writing life

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The Medical Mystery Tour (writing from sense memory)

Published August 11, 2017 by admin

One of the things that I really want to do here on out is to explore not just where I get my ideas, but how I incorporate them into writing. In a lot of ways, I think all my acting classes have really helped me here, especially with getting under the skin of a character.

For those who haven’t heard the term sense memory, the short version is in acting, basically you’re using one of your senses to recall an emotional memory from a specific time to help flesh out the character you’re playing. For instance, I once played Anna in The King and I. During the letter scene where she learns the king is dying, I focused on the memory on the last letter that I’d received from my grandmother before she died from cancer – that I accidentally threw away, thinking it was a different letter. That feeling of loss, as well as focusing on the color and feel of the stationary, the memory of her writing, really helped with the mindset the director wanted from the scene. While they may not call it this, a lot of writers use this trick, as well. Granted, I would add the caveat that you want to make it work for you – you don’t have to go full blown method to make your writing believable, and anything that’s putting you through the wringer isn’t necessarily something that you should pursue just to say you’re adding to your craft. For me, personally, though (especially since it means I’m putting my degree to use), recalling specific bits of memories has helped me when I might be facing writer’s block on a particular situation or character. So off and on I’ll

So off and on I’ll proably touch on some of my own personal experiences and how I’ve used them. For instance, this thing right here. It’s a beaut that will leave you traumatized, but shows just how much mileage you can get from even awful times.

Some years back I was recovering from the flu and noticed that even months after, I still felt draggy. Not bad, just overly tired. I still did what I had to do, because that’s just how I live my life. At any rate, I had started back at seasonal main dayjob I had at the time, just gotten a promotion, and was dealing with some big transitions and a lot of work due to a lack of crew. I was preparing to see friends at Famous Monsters at the end of July, I think, and suddenly out of nowhere I started getting intense headaches. No prob, go to the doctor, sinus infection, get antibiotics, go on my way, just as I had times before because my allergies and sinuses like to work together to remind me who’s in charge from time to time.

Except this time, I didn’t go on my merry way. I reacted to the antibiotic, got a different one, okay, great, life goes on…except it didn’t. The pain pulsed out from the side of my nose and face to the back of my neck and down my back and sometimes the top of my head. It was like all my muscles were tightening and kept being tightened by some Inquisition-level torture device. While I was still exhausted and sinusy. I have no idea how I survived that convention other than one of my best friends kept an eye on me to keep me alive, except for the time I left a film screening early and nearly collapsed in a hall, which I never did tell her or others when asked how I was feeling, so people are just going to love me for this. Seriously, learn from my idiocy. At any rate, by time I got back from that adventure, I was subjected to lots of tests and lots of raised eyebrows. As in: Are you sure it’s not in your imagination? Have you thought about a neurologist? It may just be phantom pains, see if it goes away.

It took everything in me not to reply with how I was pretty sure I was in agony and couldn’t I just wait and see if they went away, instead? (Did I mention I’m not the biggest fan of doctors?)

By the time they decided it could be allergies and put me through that test and an attempt at weekly drops so hilarious it bordered on the sitcomy, I was also buzzing under my skin and it felt like an ice pick had been driven into the side of my nose all the time.  Diet changes, life changes, an extremely understanding boss, some fairly understanding side gigs, ten different doctors, loads of different prescriptions and otc meds, an offhanded comment that I should prepare that it could be cancer (right before Christmas and a month before I went to a new ENT), and finally maternal intervention so I didn’t lose my mind, took up my time. I’ve never been so wound up, so at the mercy of my body and everything I was putting into it in my life. I get why people lose hope because of a medical condition, because I was going nowhere fast, and in agony. My gp finally put me on the correct dose to kill the infection, and the ENT finally adjusted my allergy meds to reduce inflammation. And that’s when we found out what was really going on.

I’ll warn you, I won’t get detailed gory but you may want to scroll by the next paragraph if you’re squeamish.

So, I’d had jaw surgery when I was 16 or 17, and I’d even done a presentation on it in college, complete with illustrations of a line of screws that had been put in to hold my bones together until they healed. Apparently, though, that wasn’t quite right because I had some big honking brackets under my face, and by the way, they were coming lose and cutting through my nasal cavities. We won’t discuss how we found that out for certain, other than to say that if you’ve never felt anything rattle under your face, you’re missing out. So, that was fun. Add in a lot of phone calls to find a doctor who could deal with this, and like nearly a year after the initial exhaustion, I was getting de-borg-ed. It was a long, extended foray into pain, exhaustion, paranoia, the health care system, amazingly sensitive and insensitive reactions of others, and feeling utterly helpless. I still tense up every time I have a cold simply because I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

However, the experience dropped a huge amount of sense memory in my lap (not to mention a great name for the experience, the better to keep myself from crying at those memories). Not just the obvious physical feelings, either, but the exhaustion and long-term helplessness, of just wanting things to go right for a change, was directly funneled into Paddlelump in Olde School. Poor guy goes through one thing after another after another without relief, while facing the subtle and unsubtle judgment of others. That was definitely something I could relate to.

