Writer’s Journal 3.1 To Hell With Lemonade – I Want A Margarita



682px-Klassiche_Margarita

We’ve all heard the old adage, When life throws you lemons, make lemonade. Well I don’t know about you, but I’d rather make a margarita, thanks anyway.

Every writer has moments, days, even weeks, when it feels like the universe is conspiring against them. Sometimes it’s because it feels like the muse has left the building with no forwarding address, or because life has thrown you the proverbial ‘lemons’ and your so tired of trying to figure out to do with them,  you end up throwing them in a blender, adding a little tequila, lime and salt – all the while secretly hoping you won’t run out until the pain is numb enough you no longer care.

Like lemons, which are corrosive by nature, those uncontrollable life events and situation can eventually begin to erode our dreams, our passions and ideas until before we know it, we’re wondering if we even have what it takes to become a successful author, let alone finish that novel or short story or memoir we’ve been working on for God knows how long.

As those who follow me know, my sister and I just recently helped our parents downsize into a retirement community so I could move in and help care for my father, who has been diagnosed with advanced Alzheimer’s. What you may not know is, within days of making that decision, my life went from one of focused intent, to feeling like a fish thrown up on the beach without any hopes of ever being able to find water again.

Now I’m generally an optimistic person and make valiant efforts not to allow myself to wallow in the pools of depression and self-doubt – at least not for longer than five or ten minutes. But between caring for my parents and struggling to find time to sit down, undisturbed, while I work on the next novel in The Remnant series, I was beginning to experience serious, prolonged, moments of self-doubt. Especially whenever I logged into my Facebook or Twitter account and started reading how much success my fellow writers were having.

(In reality, one or two success stories, out of thousands, isn’t really all that crushing. Even so, it sure as hell felt like it at the time.)

But . . . the universe does have her moments of benevolence, as she proved when I was scrolling through a back log of emails the other day and came across Joanna Penn’s (thecreativepenn.com) newsletter. Inside was a link to an article by author Steven Pressfield,  entitled “Killer Scenes and Self-Doubt“.

In the post Pressfield talks about the muse and how writing, ‘Virtues of War‘, a novel about Alexander The Great, helped him remember why he needed to tell Alexander’s story and how in the telling, he was finally able to overcome years of the self-doubt.

Why bring it up? Well, the whole point of this section of my newsletter is about sharing the journey of becoming the writer I some day hope to be. And part of that journey is learning to deal with the lemons of life, as well as the things within and without, which contrive to erode my confidence and self-worth.

Writers, like all artists or entrepreneurs, battle demons of self-doubt on a daily basis. It’s a beast that must be slain over and over again. Caring for my parents has not only made setting aside time to work on my novels difficult, but on those days when I do manage to grab time, it’s getting harder and harder to pick up where I left off. Which invariably has led to moments of despair as the demons of self-doubt tickle my ear with words that make me wonder if I even have what it takes to write the bloody thing?

Like me, Pressfield is a firm believer in the muse. The neshama or soul. The spirit within all of us that speaks of destiny. Purpose. Desire. Passion. That spiritual aspect of our lives that helps to answer the burning question inside all of us – Why am I here?

I may not be Jewish, but I do believe in destiny. I believe that every one of us has a divine purpose in life that only we can fulfill and that by simply living our lives to the fullest, taking risks and not being afraid to fail, is all part and parcel on the journey to get there.

Now I’m not sure how spiritual turning lemons into margaritas actually is (though the Gospel’s record Jesus turning water into wine), but I do believe that part of the neshama Pressfield talks about, means our lives are the culmination of everything we’ve experienced, said, thought and wish we’d done. Good and bad. Happy and sad. Ugly, beautiful or something in between. It’s all part of the tapestry that makes up, Us.

So if learning how to overcome the demons of self-doubt during this season of caring for my parents is something I have to do, something that will ultimately add to the tapestry of me as a person and a writer, then it would be in my best interest to lean how to embrace it.

Not in a ‘martyr’ kind of way. (Trust me, I’m no martyr.) Not even in a ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, kind of way. But in a ‘Who I am is part of the fabric of who I will be as a friend, mother and lover, which in turn flows over into who or what I am as an author and the kind of stories I’m destined to tell’, kind of way.

As a side note, I’ve since learned that while caring for others it’s important to set healthy boundaries. And one of the boundaries I’ve set is that for four hours a day, three days a week, I and my laptop leave the house and go sit in a nearby cafe that doesn’t offer WiFi.

