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!!

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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Confidence in Your Craft

I’ve touched on this a few times in recent posts, and some of what I have to say is a repeat of previous statements, so I won’t take too much space to say it in today. One thing that artists of every kind need to remember is that confidence is very important to our craft. If you look at ourselves in the mirror every day and think about how terrible you are and how you are never going  to amount to anything then you’re probably sealing your own fate. In the same light it is equally harmful if we look at our work and get the mindset that we are the best there ever was and any one who doesn’t think so is obviously wrong. Going in to speak to a publisher with an attitude like that will pretty much guarantee you’ll get thrown out on your ear.

In reality the attitude that we need to have is that we, and our contribution to the craft, are unique and are the best that we can do. When you get a new story idea and you do your research and see that there aren’t any stories out there that are quite on the same page as your plan, then you should be able to move forward with the confidence that, at the very least, you are progressing on a path the few have been on before. Often realizing that will allow you the exact amount of confidence needed to put your best foot forward and get that work on paper.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most inspirational quotes I’ve ever read says that the reason your story is so important is because it’s YOURS and no one else can tell it like you can. And that absolutely has immense validity. If you ever have doubts about this get someone to do a collaboration with you where one of you writes one section and the other continues it. Go back and forth like that and see just how different the story turns out from what you originally had in mind for it. It’ll blow you away.

Finally, one of the main reasons confidence is so important to artists is because, for many of us, art (whichever the medium) is what we truly feel we were put on this planet to do. When you feel in your soul that you were created for one large purpose the idea of thinking that you are going to fail at that purpose is what often drives some of us to drink or drugs. You can’t let yourself fall into the mindset that your calling is anything less than intentional. We all have been put here for a reason, and I honestly don’t think that reason is to fail. So why think that way? You just have to give it your all and work as hard as you can at whatever it is you are doing. After that, the going gets easier.

Pick yourself up, look at your work and realize that, no it might not be the best book ever written or the best painting to ever hit canvas, but it is absolutely the best that you can do and no matter how hard they tried, chances are that no one else could do it quite like you. Realizing the truth within those facts alone makes you more successful than you were before you started the project. So pick up your tools and get to work, people. We have a whole new world to build, and no one can do it like we can.

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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.

 

Writing Freedom

As I was sitting down to make a post today I realized that my topic had actually been staring me in the face for a few days and had been brewing behind my eyes without me even realizing it. Last week I made a post that exceeded the “word limit” that I was lead to believe should largely be monitored when blogging. Upon realizing how far over that 600-800 rule of thumb I had gone I threw in an apology for those of you who had stuck with me long enough to make it to that point. The next day I was pleased to find a comment from one of my readers (http://heroicallybadwriters.com/ ) who told me that I shouldn’t apologize for the length of the piece because it worked and was a strong post. This really made me feel good and got me thinking in the back of mind about how often we are subjected to standards, rules of thumb and general restrictions and negativity that our work should never be bound by.

A good author can pen a story in as little as two words, should the story only take that many, but the same author can need to use thousands of pages to tell the story the way it deserves (and demands) to be told. Neither of these is more correct than the other and neither of these is necessarily better than the other. Every story is unique and every story has a certain amount of space needed to come through in its full glory. So why do we let negativity in? Negativity, of course can mean more than just listening to those who say a good paragraph only contains 5 sentences or a good story stays under 20, 000 words. It can also be those who directly insult a completed piece of your work. I think what I may do, in order to fully address both of these issues, is make them two separate posts. So today we are discussing the limitations put upon us by others and how it is perfectly acceptable to break them.

How many of you have heard, either on your own or in a class somewhere down the line that stories and letters and any other sort of writing must be kept under strict control lest it break free and lose all meaning? All of us, I’m betting, have heard this in some form or another.  But how much truth does it hold? Admittedly, words of caution like this can be very helpful in the process of training your brain in the art of professional writing (i.e. journalism, technical writing and the like) but when it comes to creative writing they do more harm than good most of the time, in my opinion.