The physical feeling of different meds interacting added with not sleeping very much at one point contributed a lot to Jermiah in In the Red. While I haven’t lived the rock star lifestyle, I definitely know the feeling of not feeling in your own skin, of being there but not being in your body or in control, of everything running away with you, or opening your mouth and some other thing coming out that just isn’t you. And you’d be amazed the feelings of worthlessness you feel when you’re seeing yet another professional and can’t get across what’s going on because you just don’t know and you’re at the end of the rope, and they ask if you’re sure that’s what you’re actually feeling. So it definitely fit for a guy who sees demonic hallucinations and feels the effect of magical memorabilia at one point.

At one point there was also an incredible feeling of release and submission, if that’s the right word for it (I’d been doing a lot of meditating to try to not lose my mind and really got into Wayne Dyer around that time), a sensation of being on my knees and having to trust that things could work out, which also feeds into Jeremiah’s resolution, and in a lot of ways, to Paddlelump’s as well. Both characters have to be broken before they can move on. That feeling of being out of control feeds into a lot of the kind of thing I write, so I’ve gotten a ton of mileage out of the experience. It’s even fueled my short fiction, because I really didn’t have a choice but to keep moving forward and to go through it, and many of my characters have that journey to take, specifically those like Hunter Mann in The Ruins of St. Louis, an anthology story I did years ago.

I don’t feel the need to focus myself and try to bring everything into uber clear focus, because it still causes a pretty big knee jerk, but it definitely has given me a lot to work with.

And one of these days it will definitely provide a direct horror story inspired by the subject matter, but I may need a paper bag to breathe into to do it.

***

In the Red isn’t in print at the moment (actually working on that, tbh), but you can get more information and some fun tidbits about Olde School here

 

 

Author Interview: Dan Jolley and Gray Widow’s Walk

Published July 21, 2016 by admin

I’m really excited for today’s interview. It’s always fun to talk to someone whose work you’re already familiar with, and Dan is just an awesome, talented guy. I always enjoy what I read by him, and I always walk away from a conversation with him feeling positive. He’s one of those artists who knows how to listen and relate to people, which is golden, people. I cannot stress that enough. Be articulate like Dan.  Plus he’s one of the few people I can talk to about visiting Poland who gets half of what’s coming out of my mouth, so there’s that, too.

But today we are talking about his new book!

As an aside, just picture how many times I have to remind myself that it’s spelled gray because apparently somewhere I have a recessive British spelling gene. It’s killing me over here.

Gray Widow_s WalkCOVERFINAL

Amazon    Kindle  B&N  Nook

SJ: Every writer has some sort of process. Give us a glimpse into yours. Do you meticulously outline? Do you write depending on what calls are out there?

DJ: In the whole plotter-vs-pantser debate, I come down as far on the side of the plotters as you can get. This is not just personal preference; when you’re doing any sort of writing for hire, as I’ve done my whole career, you have no choice but to be a plotter. No publisher is going to pay you to come up with stuff as you go. You have to submit an outline, or a summary, or both, and once that gets approved, you generally have to stick to it. That’s one of the things I learned very early on — never tell an editor, “And you’re going to love the ending!” No. No, they won’t. Or at least, they won’t take the chance that they will. That approach has carried over into everything I work on, whether it’s on spec or not.

Also, there are writers who, like Dean Koontz, go into their office every day and write for hours and hours and hours, draft after draft, until they’re satisfied. Then there are the writers who spend days or weeks or months thinking about a story, and when they’ve thought enough, they write it all down in a whirlwind. I’m in that second camp. I do most of my “writing” driving around listening to loud, aggressive music, or working around the house, or showering, or brushing my teeth. I get the whole story worked out beforehand, and then write it all down in bursts. I have a reputation in some circles for being a very, very fast writer, but most of the time, all the heavy lifting has been done before fingers touch keyboard.

SJ: Bonus question – Do you put on a cape and do a chant before hunkering down to work? Sacrifice anything? Along with your process, what’s your quirkiest writing habit?

DJ: I have a couple of writing habits, but they’re kind of boring. If I’m working on a comic book, I draw the outlines of all the pages of the comic on one page of a sketchbook, and do a very basic form of storyboarding; by the time I’m done drawing twenty-two little rectangles representing the twenty-two pages of a standard comic, my brain is fully in comic-writing gear. When I’m doing prose, I have a walking desk set up, and by the time my blood gets moving (around five minutes at two miles per hour), I’m totally in the prose-writing groove.

I used to write in a zero-gravity recliner, and my cat, The Minkus, would get in my lap, so I’d rest the laptop directly on him and work away while he slept. That had to stop, though, for two reasons. First, he doesn’t like my new laptop. I think it’s too heavy. Second, I had to take the old one in to the shop several times to get all the cat hair vacuumed out of it.

SJ:   Are you a meticulous planner or do you believe in the muse? Where do your ideas come from? Do they filter in through your dreams? Do they show up at inopportune times and whap you upside the head? Do they result in a shady deal with a dark power?

DJ: I am a very meticulous planner, as I mentioned earlier. If I had a muse, her name would be “Deadlinika,” and she would whisper things in my ear such as, “Your mortgage payment is due in two weeks,” or “You really need to get that transmission looked at,” or “The editor is expecting your first draft Monday morning,” and I’d shout, “I’M WRITING! I’M WRITING!”

