Sunday, April 1, 2012

Make Like a Nun and Get Your Writing Habit On

What habit might that be, you ask?  Is it:

The habit of sitting down to write at the same time in the same location each and every day even though Spring is here and your hands would rather be digging in the dirt than pounding on the keys?

The habit of editing a draft over and over again until reading another sentence of your precious baby threatens to make red ink bleed from your eyes?

The habit of telling yourself to keep going even when all your friends are down at Wormy Pete's Mexican Dump swimming in margaritas?

The habit of turning off the Internet and the endless writing advice because there's really only one valuable piece of writing advice in the universe, which is:

Make like a nun and get your writing habit on.  

Meaning be nun-like in your approach to writing.  

How's that, you ask? 

Like a nun, we must be singly devoted to one purpose: our writing.  This is obviously easier said than done what with full time jobs, families, houses to clean and dogs to walk.  With illness and taxes and floods and eighteen dollar a gallon gasoline.  And Jersey Shore on the television.  

Yet, when I think of how nuns devote themselves to a lifetime of developing and strengthening their personal relationship with God, it reminds me of the intimate commitment required of writers.    

And faith.  There's a whole lot of faith involved with writing: in yourself, in your work, in your readers even when you don't have a one.  Faith in things to come even when the "to come" keeps taking long and longer to arrive.

Maintaining that faith day in and day out, year after year can be the difficult part, even as your writing develops and your confidence as a writer grows.  Just as the the nature of the world must make maintaining faith difficult for even the most devoted nuns, writers too may suffer a crisis of faith.

Ever changing markets and technology and trends and fads conspire to befuddle and mislead writers down a terrible rabbit hole of doubt and confusion.

In those dark days, when rejection and uncertainty be thy middle name, fear not the unknown and take comfort in the one thing that has sustained you time and time again: the writing.  

Then go into that solitary, nunnery of a writer's space, close the door and open the computer.  Bow your head, place your hands on the keys and get your habit on.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Roaming Mortician On the Run

Here's the beginning of a short piece I will be publishing soon.  It is basically an intro for my book Rooted.  As always, feedback always encouraged and appreciated. 

The Roaming Mortician on the Run
“You ain’t got to tell me anything. I know all about the Roaming Mortician coming to Moonsock and raising Cain. Shoot, I was on Eleanor McQuiston’s porch shelling peas when he come rip roaring up the drive, hell bent on ploughing right through us in that battered old Mercury.

At the time, we’d never heard tell of the Roaming Mortician. Had no idea he was some musician from up in New York City. Never even heard of his kind of music. Punk he called it. Punk was the right word for him, too.

His real name was Slade Mortimer and I’m here to tell you that fool had a true talent for shaking things up. Ain’t never seen so many skeleton’s come stumbling out of a closet at once. Skeleton’s that hadn’t seen the light of day in a quarter of a century.

Slade come running into town in an old Mercury Montclair he’d stolen. Of course, that ain’t all the boy stole. He lifted every bit of gas and whiskey and pills and God knows what else he abused his body with.  Everything he came to town with was stolen; even his skinny leather britches.

Only thing I figure he didn’t steal was food. That’s because the boy didn’t eat. That sorry bag of bones was pretty much already dead by the time he reached Eleanor. Seemed like all he had left to do was lie down and let his worn out body rest in the good Lord’s eternal light.

It was all that running that wore him out. Come down from New York City like a bat out of hell, running from himself and everyone and everything he ever knew. How could he have known he’d run out of running when he hit Moonsock? How could the poor boy know what was waiting for him down McQuiston Lane?

Him not knowing was probably for the best. Had he known, he would have never pulled into Gus’ gas station, never stopped for directions on the square.

But that is what the boy did. And Lord love him, wasn’t anyone or anything the same after that.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Myrna Sue will tell you all about it. So will Verdie and Arliss. They were the first to encounter the Roaming Mortician.  Even if they didn't know who or what he was.”


Well, what did you think?  Leave a comment and let me know. 

Click here to read more ROOTED posts.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Keeping it Real in a Writing World of Fantasy, Vampires and Steampunk

Twitter is great. I’ve learned so much about so many things from so many people. Ever changing trends, topics and discussions and have opened my eyes to worlds of information I’d never given much thought to.

After years of writing locked away in a private office, I jumped on the Twitter wagon two years ago and was immediately shocked and humbled by the astronomical number of writers trying to break through, just as I was.

Never before had I been exposed to so much hot off the press fiction. It was like having my finger on the pulse of the literary community. Twitter enables me to be part of the greater literary discussion, to voice my opinion on character development or ask formatting questions and get an immediate response.

All this from my private office where I’d worked for years, head down and fingers flying, oblivious to anything and everything that was not making its way into my manuscript.

