I'm not sure this happens in other "industries", but we hear the word "tribe" tossed about a lot in creative circles. Social media is filled with inspirational memes about finding one's tribe and relishing in the camaraderie of those people who you discover as "kindred". There is a large, seemingly never-ending collection of memes illustrating the urgency in finding your tribe and embracing the comfort of their closeness.
I wonder, though, do those meme makers really understand the concept of finding one's tribe, or properly cherishing them?
I wonder because I thought, several years ago, that I understood what it meant. I have learned recently, though, that I really didn't.
I thought that my tribe was made up simply of people who read a lot, wrote a fair amount, and enjoyed book time over screen time. You know, "hobby" people. The "Let's get coffee and talk about books and writing" people; the "That's a snazzy book cover" people; and the "Over-spending at the bookstore is fun" people. We enjoyed similar pastimes, engaged in similar social environments, and laughed at the same quirky, odd things. We indulged loudly in conversations that might make us seem a little weird to passersby. And we were okay with that. We could easily stand side by side in public without the need for a disguise. We were comfortable in each other's company.
While all of that is quite true about the literary and creative community with whom I spend most of my time, I have discovered that my tribe lives in a cave that goes much deeper than simple comfort. The place where my tribe hangs out would rival The Pantom's secret Skull Cave; and only Batman would be cunning enough to find it.
My tribe is comprised of exceptional people who inhale ideas and exhale words, sometimes vomiting on the page, just like me. These are people who can spend at least an hour describing the aroma of the antiquarian bookshop they visited last week, and never feel self-conscious about the discussion. They regularly indulge in conversations with each other's imaginary friends, and help them plan road trips through the next story. These people care so deeply about their created worlds that they live in them when the real world isn't looking. They spend hours a day delving into the brains, and hearts, and souls of the characters they discover lingering someplace deep inside them... in a place "normal" people tend to avoid because it's very messy and too much isn't easily explained.
Never once do they regret the opportunity to dissect the twinges of intellect, emotion, and fantasy that they may... or would never... step through in real life. Nor do they resent the others who choose not to go along on the exploration. They simply go ahead, anyway.
My tribe forgives my foibles and helps me laugh at my own inconsistencies, all while helping me grow out of them. They genuinely comfort me when I'm ill, and refuse to allow me to apologize for being human, or alien (whichever it may be that day). They understand me on a level that most don't dare to investigate because there is no reliability in the nearly rotted out planks upon which I walk, and the light can sometimes plays tricks with the shadows. Still, my tribe stands by as sentries, encouraging my every step as I scrutinize myself and my craft. My tribe never holds me hostage for the mistakes... or successes of my past, nor do they secret ransom notes under the table of my confidence in order to coerce my future. They are authentic and altruistic of heart, and they allow me the same indulgences without fear of harm or embarrassment. They know who they are.
My tribe is a gift of this life that I treasure... so deeply... my words lack the appropriate reverence. I keep each of these special people close to my unpublished self, offering them the only tribute I have.. loyalty and a genuine, passionate gratitude. I only hope that it is enough.
Since high school, when I realized that writing could actually be a thing I could do for life, I've been reading craft books. Books on how to improve my writing skills with developing plot, character, structure, theme... you get the idea. Yes, I'm THAT writer who has nearly the entire Writer's Digest library sitting on her shelves. I inhale new knowledge about writing in nearly every form I can get my hands on. I seek out experts from The Great Courses when I feel like I need a "PhD level" exposure, and the For Dummies books when I want to remind myself that I'm progressing with my chosen preoccupation with maybe a little bit more ability than some others. (Everyone needs a little ego boost now and again.) I also seek to read everything in between that sounds even a smidge insightful or helpful. As we all know, a collection of smidges of different ingredients is how chocolate brownies are made, and that means a smidge of anything can always be helpful. Each foray into this exploration of "How Others Do It," I learn, I adapt, and I improve. Continuing to learn about my craft is always time well spent for me.