As far as where ideas come from…they come from everywhere. Stories I read in the news, snippets of conversation I overhear in line at the grocery store, anecdotes my 13-year-old niece tells me…it never stops. Sometimes (not as often as I’d like), a fully-formed idea will just drop into my head out of nowhere. I wish I knew how to make that happen on a regular basis.

SJ: bonus question – If your muse had a physical manifestation, what would he or she look like and how would she or he act? Is it a sexy superhero version of Callisto? A sharp-tongued rogue? A reptilian alien? Do they have a catch phrase?

DJ: I’m afraid Deadlinika would look like a really stern, matronly grammar school teacher. She’d just stand there and stare at me, arms crossed, a ruler in one hand, tapping her foot.

SJ: What’s the book/story that’s closest to your heart? Is there a piece that you clearly feel is a piece of you? Do you play favorites?

DJ: In comics, my creator-owned series Bloodhound is closest to me. In video games, my work on Transformers: War For Cybertron came out really really well, though I’m also proud of the work I did on Dying Light. In novels, my answer used to be Alex Unlimited, the trio of YA sci-fi/espionage books I wrote for Tokyopop. But right now, the answer to the whole question is definitely Gray Widow’s Walk, the book that just debuted from Seventh Star Press. It’s what you might call “superhero noir,” and it’s the first time in my entire career that I’ve been able to take the gloves off and write anything and everything I wanted to. I am intensely proud of it. Everything I’ve ever written contains at least some of me, but Gray Widow’s Walk in general, and the characters of Janey Sinclair and Tim Kapoor in particular, are very very much me. Janey is even more me than Tim — which isn’t all that surprising, I guess, since I’ve been told more than once that my inner child is actually a 14-year-old girl. (My wife tends to agree with that assessment.)

SJ: If you could only write one genre ever again upon pain of being sacrificed to Cthulhu, what would it be and why?

DJ: I’d have to go with science-fiction. I love the genre, I grew up on it, my whole life changed the day I saw Star Wars in 1977. (I was six.) But the reason I’d choose it is that it’s so freaking broad. You can write almost anything in science-fiction. Space opera? Sure. Dystopian future, zombie apocalypse, rogue A.I.? No problem. Time travel? Of course. Superheroes? Almost all of them qualify. Even the epic fantasy saga I’m working on behind the scenes is, technically, science-fiction, in the way The Dragonriders of Pern is. I used to consider myself a horror writer, but I think I’ve really been a science-fiction writer all along.

SJ:  What’s your biggest frustration as a writer? What do you consider the downside, or is there one? Is there any cliché that makes you want to wring people’s necks?

DJ: The downside to being a freelance writer, which I’ve been for years and years, is the unpredictable nature of the business. I’ve actually been noticing a lot of similarities between what I do and what my sister-in-law and her husband do: they own and operate their own machine shop. We’re all self-employed, we’re all entrepreneurs, and when you’re self-employed, it’s always feast or famine. You’re either covered up with work (the good times) or you’re scrambling to get work (the shitty times). Sometimes I wish I had learned to do something useful, that would pay well, for the stretches when little or no work was coming in, like welding. Something I could just go do for a week or two or three until the next contract showed up. But then I think, if I hadn’t taken the whole throw-your-hat-over-the-fence, burn-your-ships approach, I wouldn’t be as far along with things as I am now. And I do love where I am now.

SJ:If you had to be stuck in one of your own books/stories for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? If you had to stick a loved one in one of your own books, what would it be and why? An enemy?

DJ:I’d probably choose to be in Gray Widow’s Walk, because it’s set in modern-day Atlanta, and you could live your whole life in that book and not realize people were being targeted by unknown parties and having their DNA forcibly rearranged. Of course, if you did get pulled into that process, it would get a lot less pleasant in a very short amount of time, but 99.9% of the people in the city don’t realize what’s going on. Of any of my books, Gray Widow’s Walk would probably be the (relatively) safest, so that’s where I’d put a loved one, too.

I’d stick an enemy in Harran, the Middle-Eastern city overrun by zombies in the video game Dying Light. No one stays happy there.

SJ: Do you think it’s possible to develop a sure-fire recipe/formula for success as a writer? Would you want to, or does that compromise the art or the fun of it?

DJ: I think some people have tapped into the (forgive me for using this word) zeitgeist in a way that lets them create success after success. Stephen King. Neil Gaiman. For that matter, Aaron Spelling. And y’know what? If I could do that, I TOTALLY would. Because that would mean I would have the freedom to write anything I wanted to. Collect the millions and millions of dollars from my super-popular creation(s), and then just retire to a villa in the south of France or something and write whatever I wanted to write, with no pressure. It’d be like winning the lottery.

SJ: Everyone has words of wisdom for young writers, so I’m not going to ask you about that. With a few unknown writers becoming success stories, a lot of people seem to think it’s an easy career choice. What would your words of wisdom be to these people?

DJ: Marry someone with a steady job that provides good insurance. I wish I were joking about that.

SJ: It seems like everyone likes to gang up on certain genres as being inferior, less meaningful, or cheap entertainment (especially if it’s speculative in nature). Make a case for the genre you write.