Take, for example, the art of Flash Fiction. Yes, it is a wonderful concept and I’ve written some myself, but let’s look at the ‘rules’ behind it. Flash fiction is typically story that has to be told in under 100 words (or 500, depending on the venue in search of the piece) that must have a solid enough plot to be understood, which sometimes has to follow a certain theme. Like I said, this is a great form of art and a wonderful challenge for some writers and some ideas, but for others it can be devastating. When an idea hits it can be something that may be told in one sentence or it can literally take years of your life to write and come out in such a large hunk that it has to be split into seven books for publication’s sake. Imagine being a beginning writer who is hit with an idea that falls somewhere in the middle of these two examples who  tries to write that idea for a flash fiction contest somewhere. The process of trying to cut down huge, multi-faceted idea like that into a manageable 100 word piece may be enough to send the poor soul right out the door and prevent them from ever writing again.

As another example, let’s look at a magazine that really inspires someone and allows them to come up with an idea that they absolutely adore, but maybe falls just short of their 2,500 word minimum (yes, they do exist). This person may spend hours or days hacking at their story and trying to add enough material to make it reach this limit only to find that the story no longer resembles the masterpiece they originally felt it was.

Both of these examples may seem like they’re easily avoidable, but that’s likely because you’ve been in your craft for a long time. Once these two beginning authors took the time to examine their possibilities, I would hope that they would see there are other avenues for their work and they would move forward, but trust me when I say that isn’t always the case. Obviously, a good portion of the lesson to be learned from those two examples is just as much to do with finding the right place for your work as it is about breaking the limits put on you by others, but the true lesson is that we have to learn the work itself. We have to able to set it free. There will never be a time that our work will set limits for us, so why should we adhere to limits others try to set on it?

Art is about freedom of speech and creativity and allowing our true selves to explore parts of the world that we haven’t before, right? Of course. So if we start a story and immediately try to put chains on it and tell it that it can only do so much, it will never be a piece that fully satisfies us. Of course, looking at grammar rules and standards of language and syntax and everything else is what we, as authors, should do, but if Faulkner had decided to write The Sound and the Fury without using stream of consciousness because it didn’t follow standard rules, where would the book be now? What would it be? Would it have any real standing in the literary community as a record breaking piece that truly allowed us to see into the characters’ point of view? Probably not.

My point here is that while, yes rules for writing and for art can be very helpful and useful, no piece should ever be changed from what it wants to be in order to fit the rules, especially if those rules limit it and change its meaning. When you are taken by a piece and it comes out in its full glory and your final product is something that doesn’t adhere to rules or guidelines made for other pieces, don’t fret. Your work knows what it is doing. Sometimes the guidelines laid down for art are really little more than that. Guidelines. There are guidelines everywhere in life. Obviously some are more important than others, but some – like those involving the arts – can be bent. While it is absolutely crucial to drive on your own side of the road and follow traffic signs, it’s more than acceptable if we read the newspaper out of order or sleep for less than 8 hours a night. Yes, guidelines are important, but as an artist you should NEVER allow someone else’s opinion control your work. Editors and agents will work with you to improve a final piece, yes, but under no circumstances should you be afraid to write a piece the way it needs to be written because you think someone else will judge it in one way or another.

Art is about freedom and power and idealism and more things than I can possibly name here, and in no way should you try to restrict your creative abilities because you think your final product won’t fit into one genre or another. So the next time you are overcome by an idea and you want to let it out, don’t try to put a leash on it so it will fit someone else’s idea of a ‘good’ piece. Don’t put your work under a microscope and change it if that change alters the meaning of the piece itself. Allow your work to run free. Allow it to be what it is meant to be. It will make you much more satisfied in the long run and will allow others to be blown away when taking it in. Because, no matter how much we may doubt it or be told otherwise, there will always be at least one person out there who would love to have our work as it is meant to be see. Why should we deprive them of that?

What Writing is to me

I’ve talked a lot about how writing is my passion, my calling, what I love, but I haven’t actually taken a lot of time to explain why this is or what the craft itself means to me. I’ve seen a lot of authors and artists who discuss why they pursue their craft and how it makes a difference to them and I think it’s awesome to read things like that. I hope you all feel the same, and I hope you’ll respond in the comments and tell me a bit about what your craft means to you.

First and foremost I definitely have to reiterate that writing is ingrained in every part of my being and has been for as long as I can remember. I heartily thank my mother for this. From the time I could hold a book she made sure I had as many as I wanted. From reading and consuming everything I could about my favorite topics (typically vampires, the supernatural and the mysterious) came the burning urge to create. For a long time I sought out the best way to do this. My imagination ran rampant nearly 24/7 (a condition that nearly had me basically diagnosed as ADHD or some other such nonsense that is intended to squash individuality and creativity – but that’s another story altogether) and I was seeing stories in everything. I tried my hand at drawing and talking my way through my stories, but it wasn’t until I first put pencil to paper that I felt the true release of writing my words down.