Recently, as I've been working on republishing my backlist, I've been focusing more attention to the business side of my craft. I've always believed that if I treat my writing as a hobby, it'll only ever make me happy. Yes, that's enough for some, but I've always wanted more. So, it stands to reason that if I treat my writing as a business, I have the possibility of reaching many others, and perhaps bringing a little more joy to their lives, too. I know I'm not smart enough to figure it all out on my own... so I seek out the advice and experience from others who have "been there, done that." There are a host of books on my shelves on these topics, as well. You almost need to have a split personality, I think, to make it in the book world... and so study requires both sides of the brain... wacky and logical... working in concert together.
Since relenting to accepting my tablet a one of my "tools for daily living" about five years ago, I've been investing in "career learning" materials electronically, simply because of the ease of bookmarking and using the imbedded links. I wish all my college texts were electronic, so I could not only store them easily, but refer back to the individual passages I need as refreshers more quickly. Technology can be a grand thing.
Although, I still love holding a real live book in my hands when I want a fictional escape... for me, there's nothing better. The smell of those new, freshly printed pages... But I'm beginning to ramble off topic... Focus.
I read two books over the past few weeks that talked about the marketing side of the writing life. The first was "Why Authors Fail" by Derek Doepker. I'd never heard of this author before. Primarily, he writes books in the niches of fitness and diet, so it's no wonder why his name was unfamiliar. These are not titles I read, much. But he's been wonderfully successful, and has written a few other book on how he did it. He wrote a book about how he leveraged Kindle and produced great sales. So there's that.
I admit, the title of this book caught me, and I'm a sucker for any book cover that has a typewriter on it - so clearly, he understands how to write a hook and design a cover. But in all honesty, I only read this book because it was offered to me for free, via a Facebook ad. Yup, I bit. I'm one of those people. It's a free ebook, it doesn't cost me anything to get it, and reading, no matter what the subject matter, I've always believed, is good for my soul. So, while getting miles in on the exercise bike, I read it over two days. It's not a long or difficult book.
There were some interesting things included in the pages; reaffirmations that my business brain needed to hear, but no real new information. Most frustratingly, there were no actionable passages in this book. It's a very "top-level" overview, and for people who've never studied this part of the writing world, important to get... but for me, it was a refresher. This book was really more of a sales pitch for the author's coaching/mentoring business than it was a helpful resource. But it was free, so yeah. The refresher was nice, and it did help to pass the time while exercising, but it's not something I would recommend... simply because of a lack of forward momentum. If I'm going to read a book to learn something... and the word "why" in the title implies that I will actually learn something... I'd like my time to be well-spent. I could have spent my time better elsewhere. Kudos to Mr. Doepker for all his personal success with his writing career, but this book was not a tremendous benefit to me.
The second book I read was "Strangers To Superfans" by David Gaughran. Author friend, Kate McNeil recommended this author to me, and I'm pleased that she did. This was far more interesting, and helpful. A book that focuses on how to build your fan base, keep your fan base, and reward your fan base as you build your career with integrity and an authentic approach... I found this a much better read, all the way around. Some of this was a refresher to me, but some of it was also a new perspective on becoming more accessible and placing the right emphasis on the puzzle pieces to your writing career through a conscious marketing strategy. It was about a 50/50 split.
I've always been a fan of strategies, processes, and actionable opportunities, and this book has lots to share. Mr. Gaughran gave me a greater understanding of how to market to my readers, specific to how I want to design my career. Although his suggestions and strategies could be applied to writers in nearly every genre... he made it easy to understand his formulas and then mentally insert my books and my designs for my career into his processes. This book felt like it was far more relevant to what I want to do with my writing, and far less "sales-pitchy". Also, the comfortable, easy style with which he writes makes the material feel more like having a conversation than studying the business of marketing my writing. I felt I retained more because it was entertaining to read. I bought the ebook, and enjoyed the quick read format. This is certainly a book that I would recommend to Indie Authors looking to broaden their marketing reach in small, attainable steps that will deliver consistent results if consistent attention is a key focus.