DJ: I’ll make a case for every genre, and it goes back to a tried-and-true bit of wisdom: it’s not the story, it’s how you tell it. Good writing is good writing, no matter what genre it’s in, and it’s that fact that has led to a few of my projects (if I may toot my own horn for a moment) getting reviews that proclaim, “This is way better than it has any right to be.” I especially enjoyed those reviews when I got hired to reboot Voltron in comic book form, back around 2002. A lot of writers would have sneered and turned up their noses at that kind of job, but I dove into it head-first, and turned it into an action-packed space opera with intense character relationships and overtones of interplanetary politics.

The same concept holds true for anything, really: witness the rise of My Little Pony, built on the series’ outstanding writing. Or, from several years ago, the TV show Girlfriends. I happened to catch an episode one day, flipping channels, and while I didn’t think I would have all that much interest in a show about four young African-American women in Los Angeles, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The writing on that show was razor-sharp, and I loved it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing magical-girl manga, or gritty military science-fiction, or a story about a bitter rivalry between two old men in a retirement home. Good writing will elevate any genre, just as much as bad writing will damage it. Is every genre for everyone? No, of course not. But no genre is inherently “inferior.” That’s elitist bullshit.

SJ: What do you want people to instantly think of when they hear your name or your work mentioned?

DJ: Hmmm…that’s a tough one. But I guess it goes back to when I was working for DC Comics, and was doing a signing at the DC pavilion at the San Diego ComiCon. I ran into one of their big-time, heavyweight writers, a guy who’d done multiple blockbuster books for DC and racked up walls full of awards. I hadn’t ever met him before, but he shook my hand and said, “Y’know, I always pick up your books, because I know when I see your name on the cover it’ll be top-quality.” (I eventually pried the stupid grin off my face.) Now, that was just one guy, of course, and he could’ve been blowing sunshine up my ass. But ideally? I’d love to instill that kind of confidence in all my readers. I’d love for people to see my name and, whatever medium it’s on, in whatever genre, for them to think, “Okay, I know this is going to be good.” Like virtually every creative type, I’m rife with insecurities, and I’m not saying I am that good. But it’s something to strive for.

SJ: Please tell us about your latest/favorite work or a little bit about what you’re working on right now. It’s plug time, so go for it!

DJ: Well, I’ve already said a few things about Gray Widow’s Walk, so I’ll just put the blurb right here on the page:

Janey Sinclair’s ability to teleport has always been a mystery to her. She tried for years to ignore it, but when tragedy shatters her life, Janey’s anger consumes her. She hones her fighting skills, steals a prototype suit of military body armor, and takes to the streets of Atlanta, venting her rage as the masked vigilante dubbed “the Gray Widow” by the press.

But Janey’s power, and her willingness to use it, plunges her into a conflict on a much grander scale than she had anticipated.

Soon she encounters Simon Grove, a bloodthirsty runaway with a shapeshifting ability gone horribly wrong…

Garrison Vessler, an ex-FBI agent and current private defense contractor, who holds some of the answers Janey’s been searching for…

And Tim Kapoor, the first person in years with a chance of breaking through Janey’s emotional shell — if she’ll let him.

But as Janey’s vigilantism gains worldwide attention, and her showdown with Simon Grove draws ever closer, the reason for her augmented abilities — hers and all the others like her — begins to reveal itself. Because, high above the Earth, other eyes are watching. And they have far-reaching plans…

Gray Widow’s Walk is book one of the Gray Widow Trilogy, to be followed by Gray Widow’s Web and Gray Widow’s War.

That’s from the back of the book, which debuted May 13 at StokerCon in Las Vegas. The following two books will come out one per year, unless I get them done sooner than that, which is entirely possible.

I’ve been trying to decide on the perfect way to sum the book up, and I’ve got a couple of possibilities. You could say that it’s like the Netflix version of Daredevil meets Red Sonja. You could say that it’s a sci-fi/action/horror story, since the principal antagonist, Simon Grove has been responsible for more than one reader’s nightmares. But really, it’s what happens when I get to tell a story entirely my way. No word count restrictions, no age-related language restrictions, no limits on the subject matter. Gray Widow’s Walk is the purest story I’ve ever told, and I’m beyond thrilled finally to have the chance to show it to people.

DanBeachHiRes

A Georgia native, Dan Jolley is an American author who writes novels, video games, and comic books, collects unmotivated felines, and should really go to the gym more. His first original novel trilogy, the YA sci-fi/espionage “Alex Unlimited,” was published in 2007. In 2016 he launched two new series, the superhero noir “Gray Widow Trilogy” and the Middle Grade urban fantasy series “Five Elements.” His comics work includes DC Comics’ Firestorm, Eisner Award nominated JSA: The Unholy Three, and TokyoPop’s The Lost Warrior, an extension of the Warriors novel series by Erin Hunter; his video games include Transformers: War For Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron, Dying Light, and Chronos. Dan and his wife, Tracy, live somewhere in the northwest Georgia foothills.

Website: www.danjolley.com
Twitter: @_DanJolley
Facebook: www.facebook.com/dan.jolley1

Guest Post: Inspiration for Losers and the Lazy by Ippick Bonecrusher

Published August 29, 2015 by admin

So, I promised I’d let some people guest post a little bit more on here, and I use the term people loosely. Since we’re talking about creativity and process off and on, I wanted to hear a little bit about how others approached things, so today we’ll be hearing about the role of inspiration.