Of course, at first I had no idea how serious and helpful that feeling would be. I jotted down small reproductions of some of my favorite stories, and occasionally attempted to pen a semi-sequel as I’ve explained before, but once that first real original idea flooded into my brain I felt the true release and power of the craft. Many of us who are fans of any sort of art be it painting, music, books or movies have felt what it’s like to be moved to tears while enjoying a piece. Imagine that feeling while you are creating something of your own. I seriously hope some of you have felt that kind of power, that sense of absolute purpose. It is something that I will never forget and will hopefully experience many more times in my life.

So what is writing to me? That’s my topic here, after all. To me writing is that sense of purpose, a sense of belonging and solidity. Whenever I’m having a stressful day or I’m feeling angry or upset in any way I can sit down and put pen to paper and create my own outlet, my own freedom. Granted, sometimes this works better than others, at the very least the act of immersing myself in a world of my creating will take everything else off of my mind. While working on creating that world of my own I can put everything else off or, if I choose, put a similar problem on a character and help them tear it to shreds. That kind of power is, in its own  way, one of the coolest parts of being an artist. You are creating your own world and anything can happen there. You have absolute power while making this world and you can put anything you want into existence. If you want to neutralize all pain and suffering, it only takes a few strokes of a paint brush or a few well organized words. When I place myself in a world that I’ve created I am in complete control and that allows my creative mind to soar to all new heights.

Writing is just as much about that unloading as it is about absolute freedom for me. When writing I can say anything, do anything, BE anything. Whatever I say goes in my own world. If I want to walk on the ceiling and only sleep on the kitchen table, I can create a world where that happens. As I’ve stated, I can look at nearly anything and see a huge story involving it. In life, I can allow my imagination to run rampant and make its own explanation, but at the end of the day water is still wet and fire still burns, but by using my imagination in my writing I can put any situation – possible or impossible – into play with few consequences. Honestly, there aren’t any consequences for this act, but if you’re creating a six headed camel with the legs of a spider and you can’t at least give some explanation for how it came to be, it may well harm your readership if you’re allowing anyone else to read the piece.

Regardless of the situation, writing, to me, is absolute power. It is freedom. It is the one thing I can do and the one place I can go where I can indubitably be me and change the world into exactly what I want it to be. Writing allows me to shed the burdens cast on me by society and allows me to fully embrace my creativity and imagination. It allows me to focus on what I want rather than what is pushed upon me. When entering my own world I am able to use my calling and do what I truly feel I was created to do. And I owe all of it to God and those who have supported me. So many of us have a bit of talent in one craft or another, but because someone maybe told us a particular piece wasn’t one of their favorites we let it crush us and prevent us from continuing on in our passion. I’ve had both sides. I’ve heard people tell me that I’m one of their favorite artists; one of my friends has even repeatedly called me the next Stephen King, a compliment which I certainly don’t deserve but humbly give thanks for. On the other hand I’ve had people tell me they got nothing from my work or that it was over their head, not their style or that they just generally didn’t care for it. Yes, those comments do hurt, but I try to remind myself that it takes all kinds to make the world go around. But, I don’t let them crush my spirit.

I know that I am meant to write. I was put here to use the written word to create as many worlds as possible in my time on the planet and I intend to do just that. So with this post I want to give a very heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported me. Obviously I can’t name every single person here, but of those who have made a difference, these people are some of the most influential. First and foremost, I thank God for making me the man I a and giving me the gift that I have and love so much. I also than the person who dealt with my writing before anyone else and told me never to give up on it; my mother (who just happens to have a birthday Sunday; Happy Birthday Mom, and thank you for trying to understand my insanity!). My wife has definitely been my rock for the last three and a half years. She has dealt with my semi-exponential crises of worry and purpose and has told me to just write, even if it is just for me, because it IS what I’m made for and it is who I am. Thank you, Dalena. My friends Josh and Nicole, who have been my audience longer than most anyone else and who have told me they love my work even when I myself hated it; thanks for everything, you two. Finally, three teachers who influenced me even more than I can describe; Jereial Fletcher, Larry Hypes and Gillian Huang-Tiller – you three were great in helping show me more of my true potential and turning me on to writers who could do the same.