Not surprising that it only took me a few days to finish what I’d spent literally months, trying to write before.

Which means the first draft of ‘The Exodus’ is done, and while I’m waiting for the creative juices to ferment (It’s always a good idea to set your MS aside for a couple of weeks and go do something else. That way when you come back to begin the revisions, you’ll have a fresh outlook.), I’ve begun outlining a novella in the series, which I hope to have  published by next spring.
Sharin the journey –
SSpjut
2015. All Rights Reserved

Reality Check For Authors #26:


It is what it is#26: It Is What It Is

There are no guarantees that life will go smoothly, or that when you least expect it the universe won’t throw you a curve ball you are ill prepared to catch: one that interrupts all your best laid plans, writing deadlines and social media schedules.
Reality Check #26: It Is What It Is. Life happens, so be prepared to make adjustments to those hard held deadlines. Cut yourself some slack when the muse refuses to be moved. Stop beating yourself up because you didn’t make your daily word count. And remember, the world won’t end because that two-per-year-book you promise you made a vow to complete, isn’t going to happen – at least not now.

Writer’s Journal Vol. 3.6


It Takes A Village To Write A Novel

or

Being Mean For Critiques Sake

Writing a novel or any work for that matter, is going to necessitate finding others who are willing to read your work and give you honest, critical, feedback. (Hopefully for the price of mutual gratification – you read my novel and critique it, I’ll do the same for you.) The kind of feed back that requires putting on the big girl/boy panties, with feelings tucked away where they belong.

Aunt Betsy’s Turkey Stuffing

One of the greatest challenges I’ve found in writing a novel, isn’t so much about putting the story down in words, but finding a community of fellow writers with the expertise and kahunas to tell me what I’ve written, sucks. It’s as if their mothers had come to the meeting as well and were sitting next to them whispering troupes like, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’

Well, that’s fine if you’ve been invited to Christmas dinner at Aunt Betsy’s and cousin Suzann blurts out how delicious the stuffing is. When in fact you think it tastes like cardboard. Absolutely nothing good will come from your being honest. Instead, you take too large a sip of wine, pretend to choke – all the while praying the conversation will move on.

Unfortunately, its that kind of thinking that makes most writer groups ineffective for anything other than a place to go when you’ve realized you haven’t left your writers cave in over a month.

Lacking Empathy

Now this isn’t to say I’ve never gotten good feed back from my fellow authors. If not for a small group of writers I met with for a short period of time, I would have never known that, despite my efforts to show my readers what I wanted them to see, they told me my characters lacked emotion, texture and depth (In other words, they were as flat as Aunt Betsy’s stuffing.).

As you might imagine, their comments were invaluable and I’ve since made a concerted effort to crawl inside my characters hearts – not just their heads.

But emotions are just one aspect of writing. What about the story itself. Flow, plot, scene accountability? (I personally get incensed when I read a novel and discover plot discrepancies.) Not everyone can afford to pay a structural editor every time they do a re-write. Besides that, shouldn’t I wait until I think my MS is perfect, before shipping it off to my editor so I can be told it isn’t?

I would think so, but maybe that’s just me.

images (6)Putting On The Big Panties

Anyway – After publishing several books, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the key factors in helping me write a good story, one that gives my readers bang for their buck, is a writing group with seasoned authors able and willing to point out where my novel needs improving and why. Hopefully within the genre I’m currently working in.

A little rabbit trail here. I was at a conference in Montana last year and asked one of the guest speakers whether a writer should in fact, stick to writers within his/her own genre for critique partners? His answer was no, as he felt the diverse background would help to uncover things genre specific critiques might not.

I’ve since discovered I disagree with that theory.

While writers of other genres might add value to my novel, only those familiar with the genre itself, and thus reader expectation, would be able to give me the type of help needed to make my book marketable. Unless of course I wanted to write for purely altruistic reasons. In which case I might welcome an author who wrote SyFy or woman’s issues, to look at my MS about Madame Curie’s life and tell me where I might improve the technical descriptions of her research, or flush out the challenges of what it meant to be a woman physicist in 19th century Europe.)

But if I want to  stay current with the market trends in the genres in which I write, finding a group of mutually like minded people would, in my not so humble opinion, be the better choice.