I’m so sorry. Please think a few hundred times before even considering following his advice.

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Inspiration for Losers and the Lazy

a guest post by Ippick Bonecrusher

Seems to be a rash of creative types moanin’ an’ whingin’ bout not havin’ the best idea or not gettin’ there ideas right when they go to write ’em down. While I don’ straight make a livin’ off writin’, meself, I do get hit up for advice columns when certain someones is feelin’ a might too lazy t’be doin’ their own work. I don’t get what’s so hard ’bout it all, really. All’s ye need is a decent mechanical quill and some inspiration.

But Ippick, ye ask, what if I’m sufferin’ from writer’s block or just don’t know what to do with an idea or even how to get one?

There’s yer mistake. Yer sittin’ there makin’ up excuses and waitin’ for some made-up muse creature to zap an idea into yer noggin’. I’ve met my share of otherworldly creatures and believe ye me, ye don’t want them crammin’ anything into yer head cuz’ it won’t be anything what you expect. So stop sittin’ round on yer rear like a lump and go out there and get ye an idea! Go fer a walk. Go read or talk to people. Punch someone in the face and see what they do and what colors they turn. Chase some ducks or take someone’s ice cream and really look at it. See how it makes ye feel and what the rest of the realm does when ye do somethin’ unexpected like that. Then go write about it.

People and Folk make writin’ sound like blasted hard work, but it’s all just words, ain’t it? Words strung together to get across an idea. It don’t have to be good – that’s what editors are for. Besides, Fate knows there’s always someone out there who’ll like the dumbest things, Sit ye down with some paper and mechanical quill or a laptop and pound out some words! Even if it’s just t’get ye goin’, at least it’s somethin’! ‘Sides, ye may start a new genre or end up with somethin’ all literary only arrogant smartypants think they understand.

Ye don’t even hafta try hard! Look ‘ere and I’ll show ye:

Once Upon a time there was a right brute of a mutt named Herbert. He lived in a bookmobile and wanted more than anything t’own a bookstore but he couldn’t cuz he was a dog. Since everyone knows faeries have no magic no more, he instead looked up an antique-lookin’ tome filled with mumbo jumbo and did cultic rites to the Olde Ones that no one believed in anymore, even though the smart ones know they’re still kickin’ round. He did this for three months until he was ready to run outta sacrifices and other things needed to do those weird rites like certain herbs, copper dust, bones, ice cream, mead, mutton chops, and turnips but not the rotten ones the market lays out at the end of the week. Then he went to the post office, picked up his dry cleaning, paid his rent, and performed the dark rites all orderly an’ neat, hopin’ against hope he’d finally be listened to.

Now lookit, see? Yer intrigued cuz dogs don’t have wills of their own…or do they, cuz we all know there are some sneaky animals out there. It makes ye wonder what else is goin’ on. Besides that, when I got stuck I just threw in me grocery list and errands I had to run and ye didn’t even notice cuz I did it all sneaky like!

Ye don’t have t’be lazy and wait fer inspiration, is all I’m sayin’. Just lower yer standards and write out some words, an’ it’ll all work out for the best.

ippickIppick Bonecrusher is a mean sonofadragon who resides in Kingdom City, The Land. A real estate agent by trade, he also occupies many odd jobs to make up for his poor people skills. Although this is Ippick’s first attempt at freelance writing, he is very prone to giving unsolicited advice. You can find him in Olde School, book one of The Kingdom City Chronicles, which can be found in Print, Kindle, Nook, and Kobo.

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Thankfully, Ippick tends to stay in Kingdom City. Paddlelump Stonemonger likes to travel, though, and he and I both will be at Oldham County Comic Con on Sat, August 29 from 9:30-5! Come visit us at table 116!

A Writer Writes for Themselves: a Rant

Published August 25, 2015 by admin

There are few cliche things that authors hear a lot. People mean well and a lot of these phrases do hold some truths, but they’re also really annoying, especially when you’re stressing about meeting deadlines, depressed about rejections and feel like you’re gaining no ground, stressed about balancing time so you can get out some word count, irritable about promoting and trying to get people’s attention…

The one thing I’ve heard time and again is an oldie but a goodie: “Well, chin up, I know it’s frustrating but a writer writes for themselves, right?”

I hate this. I really, really hate this phrase or any variation of it. With a burning, vile passion.

Here’s the thing. Yes, yes it is true…to a point. You should absolutely write for yourself, because doing anything hoping to get famous/rich/laid/noticed isn’t going to work. People see that a mile away, or eventually get wise. Likewise, you need to be happy with what you’re doing or else it’s just going to make you miserable. Hell, it’ll make you miserable enough even if you’re happy with what you’re doing – any sort of love, even the artistic kind, isn’t perfect. I totally agree that you shouldn’t sit down just to please others or feel like you should turn your craft a certain way in the hopes to game the market or make an impact on certain people.