As with anything that requires effort, learning and mastering the marketing of my writing career will continue to take time. I will seek out new resources as I move along this journey, putting into motion those things that I can manage, financially and energetically; and letting go of the rest. As it is in life, so it is in business. The point to remember, is to never stop seeking out new and different perspectives as I work to solve an ever-evolving problem.
There are no magic beans... the solutions will ebb and flow just as the reading environment does, and I need to stay fluid in that motion if I am to enjoy the ride.
I was overwhelmed reading this book... not because it was difficult material (which it was), and not because the complexity of the relationships and internal dialogue of the characters was so intensely emotional (which it also was), but because everything written in this story is REAL LIFE. Confronting that can sometimes be overwhelming... and I've never been happier for the experience.
D.A. Reed has created a masterpiece of Young Adult fiction with this story. From the complexity of teenage angst to the thoughts, speech patterns, and body language of teenagers, to the adult interactions... this author got it all right. As a person who has been touched by teen suicide in both my generation and my son's generation, I cannot endorse this book enough. It is poignant, it is accurate, it is raw, it is unsettling, it is tender, it is difficult, and it is necessary.
This story channels the day-to-day experiences of teenagers in a way that feels a little like voyeurism; and if that thought doesn't frighten you just a little bit, it should. The bravery these characters show reminds us that everything is worth healing when we take the time to talk and listen. The resources and discussion questions in the back of the book encourage this dialogue between friends, families, and teachers.
This is a book that should be on a bookshelf in a central part of every family home, and in every classroom. It should be a part of every educator's and religious leader's continuing education program. I am certain that all who read it will be touched and motivated to help others in some empathetic way.
When you are given the gift of seeing teen suicide from the inside, you can't help but become changed. Thank you, D.A. Reed, for giving us this profound insight into a world we must not ignore.
I wasn't entirely sure what I was going to find when I opened the pages to this book. I've read Ken MacGregor a bit in the past... but the cover for this one had me wondering how far he would go.
I know Ken, he's a very nice man, with wonderful children. A kind man. A thoughtful man. And after reading this, I can now also say that he is a man who has an imagination that goes to places - almost without effort - that I wish I could go more often. It's odd to say that, considering that scary stuff and the like have never really been my thing. But this... this is different.
In each of these short stories, Ken takes your brain to some strange and beyond interesting places.
When you get the book, and you really should, here are a few you'll not want to read too slowly...
Tom's Personal Demons has got to be my favorite of the lot. If you've ever been a kid, or known a child, who has been afraid of the dark, this story will resonate with you. Here's the thing I liked best about it: I felt emotionally connected to these people and the darkness. It sounds strange - even stranger after you read the story - but I felt like I completely understood what poor Tom was experiencing, but more, the way Carla was accepting, and the way she helped Stephanie to connect to her father. It's difficult to explain without spoilers, but suffice to say that the gentleness of parenting here, except when it wasn't, caught me in an uncomfortably familiar place. That, and I've never experienced the dark as a living entity before... and now, I feel it a little differently.
Bad Squirrel was especially fun for me, because, growing up with a father who did all he can to defeat them, and me cheering for the squirrels every time, this one made me happy in a place I'm not necessarily proud of acknowledging.
In Karen Gets Her Man, I was again reminded why storytellers and those who indulge in hours of vicarious living through the written word are the luckiest people on the planet. Storytellers and their readers get to do, be, and say things that would get most humans sent to solitary confinement forever. Fiction is our get out of jail free card, and we know it. This is the story every woman secretly plans for, at the same time she plans her wedding... but most never talk about it.
I waited far too long to read this short story collection by the hugely talented Ken MacGregor. You shouldn't!