I apologize for the length of this post, but I hope my point has definitely come across like I meant for it to. When you ask me what writing is to me, I can give you an explanation that would last days and weeks, but in truth, the answer could also be the most simplistic and vague one possible. What is writing to me? It is everything. It is who I am. It my breath, my life, my blood, my purpose, my calling and my freedom. I would love to hear from you all about what your craft is to you as well. No answer is too long or too short and no answer could ever be wrong. So feel free to jump in on the comments below or message me personally. I hope all have an amazing time searching within yourself to answer the question “what is my craft to me”.

Letting the World In

I know I said today’s post  was going to be about how our surroundings effect our writing, but I have been hit with something that I think may help more people. I want to talk about the way the world and the way it can support us or tear us down. So many times we see stories of writers who became little more than hermits in order to fully immerse themselves in their work either because they felt the world would taint their ideas or because they felt that any distractions would make their work more fleeting and hard to come by. On the other end of the spectrum there are jokes about those writers who sit in coffee shops with their laptops or their notebooks and welcome the world in. The latter is often imitated with memes and cartoons depicting writers sitting in coffee shops with their laptops open and a sign reading “watch me write my manuscript” propped up beside of a tip jar, obviously insinuating that any author who doesn’t lock themselves in a dungeon is only out for the attention associated with being an author. Personally, I do occasionally find the images funny, but the message behind them can be a bit offensive.

True, there are those individuals out there who walk around basically telling everyone they meet that they are a ‘writer’ who seem to be waiting for some sort of praise for their unexpressed talent. Speaking from the viewpoint of both author and critic; it’s not about how many people you tell you’re a writer, it’s about how many people who tell others how good your work is. That’s the measure of a great writer, to me. Imagine how different things would have been for J.K. Rowling if she had walked around London stopping people on the street and telling them that she was working on a story about a hidden world of magic and turmoil that was centered around a boy who had survived a killing curse. Most people would have laughed her off and given her a minor congratulations, maybe telling her the idea sounded great, and walked away without another thought about the boy who lived. But that’s not what she did. She let her passion guide her (and yes, I understand she didn’t lock herself away to do it, that’s part of my point) and she finished her tale, submitting it to a publisher only after being told by someone else that it was great. She didn’t broadcast her ideas or boast that she had them, she wrote. She didn’t lock herself in a dungeon while doing it, but she didn’t hang a sign around her neck telling everyone she was writing, either.

I talk about passion a lot in these blogs, and I know a lot of you know what I’m talking about. Passion for your work can be one of the powerful things in the world and it can guide you better than anything toward the right place. The image and idea of the starving artist is one that has grown famous over the centuries because it is painfully real. So many times writers and artists alike will let the world in in a way that makes them discouraged or tells them that they have little or no chance of success. Other artists feel the pain of the term because they do the opposite. They lock themselves away, feeling the passion of their work in private and never discuss it with anyone or pursue any outlet to share the work. They have this amazing talent and they get in their own way and prevent the world from seeing it. So what is the point here? The title of the article speaks different things to different people, and therein lies the point. Some people look at the possibility of letting the world in as terrifying and they lock their doors and write in secrecy, while others take it almost as a challenge and they choose to shove the idea of their work down anyone’s throat who will let them. In order to be successful and feel fulfilled and allow the passion of your work to spread to the world you must find the balance between the two. You have to let the world in enough that you aren’t terrified of others reading/seeing your work but you can’t run around waving your pages in the air and screaming I’M A WRITER to anyone who will let you.

For those of us who have dealt with the urge to do both, the comfort zone between the two may come easier than for those who haven’t, naturally, but it’s something that you’ll have to find for yourself. Maybe you have friends and neighbors who don’t mind hearing you talk about being a writer or an artist and would love to sit for hours discussing your accomplishments and ideas. Then again, maybe you have family members who couldn’t possibly care less – or even ones who feel that being an artist is just a cop out and will never allow you to see success. Whatever the situation is, true satisfaction with your talent is going to be very hard to come by if you find yourself living either of these extremes. Some things to keep in mind are that, no matter how good you are, there are going to be people out there who don’t care that you’re an artist. There are going to be people who don’t like your work. And, whether we like to admit it or not, all of us at some point WILL feel the sting of rejection.