Part of the issue is “A writer writes for themselves” takes away whole chunks of an artist’s emotional background and what may have led them to write. Let’s face it, we all have our reasons beyond being inspired by books and stories. Maybe you were bullied. Maybe you want to prove something to that English teacher who said your essays were crap. Maybe thee was an early influence that you want to live up to or seek validation from. Maybe you have a lurking memory of a significant other or a family member who didn’t get why you wasted time on a hobby when you weren’t going to be JK Rowling any time soon. We all have those moments, and while you shouldn’t carry them with you all the time, let’s be real. They push us on and there’s probably always a tiny, tiny bit of us that keeps plunging ahead to show our entire past that we can do this, no matter what this is.

No, you shouldn’t write because of all those people, but they exist, just the same. Plus, I don’t know many people who are so completely comfortable with themselves that they never think about those people again or don’t have a slight stab of glee if they do get to prove themselves in the end. It’s human nature.

“A writer writes for themselves” also doesn’t take into account the nature of the market. Readers are looking for what they want to read, after all. I love that some of these head-patters are also the same people who will say “well, I’d read your book but it’s not really my thing…” A writer writers for themselves after all, so this shouldn’t be disappointing, even if you hear it twenty, fifty, a hundred plus times. And you will. There are so many choices these days, that while I don’t agree with trying to write to the market (because it often changes too fast to game and attempting to do so produces shoddy work), I get why people try to write to certain genres or certain tastes. Believe me, I get it. It’s hard putting your heart out there and waiting for someone to show up, trusting that it’ll happen eventually.

“A writer writes for themselves” also devalues the whole artistic experience. It’s not enough to just put something out there, there has to be someone reading it for it to mean something. Sure, I could write down all my stories in a notebook and put them away, but I want to do this for a living. I want to share with people…and that sharing has been part of storytelling from the beginning of time. You don’t hear people saying “well a doctor heals for themselves” or “A chef cooks for themselves” or “a teacher teaches for themselves” because that’s stupid. That makes no sense and with some professions would be considered selfish. Yet somehow, in the artistic fields, we’re supposed to be so secure that we do this for no reason and definitely don’t have the gall to expect anything from it. The worst thing in the world would be for no one to ever experience the ideas in my head, that would negate what I feel is part of my purpose for even being here.

I applaud those people who say they don’t care if people read their work or if it doesn’t make them a zillion dollars…I understand the latter more than the former. Why would you even publish your work if you’re that apathetic about people reading it? I don’t get it. Writers write for readers to read. What’s so hard to understand here?

While I get that the phrase is supposed to empower authors to do their own thing, it’s turned into this “there, there” excuse any time an author complains about the market, or how hard it is to balance promotion and writing, or how frustrating it is to have their work ignored. Somehow these well-meaning people never think to take the next step and offer to read their work or tell their friends or post reviews or whatever…it comes down to platitudes that don’t fit the situation. “It’ll all be okay,” “Well, you know how the market is,” “There’s only so many best-sellers,” “Why don’t you write something like this other author/do what this other person did?”

There’s no magic formula. It all takes a ton of hard work, and for some reason people don’t like to see that. They like the magical feel of someone making it, but they don’t necessarily want to comprehend how much it takes or how much they could be helping. I don’t want consolation or head pats or shrugs or platitudes. I want help, I want chatter, I want people to notice, I want people to love my writing. I don’t want my hard work to be brushed aside with “well, you just have to remember that a writer writes for themselves” and have the conversation turned back to whatever it is normal people feel comfortable talking about.

I do write for myself, by the way. I love my worlds and the characters that inhabit them. I adore the plots that rattle around in my twisted little noggin.  This isn’t me being bitter or creatively worn out or anything of the sort – I simply feel like the phrase is overused and used in the wrong context.

My ideas and my stories are my own and are born out of an intense love of ideas and what if’s. I don’t pull many punches and I definitely have a sideways view of things that end up influencing my plots and characters.  However, I also write for you, because I want you to think and feel outside of your comfort zone. I write for the person who wants to escape for a little bit, for the horror addict who wants to be chilled, for the vampire fan who wants something different, for the faerie tale fan who wants something new, for all of those who want something a little sideways than the other things on their shelves. I write for me, but I also write for the world, for everyone, and for anyone who is willing to take a look.

Who do you write for, besides yourself? What’s a typical platitude that you’re tired of hearing in regard to your work?

Juniper Grove Presents: Ink Calls to Ink by Nathan Crowder

Published July 22, 2015 by admin

Ink-Calls-to-Ink-Banner

It’s been a while since I’ve profiled an urban fantasy title on here, plus the author agreed to subject himself to my interview process! Should be a fun time all the way around.

Ink-Calls-to-Ink

Title:   Ink Calls to Ink

Author:   Nathan Crowder

Published:  July 23rd, 2015

Publisher:  Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing

Genre:  Urban Fantasy

Content Warning:   PG-13 Violence

Synopsis:

Franklin the Steadfast Soldier saw first hand what the cold indifference of modern London does to a Fictional Personae–a Fict. Refugees from their respective texts, scratching out a meager existence, the Ficts’ only comfort is the weekly Book Fair.

When a determined Knight of the Round Table hires him to find a missing king, Franklin starts to believe a better world could be possible. But the Knight works for the Host of Heaven, and Medea and Judas warn Franklin: One man’s heaven is not heaven for all. There is no place for misfits and villains in this new world order, their crimes are pre-ordained, written into the very fabric of their being.