This book was a complete delight to read! In this age when so many people are complaining about the foibles in life... or worse... D.A. Reed steps up and shares her less-than-perfect self with us proudly. This book is part memoir, part stand up comedy, part intimate reflection. This is a study in courage presented in a way that will not only make you think of fearlessness as a delicate thing, but as a vigorous thing, too. The author is so brave... and her family even more so for allowing themselves to be shared on the page in her soul-bearing self-giggle.
I loved reading this book as a diversion while exercising... to help me get through the stuff I didn't want to do. I loved reading this book on the couch with the dog at night, to lend me comfort after a long day. I loved reading this book during a few lunch breaks now and then, to give me the light-hearted break from a complicated day.
What this incredibly passionate woman has done with her life, and continues to do, inspires me and helps me to see that all is not lost to those who stumble. The simplicity of how she spilled her life out on the page to remind me of my worth and strength through her missteps, is a gift I will hold dear for many years to come. My respect for my friend, this amazing author, this incredible human, has grown tremendously because of these simple, inspiring, elegant, hysterical 136 pages.
Also, the amazing artwork on the cover was designed by Malerie Zupin, an eighth-great student who will surely make a name for herself in the art world... and she's a wonderful person, in her own right! Keep at it Malerie!!
For the past week, I’ve been on a Writing Hermitage at our cabin in northern, lower Michigan. My husband and I acquired this beautiful place about ten years ago, and we come here several times throughout the year for long weekends together. But I’ve never spent time here solo for longer than two or three days. This has been a wonderful experiment mimicking Walden, and it is certainly something I will plan to do every year that I am physically able, in the future.
Our Walden is twenty acres of amazing forest land, in absolutely the middle of the most beautiful nowhere, surrounded by more forest land, with an off-grid “tiny house” log cabin. There is no indoor plumbing, no television, no air conditioning, with only solar power for our dorm-sized refrigerator and to charge small electronics (and a backup gas generator… just in case). We cook on a propane two-burner camp stove or the grill. We light the two rooms with candles or battery-operated lanterns, and “town” (each with a tiny post office, grocery, hardware, gas station, a McDonald’s one way and a really great BBQ place the other) is a good twenty or thirty-minute drive, depending on which way you travel.
Yup, that’s it, just two knotty-pine rooms… 324 square feet of luxurious simplicity with no people for miles. It’s incredible, and over the years, it’s become our sanctuary.
I packed simple, yet indulgent foods. I can’t remember what Henry David did about food and cooking (someday I really should re-read that book; it’s been years!), but I saw no reason to torture myself with dehydrated tree bark style menus. Actually, we’ve been eating really well… Charlie demands the last bite of everything, ignoring his kibble until he’s satisfied – except at breakfast. He’s not really into Cocoa and protein bars… but on those mornings when I made sausage and toast, he was right under my feet. So, shrimp scampi, venison stir fry, chicken stir fry, burgers, soup and mini-sub sandwiches with my favorite meat and cheese… along with the mandatory camping side-dishes of carrots, cucumbers, chips and chocolate cookies have satiated me well. I’ve always loved simple foods anyway, so this isn’t that big a change for me. I do miss baking and slow cooking, though. We don’t have an oven or a crock pot up here. Note to self, find an inexpensive propane toaster oven and a slow cooker. A combo unit would be ideal to save space… but I don’t think those exist.
This is a photo of the shrimp scampi we had for lunch on our first day at the cabin. Charlie helped me eat most of the carrots before the plate ever made it to the dinner table. Charlie LOVES carrots!
Drake and I have been tremendously creative in this wonderful, woodland space. He’s always enjoyed writing up here, which seems odd for a duck, to be so attached to the forest… the nearest body of water requires driving. But who am I to argue with the predilections of a muse-ical fowl?
We came to the woods with the intention to complete two of the five WIPs on file and make headlong progress on the three others. We were teeming with ambition. Here’s what we learned. When in the middle of nowhere, it is far simpler to focus on just one plot line at a time. The world slows down. The details are easier to uncover. The characters speak louder. The impulsivity toward the shifts that boredom or multitasking demand don’t echo as loudly without the walls, noise, and light pollution of the city. So, we’ve been joyfully focusing all of our attention on completing just one novel. It’s a new approach for me, but I’m okay with that.