It’s how you react to these things that can make the difference in success and failure. Taking dislike to heart is just another way of letting the world in too much, but not listening to constructive criticism (i.e. not adjusting your grammar when someone tells you there is a problem, etc…) is an example of a kind of locking yourself away and not letting the world in at all. As artists we have to be able to walk the fine line of understanding criticism and considering the words being said and taking it too seriously and tearing our work to shreds because there may be a mistake with it. This post really goes hand in hand with the rejection posts of last week, and the message is one we can all take to heart. The world, our surroundings, our friends and families can all be wonderful inspirations. They can make us feel wonderful and encourage us, helping us become one of the best at our particular craft. But if we let too much in, if we allow the negative to take hold and if we don’t keep our composure when seeking publicity the world can lead us to falling lower than ever and leave us in a hole that we have trouble climbing out of.

I hope you all have the right kind of passion and know where to draw the line at letting the world in. If you have any questions about this or any other topic, feel free to comment. Also, if you have any topic ideas you’d like to see me write on feel free to let me know. I’m always open to discussion on just about any topic and I love knowing I’m engaging my readers and, hopefully, helping at least one person with my posts. Fell free to share this post and any other with anyone who may benefit from it. Please subscribe, share and weigh in on the topics that interest you!

The Power of the Muse

Life is absolutely full of things that affect us. They can change how we see the world around us, how we feel about it, even who we are, and they can most certainly affect our work. In the process of creating a new piece of work there are so many things that can alter the way the piece comes out. Even the most minuscule thing can change the types of words we use, the colors we use in a painting or the dialogue our characters use in the work.  In turn these alterations go forward into our lives and determine how others view the works, whether or not they are well received, whether they become bestsellers or grow dusty on the shelves. We never know from one word to the next if we are pushing our story in a direction others will enjoy, and in all honesty that’s kind of part of the thrill. Granted, if you produce a work that someone else calls complete crap then you might feel less than thrilled, but that extreme of a reaction is something that likely wasn’t expected no matter what you think of the piece.

That is the power of the muse. Everything from the breakfast we had this morning to the material of our socks and how it feels on our feet can have an effect on what we produce and what we produce can have a direct effect on everyone who sees it. There are countless images and anecdotes about how artists just sit on their pedestals or at their desks endlessly, sometimes hopelessly, waiting for the muse to appear and give them the inspiration and ideas for the next great piece. As silly as it sounds, that has its own amount of truth. The muse is everything and can be everywhere, but sometimes it takes a little action on your part to find it and get started.

I’ve spoken countless times about the things that give us inspiration, siting my own as coming largely from the powerful feeling brought on by the weather and music, etc, and I’ve mentioned that literally anything can give us inspiration, but I’ve spoken little about the effects that inspiration can have not only on our work but on those that consume it. (I know I’ve used that word ‘consume’ a lot lately, but I think it works best when looking for an all encompassing word to describe the way people enjoy the work of all types of artists) As I sat down at my computer to get ready to write something for the blog, I had a lot of trouble. I knew that I had something to say, but had no idea what it was. I had moderate annoyance at myself at the thought that I wouldn’t be able to bring anything to the site today, so I relaxed and turned on some music (Dave Matthews on Spotify, to be specific) and before even twenty seconds had passed I had my idea.

That’s what I’m talking about here. The power of our inspiration can vary just as much as the inspiration itself. The sun shining on a lake, creating that lovely sparkling water effect the Melville was so fond of can mean ten different things to five different people! The sound of a certain instrument being played can change the lives of the right person should they get to hear it. A single crack of thunder can send one person into absolute panic while causing another to become eerily excited (myself being the latter), and that’s almost nothing compared to the effect their inspiration can have on others. Melville has become almost a household name after being inspired to write his most famous piece, and if he isn’t known by some then you can almost bet that Moby Dick is. That’s power.

Anyone anywhere can be inspired by just about anything and from there it only gets bigger. When someone out there reads a piece that had powerful inspiration it can pass to them as well. Have you ever been moved by a book or movie, felt the power in a piece of music or art? You can just about guarantee the author was too. That’s the power of the muse. It isn’t about sitting in a dark room waiting for some magical fairy to come and whisper the meaning of life into your ear, it’s about looking at the world around you and finding what moves you and using that. If you hear a piece of music that makes you feel happy and upbeat, helps ideas to flow through you, use it. If you hear or see something that brings you down and makes you feel sad and downtrodden use it. Take the inspiration that is all around you and use it. In my own experience there is immense power in inspiration and the effect it can have on us, but that can sometimes pale in comparison to the power our work can have on others. And that, my friends, is the true power of the muse.