To protect their city from a holy war, Franklin and his friends must stop the Once and Future King and an army of angels. Will they find the courage to write their own stories, or will they die slaves to their text and the ink in their blood?

GoodReads

***

SJ:Every writer has some sort of process. Give us a glimpse into yours. Do you meticulously outline? Do you write depending on what calls are out there?

NC: I’m a stickler for outlining. While I do allow myself some freewriting on a new project, I always have to break down and outline the whole dang thing or I go off the rails pretty quickly. I’m also addicted to those little Field Notes notebooks. I always have a few on me with a handful of pens so I can jot down any ideas that come to me. Many of those work their way into the project du jour or into future projects. (I just did an inventory of my field bag—ten notebooks, six pens, so I’m ready for anything.)

SJ: Are you a meticulous planner or do you believe in the muse? Where do your ideas come from? Do they filter in through your dreams? Do they show up at inopportune times and whap you upside the head? Do they result in a shady deal with a dark power?

NC: I have set days and times when I write. I show up, sit down, and get cracking. I don’t have time to wait for a muse. Sadly, I have no shortage of ideas. Often, the challenge is seeing what idea have legs to go the distance. I write them all down, and most of them go into what I call the “Mental Junk Drawer” where they tumble and spark off other ideas until a strong novel idea is born. And I believe my muse looks like whoever is making my coffee at that moment.

SJ: What’s the book/story that’s closest to your heart? Is there a piece that you clearly feel is a piece of you? Do you play favorites?

NC: I try not to play favorites, but I have this short story, a little New Orleans flood ghost story called “None Left Behind” which is my absolute favorite story in the world to read aloud. As for novels, Ink Calls to Ink is the best thing I’ve ever written—yet.

SJ: If you could only write one genre ever again upon pain of being sacrificed to Cthulhu, what would it be and why?

NC: I’d take out the priest of Cthulhu, pick up his ceremonial dagger, and then challenge the great old ones themselves. I can’t even stick to one genre when I’m writing one genre.

(Note from SJ: Best answer to this question ever.)

SJ: What’s your biggest frustration as a writer? What do you consider the downside, or is there one? Is there any cliché that makes you want to wring people’s necks?

NC: ”Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a novel.” Trust me. Go anywhere in the world and it comes out that you’re a writer and you’ll get that question. It’s nice that they’re trying to connect, I guess. But my answer is always the same. “Then you should write it.”

SJ: If you had to be stuck in one of your own books/stories for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? If you had to stick a loved one in one of your own books, what would it be and why? An enemy?

NC: Probably the cross-country underground cycle racing mystery Ride Like the Devil because I like road travel. If it were a loved one, probably my novel Cobalt City Blues because it’s fairly hopeful and I’d want them to be happy. Plus, superheroes. But an enemy other than the ones I’ve already written into my stories? Oh heck, I’d put them in “Bethlehem Grove” because the deer men cultists are one of the most unsettling things I’ve ever written.

SJ: Do you think it’s possible to develop a sure-fire recipe/formula for success as a writer? Would you want to, or does that compromise the art or the fun of it?

NC: Nothing in life is guaranteed except death. If there’s a secret, it would be to keep writing what you want to write. The readers might find you and they might not. But at least you’ll be happy with your own stories.

SJ: Everyone has words of wisdom for young writers, so I’m not going to ask you about that. With a few unknown writers becoming success stories, a lot of people seem to think it’s an easy career choice. What would your words of wisdom be to these people?

NC: Writing sucks. It’s hard. It’s work. It’s like doing homework every day after work for the rest of your life. But having written is the best feeling in the world if you’re willing to put in the time.

SJ: It seems like everyone likes to gang up on certain genres as being inferior, less meaningful, or cheap entertainment (especially if it’s speculative in nature). Make a case for the genre you write.

NC: At the end of the day, most people read to be entertained. And if they open themselves up to that, there are all kinds of opportunities to challenge their perspective of the world. It’s why I’m such an advocate for diverse books. If we see novels with characters who are different then us, it’s easier to see, understand, and accept people whose life experience might be different than ours.

SJ: What do you want people to instantly think of when they hear your name or your work mentioned?

NC: Compassion. I don’t know if that will happen, but we sure as heck can do with a little more compassion. And I think it’s a quality that shines through my better, more optimistic work.

SJ: Please tell us about your latest/favorite work or a little bit about what you’re working on right now. It’s plug time, so go for it!

NC: I’m actually writing something that might be labeled literary fiction right now, which is kind of weird for me. It’s a novel about a group of ordinary people in a neighborhood going through gentrification who are facing the loss of their watering hole, the Local. Rather than give in, they decide to dig in for a fight they can’t possibly win. It’s going well. I hope to have it finished later this year.

***

Thanks for the time and your answers, Nathan! I love the thoughtful responses to these questions, and now I really want to dig into your work!

Nathan-Crowder

Nathan Crowder is a writer of long fantasy and short horror with a love of pop culture and working-class heroes. He currently lives in the Bohemian wilds of Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood where he blogs about writing, film, and fringe candy, and is known to haunt the local coffee houses, comic shop, dives, and karaoke stages. Nathan lives alone with his cat, Shiva, who is currently managing his career in exchange for fresh kibble.