Desperately Seeking Susan  download

So I’m back to the question of, Where do I go to find the type of writing group that will help me become a better writer? (Please don’t tell me Facebook. Accept for Indie Author Writing Group [of which I’m a member], all the others I’ve looked into are just spamming sights for authors trying to get noticed.) I’m currently scoping out ALLi (The Alliance of Independent Authors) andbooksgosocialauthors, a UK based group of authors helping and promoting authors.

The following article, ‘The 4 Hidden Dangers of #WritingGroups‘ by #JaneFriedman, is by far one of the best articles on this subject I’ve read to date. I especially appreciated comment #2;Struggling writers are not often the best judges of struggling writing.

In the article, Ms. Friedman quotes Edwin Catmull from Pixar, as saying this about critique groups; ‘A good note is specific. A good note does not make demands. Most of all, a good note inspires.’

Catmull goes on to list the four things the ‘note’ should include: What is Wrong; What is Missing; What Isn’t Clear and What Doesn’t Make Sense.

As I work to complete the first draft in my Blog2Book ‘The Exodus‘, I feel like Rosanna Arquette in Desperately Seeking Susan. Only its not Madonna I’m looking for.

All constructive and potential critiques, welcome. ‘Mean’ comments – not so much.

Sharing the Journey’

SSpjut

Writer’s Journal Vol 2:3:1 RADD


imagesRADD – Reader Attention Deficit Disorder

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”Stephen King

While cruising through my Twitter page I came across a RT by Cory Doctorow ‘Publishing as personal: lessons from giving away a debut novel online’  by guest blogger Amelia Beamer.

In a world of publishing that is faster than the 4G speeds I wrote about two years ago, todays culture, especially here in America, is all about ‘time’ and the technology we use to get the most out of the 24 hour day we have. And one of those technological gadgets or its close twin, is eReaders or smart phones or iPhones or whatever gadget that allows you to read, eat, drive, talk and text your aunt Betty 2000 miles away, all at the same time. This includes reading the newest novel or non-fiction book or magazine or blog post.

But it was Beamer’s comment about reviews that really got me to thinking about my own novels and what it would take to get them into the hands of new readers?

It’s no secret that almost every marketing blog, forum or podcast on marketing your book will tell you how important it is to get reviews – post launch. Amazon even goes so far as to give a number of ‘must haves’ before they’ll put you on advertised author list.

Now let me pre-qualify what I’m about to say with the fact that I don’t disagree about the importance of book reviews.  I acknowledge their importance, just not to the same degree that everyone (except Amelia Beamer) does.

So why write about it. For two reasons really. The firstly to give you, the reader, an idea of how much importance I personally put on reviews as the basis upon which all the world makes it selections. And second to you the reader, how you would resolve the issue.

Do I personally rely on reviews to make my selections?

Never!

Ever!

The fact is, I’ve never watched a single movie or read a single book based on its reviews. Todate, all my movie watching comes from either recommendations from friends, the trailers, its promised story/plot or the actors within it.

What about the books I read?

Beginning with my first serious novel, ‘The Hobbit’ (first read when I was eight years old) until now, all my reading selections have made either via word of mouth or because of the image on the jacket cover (a hunky vampire or werewolf will win me over every time), or because of the inside blurb, genre and or author recommendation. (If my favorite author recommends a book, I’ll take a look.) Occasionally, when I’m in the mood to expand my existing favorite author base, I’ll either look for a series within a particular genre or pick up an  anthology (that’s how I discovered authors like Dana Stabenow and Diana Gabaldon, Charlain Harris, Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Nalini Singh and Meljean Brooks).

But never, ever because of a review.

Which now brings me to the second reason for this post – if  time is a commodity few of us have, and asking someone for a review first means getting them to read the book (writing a review on a book you haven’t’ read is just plain wrong) then it would behoove me to find a way to get it in readers hands in the fastest, least painful way possible – beside using the words FREE! (even a free book takes time to read)

And who better to receive advise from than the very people who already invest their time reading my blog posts or following me on Twitter and or Facebook?

So how can I and authors like me, not only entice you to read our books (and hopefully write the all-powerful review) but do it in a way that makes it easier for you?

Suggestions welcome.

Sharing the journey,

SSpjut

©Reigning Press; 2015 All Rights Reserved

Writers Journal Vol. 2:2 (2015)


4460976042_a1c8902046_oCharacter Arch’s & What Do We Do About Them?*
by SSpjut

I recently came across an article by Kyoko M entitled. Things The Dresden Files Taught Me About Writing. Well, being the Jim Butcher/Harry Dresden fan I am, I hopped over and read it. The gist of M’s post has to do with why Butcher’s ‘Dresden’ character is so likable – and I whole heartedly agree. Harry Dresden is your average ‘Joe’ who just happens to be a wizard and has as many hang ups as everyone else. Quite literally, the guy next door.

