here about how to handle getting this feedback is that you should never let it get to you. You will have to develop a very thick skin if you hope to gain success in any public field. No matter what area you go into you will have to deal with people who may not like your particular contributions. Obviously, some of these people will be civilized and willing to have an intellectual discussion with you regarding your work, but there are always going to be those that won’t. No matter how the person giving you negativity or criticism is acting, it is always important for you to keep your head. As someone who has been known to have a bit of a temper at times, particularly when I feel something I’m passionate about is being attacked, I know that isn’t always easy. But it is crucial that you not be seen as irrational in the face of criticism. That, I’m afraid, is something a lot of us are never able to come back from.

The way you are approached has a lot to do with how you handle the situation, as I’ve said, and it is important to note that, no matter what is said to you, you should NEVER engage in an argument, especially on the internet. Being realistic, that will never turn out well. In my own experience you can tell the type of person you are dealing with from their comments and how they handle themselves in their initial attempt at discussion. Obviously if someone comments on a piece of your work and tells you that you are a talent-less hack who should crawl back under a rock and hide for the rest of his life, it would just be best to ignore that person. In regards to the shout out I made on Monday, which helped me realize the topics for this week, I don’t think you should ever apologize for your work. I understand how tempting it may be to drop a quick ‘sorry’ in when you decide to respond to someone who has made negative comments on your work, but the bottom line is that it is YOUR work. You are the one who had the idea, you are the one who developed the piece and brought it into the world, and having the ability and the courage to do that, to me, excuses you from ever needing to apologize for doing so.

Looking at your work in this way can open you to a whole new level of understanding and can make you feel that you instantly have a greater freedom in regards to the craft itself. When receiving feedback that can be construed as negative I think it’s important to look at exactly what the person is saying and how they are saying it. If they are telling you that your work is stupid because pigs can’t actually look up even though there was never even a single mention of a pig in your work, you can probably pretty quickly dismiss that person. However if someone is telling you that they found it hard to relate to your piece about overcoming depression because their best friend couldn’t overcome the problem then you have the opportunity for a candid discussion that can, if handled right, gain you at least one fan and improve the public opinion of your work. Maintaining civility and having a strong, meaningful conversation about your work here can be a great move on your part and may well set a lot of people’s opinion on what type of person you are.

In the event that your negative comments don’t come from someone sitting in front of a computer screen, your interaction is going to be that much more crucial. Face to face encounters with a fan (or someone who doesn’t like us or our work) can make or break the way we are viewed as well. If we are in a public setting and someone comes up to us and says that they absolutely hate our work and they think we made a terrible mistake by being a writer (or artist,  whatever the medium) we have to choose our reaction very carefully. In my opinion the best response to something like that is more or less “I’m sorry you feel that way”. By saying this I think you are showing respect for the person’s opinion while not apologizing for what you and your work stand for. Of course, most of this seems like common knowledge, so I’m sure we all know about how not to react to hecklers (most likely because of how we’ve seen celebrities do it). However, one very important thing I will leave you with is that you also have to learn how to react to positive commentary as well.

Whether it is in person or online when someone gives you or your work a compliment you must be able to hold your head up and thank them. You should never gloat about the success of your work (in either circumstance) and you should always be grateful to have a fan give you a compliment. Granted, this advice probably isn’t necessary since every writer I’ve spoken to still gets chills whenever they’re complimented,  no matter how famous they are. Regardless, the main point of this ranting jumble of topics is that we should always avoid negativity when possible, and whenever it isn’t possible we have to learn to not take it to heart and react in a way that shows we are capable of intellect and respect. After all, the person who wants to publish your next book might be monitoring just how well you react to compliments and criticism and the wrong response may well send them running.