He has appeared in several anthologies including That Ain’t Right: Historic Accounts of the Miskatonic Valley, Coins of Chaos, and Cthulhurotica.

Amazon Author Page | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads | Website

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Getting Into a Project (literally)

Published July 18, 2015 by admin

As I’ve been getting back in the swing of things, I’ve noticed something. As much as I don’t mind using a laptop, there’s something about a notebook of the paper variety. I don’t know if it feels like there’s less pressure with a composition book, that I’m not being judged if I’m scribbling in public versus yanking out a computer (which always feels very HEY LOOK AT ME I’M WRITIN’ or HEY LOOK AT ME I SHOULD BE WRITIN’ AND i’M ON FACEBOOK). There’s something about the physical act of scrawling out ideas, though, of being able to doodle in the margins, of being able to alternate a story with my to do or grocery lists.

Admittedly, I write some epic and artistic to do lists. I’ll have to start taking pictures of them, because there are days I venture into abstract art territory.

I’ve learned through the years that I really like to get physical with a project. When I used to have a costume shop with a cutting table, it wasn’t unusual to see me sitting up on it, cutting out things, pinning things, or generally fussing with things around me. I liked sitting atop that little wooden island, in a creative world to myself. Likewise, I’m just as likely to roll around on the floor if I’m cutting out giant pieces of things, or want to see what something looks like pieced out. I’m not one of those who sit primly at a machine. You’ll likely see me throwing fabric everywhere, and I’ve walked away from a project covered with thread, fuzz, and fake fur more likely than not.

When I do renderings, I tend to channel my inner five year old and want ALL the pencils and watercolors out around me. There are days when I’ve come away from projects involving latex, contact cement, and paint looking like I’ve sustained mortal injury – there has been at least one incident at a former workplace where security detained me because they were sure I was somehow bleeding out in front of them as I attempted to leave work that evening. I may have been politely questioned one evening when I went to get my hair cut after working on stuff for various haunted houses and really didn’t think about going out in public after a ‘blood day’ (where we added blood and distress/wear marks/other signs of grossness to costumes all at one go to get it over with/make it easier on ourselves).

I’ve gotten tangled in yarn as much as I’ve made things with it, gotten bits of fiber fill everywhere, and on and on.

When I made the Paddlelump troll suit, I may have gotten in a fight with a neighbor’s dog who tried to run off with the head, I’ve knocked over just as many cans of glue and other materials as I’ve used. There are days I come away from a job or a project feeling utterly worn out, sweatier than a day at the gym, covered with paint, glue, and fabric.

I always feel completely beautiful on those days, too. I don’t know if it’s the satisfaction of a job well done, of seeing an idea become reality, or the joy of physical exertion, but I love it. There are days I just need to color, to put things together, to actively use my hands and brain in a way that a laptop doesn’t let me. There’s something zen about getting so involved with making something that you realize your hands are taking over, and you’re just letting the idea do what it wants. It’s one of the closest things to magic I’ve ever discovered, and I love that I can take part in those moments.

Blank pages on a notebook taunt me less than a blinking cursor, in some ways. Plus, I love all the lovely and silly covers I can accumulate. I may have a horribly diverse collection of half-notebooks – there are days I don’t even go down a school/office aisle, because I know I won’t be able to resist that temptation. Lately, though, they’ve been the thing to get me moving again, to get me creating, jotting notes, doodling, writing. Plus, the more pages I fill, the more notebooks I can buy.

How about you? Do you prefer creative pastimes that keep things clean and proper, or do you like getting into the thick of things? What’s your favorite way to get really involved in a project, no matter the type?

What Makes an Author a Success?

Published July 11, 2015 by admin

I’ve been thinking more about the writing process and public reaction this week, and as often is the case, one thought leads to another. Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s the ever-growing use of social media and how connected we all are, maybe it’s that the world’s perceptions have changed. Still, I can’t help but wonder.

What makes an author (or any creative type, really) a success?

For authors, is it selling a lot of books? Is it having a huge media reach? Big ideas that are well-executed? Does selling books still count if you’re self-published? Is it getting in with a big publisher? Is selling books really successful or have you not made it unless a huge mega movie franchise has been made of your work?

With how many different authors that plow through my timeline and twitter feeds and everything else, is just writing a book and getting published enough?

Admittedly, I took a little bit of a break last year, not only because the death of a close friend hit me hard, but also because I changed jobs, and, honestly, I needed to evaluate what I was doing and where I wanted to head. The past couple weeks I’ve started writing again, starting slow and just pouring out whatever’s in my head at the time, and I’m feeling really pleased with myself again.

However, every time I look around there’s an ongoing debate about the direction of the industry, what word counts sell, what genres sell, what really “makes” an author.

So, today I want to hear from you.

What makes an author a success? Is there anything they can do to hedge their bets to get to that version of success? Is meeting, breaking, or shattering expectations necessary these days, or is simply writing consistently and finding personal fulfillment there enough? Authors, do you feel like a success? Readers, what are your thoughts?

What makes an author an author, and then what puts them into success territory?