But here’s where I want to add my two cents worth – its the arch of Butcher’s character development that really does it for me. That and the fact Harry’s down hill slide into the dark arts isn’t because he chooses evil over good, its because he’s determined to do whatever it takes to save those he cares about – even if it means he pays the price. And lets face it, Harry always pays the price.

 

TRUE CHARACTER is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure-the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature. Robert McKee

 

So what has this have to do with what I am currently working? 

In The Remnant series, which is all about post-apocalyptic-dystopian Seattle, where the supernaturals out number the naturals, I love being able to explore multiple aspects of character development and the emotional/situational challenges they’re faced with. Those that are flawed and those who don’t know they are – like Sariel, and Count Moleach. With such a wide range of character types, I’m given an opportunity to approach each one just a little differently, blending motives and inherent species traits, with the cultural challenge of what happens when the monsters we’ve created, become our worst enemies?

Are All Character Arch’s The Same ?

What about about my Keys of Destiny series? Am I using the same approach in helping Serac, Ziana and Idduu search for the Tablets of Destiny, as I am in ‘The Remnant’s’ bid to get out of post-apocalyptic Seattle?

Yes and no.

Yes, my characters have challenges they are being made to face, and yes they will need to overcome many of them if they are to succeed in their quest. On the other hand, ‘Keys of Destiny’, unlike ‘The Remnant’, has its roots in history – namely that of the Patriarch Abraham.

Shocker, right? But true nonetheless.

Several years ago, while researching ‘covenants’ for a non-book I had intended to write (blame H. Clay Trumbull’s ‘Blood Covenant’ for my fetish on such things)I came across an interesting passage in the ‘Book of Jasher’ concerning Abraham and his great-great grandfather ‘Serug’ (or Serac in Akkadian). Long and short, it is the lack of information that actually gave me the idea of writing the story of ‘Abraham’ from a historical/fictional point of view, rather than a religious one.

Which also means I don’t have the same creative license in this novel series, as I do with ‘The Remnant’.

Why? Because religious-history, not me, has determined who the good guys and bad guys are, and how they got from point A to point B.

Or does it?

See, that was the question I asked when I began to write the story and realized the only thing the Christian Bible and Jewish text say about Serug and his grandson Terah is, they did evil in the site of the Lord. Not a single word about what it was they did that earned them that epitaph, or why?

Now remember what I said about Jim Butcher’s ‘Dresden’ character, and how Harry’s descent into the dark arts is because he’s made a conscious choice to choose evil over good, but rather, in his determination to do whatever it takes to save his friends, he’s made choices which  have resulted in less than desirable consequences?

So what if Abraham’s great-great grandfather Serug’s epitaph ‘and he did evil in the sight of the Lord’, wasn’t because he set out to chose evil over good. But rather, like our wizard Harry Dresden, life and circumstance only gave he and Terah so many choices, and unfortunately, some of the ones they made, had less than desirable consequences?

As much as I love writing ‘The Remnant’ and all the creative freedom that comes with that particular genre, I find writing an historical novel, where I’m forced to stay within the guidelines of certain events and cultural truths, just as exciting.

So whether the stories we tell are based in truth or in fiction, we need to keep in mind that, even though all characters must have an arch in their development, how we approach it can be as diverse as the stories themselves.

Sharing the journey
SSpjut

*From Reigning Press January 2015 Newsletter – Writer’s Journal

Be sure to visit my new publishing site – reigningpress.com © SSpjut; All Rights Reserved.

Writers Journal Vol 2:1.1 (2015)


Subscribe Here Plug 2

Character Archs

What To We Do About Them?

I recently came across an article by Kyoko M entitled. Things The Dresden Files Taught Me About Writing. Well, being the Jim Butcher/Harry Dresden fan I am, I hopped over and read it. The gist of M’s post has to do with why Butcher’s ‘Dresden’ character is so likable – and I whole heartedly agree. Harry Dresden is your average ‘Joe’ who just happens to be a wizard and has as many hang ups as everyone else.

Quite literally, the guy next door. But here’s where I want to add my two cents worth – its the arch of Butcher’s character development that really does it for me. That and the fact Harry’s down hill slide into the dark arts isn’t because he chooses evil over good, its because he’s determined to do whatever it takes to save those he cares about – even if it means he pays the price. And lets face it, Harry always pays the price.