But all that has changed. Now, it is not so easy to have tunnel vision. Every time I’m on Twitter, I get an eyeful of what my fellow writers are working on or have published.

Turns out, there’s a whole lot of fantasy writing a’going on. In fact, a buttload.

I’ve been introduced to an endless variety of vamps and werewolves and other worldly beings all living out God knows what kinds of lives in the literary universe. These fantastical beings have day jobs and lovers and join the PTA. They go grocery shopping, curse and spit and have explosive gas, for all I know.

Then there’s this whole thing called Steampunk which I had been woefully unaware of. A veritable hodgepodge of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s (thanks Wikipedia).

Coming out of my private office and into the Twitterverse, I have been truly astounded at the creativity and ground breaking work being developed.

This has caused me to look at my own body of writing from a different perspective. How do my novels and stories fit in this fantastical literary menagerie? How creative have I been in my world creation and character development? How much glitter did I employ?

From this fresh vantage point, I’ve realized my work is mired in realism. My characters do not have any supernatural abilities. They do live in the underworld, heaven, space, or other dimensions. They do not crossbreed with other fictional species. They do not have immortal battles.

Does this mean my characters and their struggles are any less formidable than those found in Fantasy or Steampunk? Does this mean their battles are not as grand or sensational?

The answer to these questions is NO. If anything, their battles may be more significant due to their realism.

My characters greatest battles are fought within themselves. They need saving, and saving bad. Laid flat by life and events beyond their control, or brought to their knees by their own whiskey bent and hell bound natures, my characters can’t take another step forward. Can’t stand on their two feet and face another day. Can’t turn to another living soul for help, because they haven’t just burned their bridges, they demolished them in a raging fury.

Demons and monsters are battled in my writing. But these are the ones within my characters, the one within all of us. Finding the strength and courage and will to face what is inside is about as fantastical as my stories get.

Ultimately, the fight for salvation is the greatest battle my characters fight. It is this battle to save oneself that always surfaces in my writing.

Sounds pretty boring next to all those vampires and werewolves and wizards and steampunks.

And yet, I find the internal life is as dark and deceptive and dangerous as any fantasy world. Maybe more so, because it is real.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Giving Birth: Dreaming a Writer’s Journey

I don’t know about you, but when I am writing I seem to have dreams that directly relate to my work. But not in a way I would have expected. I would expect to dream about the content of my novels, but this is not how it works.

For example:
When I was writing about detectives in Wanted: The Roaming Mortician seems like my dreams would have taken on a judicial slant: mobsters and drag queens and morticians. But this did not happen.

When I wrote Operation Tub-butt, seems like my dreams would have been filled with revenge seeking middle-schoolers and cheerleaders. But this did not happen either.

When I wrote Cursed! My Devastatingly Brilliant Campaign to Save the Chigg, seems like I'd be dreaming about zombies and curses and stump toed soothsayers and pickles.  But no.

When I wrote about mud and guns and jeep chases and funerals in Rooted, seems like I would have dreamed about all of that. But no, again.

What I dream:
With the development of all my novels, I dream about babies: fresh in the womb, baking up good like a loaf of bread, and ultimately, their delivery.

When starting a new novel, I invariably dream that I have just learned I am with child. I’m not visibly pregnant, but a few weeks along.

As I progress through my rough draft, my pregnancy progresses as well in my dreams. After the initial pregnancy dream, there will be a dream where I’m five or six months pregnant, and then another dream of being full term. Finally, I deliver a healthy happy child. This occurs right after I finish my rough draft.

Only, with Rooted, I dreamed I delivered twins on a beach. Which obviously means the book is doubly good.

Lately, I’ve had a different set of dreams which relates directly to a side project I’ve started. I’m currently revising some old content I have lying about. Content which I feel may influence the literary world for generations to come. Not necessarily in a good way.

The dreams have to do with three novellas I am creating based on content which did not make it into my books. After starting these short projects, I have dreamed of returning to an old business I had and starting it over. But in my dream, my plan is to start the business on a smaller scale, with fewer clients to make it more manageable.

The next dream I had involved four or five small sailboats which were abandoned in a lake. The boats were upside down in the water. Once I righted the boats, I discovered they were in very good condition. In the dream I reclaimed these small boats.

These dreams center on reclaiming small things WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT I’M DOING WITH THESE NOVELLAS.

Spooky, I know. But I’ve come to consider these dreams nice little perks of my writing process. I welcome these dream babies, partly for the encouragement they provide, but mostly because they don’t need diapers.

Friday, February 3, 2012

No, I Will Not Wish You Good Luck Writing

Why? Because you and every of other lucky son of a biscuit eater are potential literary competition. Why would I want you to write a book better than mine? Why would I wish you luck finding an agent, or landing a big fat publishing contract? Let’s be honest, if you were lucky enough to land an interview on NPR, I’d probably choke on my tongue. From envy.