So what has this have to do with what I am currently working? 

In The Remnant series, which is all about post-apocalyptic-dystopian Seattle, where the supernaturals out number the naturals, I love being able to explore multiple aspects of character development and the emotional/situational challenges they’re faced with. Those that are flawed and those who don’t know they are – like Sariel, and Count Moleach. With such a wide range of character types, I’m given an opportunity to approach each one just a little differently, blending motives and inherent species traits, with the cultural challenge of what happens when the monsters we’ve created, become our worst enemies?

Are All Character Arch’s The Same ?

What about about my Keys of Destiny series? Am I using the same approach in helping Serac, Ziana and Idduu search for the Tablets of Destiny, as I am in ‘The Remnant’s’ bid to get out of post-apocalyptic Seattle?Yes and no. Yes, my characters have challenges they are being made to face, and yes they will need to overcome many of them if they are to succeed in their quest. On the other hand, ‘Keys of Destiny’, unlike ‘The Remnant’, has its roots in history – namely that of the Patriarch Abraham. Shocker, right? But true nonetheless. Several years ago, while researching ‘covenants’ for a non-book I had intended to write (blame H. Clay Trumbull’s ‘Blood Covenant’ for my fetish on such things)I came across an interesting passage in the ‘Book of Jasher’ concerning Abraham and his great-great grandfather ‘Serug’ (or Serac in Akkadian).

Long and short, it is the lack of information that actually gave me the idea of writing the story of ‘Abraham’ from a historical/fictional point of view, rather than a religious one. Which also means I don’t have the same creative license in this novel series, as I do with ‘The Remnant’. Why? Because religious-history, not me, has determined who the good guys and bad guys are, and how they got from point A to point B. Or does it?

See, that was the question I asked when I began to write the story and realized the only thing the Christian Bible and Jewish text say about Serug and his grandson Terah is, they did evil in the site of the Lord. Not a single word about what it was they did that earned them that epitaph, or why? Now remember what I said about Jim Butcher’s ‘Dresden’ character, and how Harry’s descent into the dark arts is because he’s made a conscious choice to choose evil over good, but rather, in his determination to do whatever it takes to save his friends, he’s made choices which  have resulted in less than desirable consequences?

So what if Abraham’s great-great grandfather Serug’s epitaph ‘and he did evil in the sight of the Lord’, wasn’t because he set out to chose evil over good. But rather, like our wizard Harry Dresden, life and circumstance only gave he and Terah so many choices, and unfortunately, some of the ones they made, had less than desirable consequences? As much as I love writing ‘The Remnant’ and all the creative freedom that comes with that particular genre, I find writing an historical novel, where I’m forced to stay within the guidelines of certain events and cultural truths, just as exciting. So whether the stories we tell are based in truth or in fiction, we need to keep in mind that, even though all characters must have an arch in their development, how we approach it can be as diverse as the stories themselves.

Sharing the journey.
SSpjut


Want to be the first to read the latest ‘blog-to-book installment of ‘The Exodus’ (Book Two ‘The Remnant’), as well as new of up coming book releases, writer’s journal, character short stories and profiles?  Click Here

Be sure to visit my new publishing site – reigningpress.com © SSpjut; All Rights Reserved.

Reality Check For Authors #25: Great Storytelling is Like Great Cheesecake


Check no. 25 Storytelling and Cheesecake

Reality Check For Authors #23: Knowing the Beginning From the End


images

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”  Ray Bradbury

Writing a stand-alone novel has as many challenges to it as writing the same story in a series. Each comes with its own blend of how-the-hell-do-I-tell-this-in-350-pages-or-less, kind of tension. For the stand alone, it’s a one time shot. For the same story to be told over a number of books, it’s the whole, bringing-resolution-without-end dilemma or, how much of the story gets revealed in book one, how much in book two and so on. Neither one is easy. Both require the author to think beyond the moment. To stretch their imagination to encompass the whole and not just the part.

Reality Check #23: Whether you’re a panzier or a plotter, knowing the beginning, middle and end of the story before you write it, is as important in the series as it is in the stand-alone (unless of course your R.A Salvatore’s Drizzit Do’urde, whose immortality gives the author endless opportunities). Why? Because if you don’t know where your going, how will your characters?

 

 

Reality Check For Author’s Infograph 8-15


Reality Check 8-15