Well, not really.

In truth, after writing a gajillion words and pages over the last nine thousand years, I have learned luck has very little to do with being a successful writer. Luck will not improve your storytelling or editing stills. Luck will not induce anyone to read your work. Luck will not keep you motivated day after day, month after month, year after year. Okay, decade after decade (now I’m depressing myself).

No, I will not wish you good luck writing. But I do wish you the same things I wish for myself:

• Faith
• Patience
• Perseverance
• Slicer dicer editing skills
• Fearless writing
• Dedication
• Ability to overcome obstacles
• A clear vision, humble heart, open mind and critical eye
• Unshakable confidence

Most of all, I wish you success, in whatever form that may take. So keep on truckin’ my literary friends. For one day, you probably WILL be interviewed on NPR. And when that happens, just know I will be choking on my tongue. From joy.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Brevity: Need I Say More, Writers?

Apparently, I love the sound of my own voice. Same goes for my writing: I love to read my own words. What can I say? There are times I think I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread.

And when I get on a roll, Faulkner ain’t got nothing on me. I can easily make one thought, one sentence fill three pages… front and back.

For readers, it is pure agony. You might as well ask them to sit in a chair and read all that piled up nonsense with a metal tray of hot coals in their laps. It’s that enjoyable.

I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling and how it relates to writing a novel. I say novel because that is truly my favorite form. I had written three novels before sitting down to write my first short story. In writing the short story, I felt constricted and longed for elbow room to develop my story and characters.

After completing a few more stories, I began to appreciate the challenge of getting the “story” across in thirty pages, instead of three hundred. The tightness of a thirty page story provides a powerful impact not as easily attained or sustained in a novel.

As I’m in the development stages of my first new book in gabillion years, I find myself hesitant to follow the same process as previously taken with my other novels. As the story takes shape, I’m conscious of the short, powerful punch I want to make. I want this book to hit the reader in the gut, to stun and astound. And maybe induce vomiting.

Sounds like a compacted story is the way to go. Only, it may not be so simple whittling the four hundred pages of story in my head down to two hundred and fifty pages.

And yet, I think of conversation I had once with a professional songwriter from Nashville. After twenty years writing songs for some of the top country stars he was taking a shot at screenwriting. He was interested in the chance to tell a story in a format longer than a three and a half minute song. He wanted more elbow room.

But the more I think about story, and structure, and emotional impact, I can think of no other storytelling format that has the impact a well written song has.

What four hundred page book could add anything to the song, Ode to Billy Joe? Do any of Bob Dylan’s songs need additional material to impart the tone, setting, and plot intended? Who hasn’t heard Eleanor Rigby and not felt what it was like to be her?

I believe when I was a less experienced writer, I felt I had to get everything into a manuscript; every word, thought, and feeling. But now, I’m at a point where I’m interested in what does not make it into the manuscript. I’m seeing the beauty in less is more. And I think I like it.

Writing is a solitary expedition that starts at one point and ends in a place completely unimaginable. As I dive deeper into this latest book, I believe my expedition is taking me away from the familiar path I’ve worn thin over the years. Now into my fourth novel, I am heading into a jungle of gnarled trees and twisted roots that must be hacked and hacked and hacked to proceed.

And I am most excited.

As much as I’d like to go into more detail, I think I’ll keep it brief and get my machete out. Let the hacking begin.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I Don't Normally Pimp Myself Out

I’m sure you won’t expect this from me at all, because I certainly never, ever do this type of thing. But I am in dire need of reviews for my short story collection, Headshots, and I have reason to believe you may have read this fascinating literary fiasco sometime in the past. If you haven’t read it, then please disregard this once in a lifetime invitation.

I wouldn’t normally pimp myself out so flagrantly but my agent instructed me to do this – at gunpoint.

Would you mind clicking the following Amazon link and leaving a review. Be honest in your review, if you just want to give it some stars that is fine, too.  Anything you can do is greatly appreciated.

Would it be too much to ask you click the Barnes and Noble link below and leave a review as well? If you do mind, please remember, I know where you live. Well, not really. But I can find out. Then maybe we can have lunch sometime. Wouldn’t that be nice?

If you just can’t stop yourself from leaving Headshots reviews, there’s like a gajillion other places online to leave reviews. Just look up Headshots in Google and knock yourself out. But I be pleased as peaches with just reviews on the above sites.

And if I haven’t said thank you, I’ll say it now. Thank You. You are a credit to the human race and a much better person than those who choose not to leave a review. Actually, I don’t know if that’s true or not. But I sincerely appreciate your assistance.