Concentrating on the political thriller, American Plague, that’s been churning around in my imagination for about five years now, Drake and I resumed where we left off in the winter, pre-COVID. At that time, the manuscript was at about 65k words with lots of plot holes, missing characters, vague motivations, and weak transitions. In the first week that we’ve been here, we’ve made some great progress, adding about 14k words to the story, fleshing out characters, locations, motivations, and tightening those pesky transitions. Does anyone actually enjoy writing transitions?
Most significant for me this week has been the frustration with which Drake and I write bad guys and violence. Filling the holes in this story meant that we needed to confront that reality. Never having been a tremendous fan of either (although we know the importance of villainy to some extent in every story), this is the first time we’ve ever really been smacked in the face and up to our neck feathers in the seedy underbelly of life. Blood, treachery, and immorality… we’ve always found it a challenge to create anything with an inherent evil and/or a lack of conscience. But, with practice, we’re getting better at it. We are thankful for the examples written by Kate McNeil, Andrew Allen Smith, and D.A. Reed, and the visual writing prompt practice from Caroline Topperman which guide us along this fascinating journey. I believe it is true that doing the work that scares you sometimes, makes you a better writer. Here’s hoping my editor will think so, too.
The wonderment of being so detached from the city as we write is the phenomenon of being able to pick up where we last left off, even overnight, without distraction or interruption. The Internet signal here can be problematic and tortoise-slow. Therefore, the enticement from social media, compulsive email checks, deep research rabbit holes, and YouTube amusements is severely curtailed. That leaves only storytelling and watching the trees move outside the window as you brainstorm... and it’s glorious.
After devoting all my energy to story creation and occasional trips outside to stretch with Charlie during the day, I indulge the bookend time (either in the morning as I’m waking up, during mealtimes, or at night as I’m settling in to sleep) with the storytelling of others. During the six-hour round trip, I typically listen to audiobooks, avoiding the intermittent gaps that traveling from radio station to radio station can create. Once at the cabin, I spend my bookend time listening to storytelling podcasts that I’ve downloaded to my phone, or reading astounding books from a few favorite Indie Authors that I brought with me (the books, not the authors; but how cool would THAT be!). I think it was Stephen King who said so adamantly that writers must be readers, and that is certainly true for me. I can’t imagine writing novels without being a voracious reader. It just wouldn’t make sense to me. Here's a link to a storytelling podcast called "Selected Shorts" you might enjoy. And here's a link to LeVar Burton Reads... I can't tell you how happy I am that this gentleman is reading stories to me again!
The photo above is the view from our front deck. My hammock usually hangs between that pole on the left and a tree, out of frame. A storytelling fire ring, as I'm sure you all know, is an essential component to any cabin in the woods.
So, as I begin week two of the Summer Writing Hermitage 2021, I’m looking forward to discovering all the words flying across my screen, bringing to life the characters and situations that Drake has already figured out. He’s a dependable duck, most of the time… but he only gives me what he knows I can handle in the moment. Oh, we negotiate sometimes, but he usually wins. Changing our environment occasionally, works to his and my benefit.
Will we still write when we get back home? Of course, we always do… when the duck splashes and quacks around a plot line, he’s difficult to ignore. The city provides its own intriguing stimulation. There are eavesdropped conversations, the disposition of a throng of people pushing physically and emotionally in different directions, and the electricity of a crowd (even when you don’t see them) that can be best replicated on the page when we experience it first-hand. Those familiarities are all just as valid to our writing process as a few weeks of seclusion with Mother Nature.
I’m excited, too, about the opportunity to meet with my writing group, PPA (Prose Procrastinators Anonymous) in person again. We can do that now with the fading mask mandates and vaccine compliance. I’ve always believed in writing with a community of like-minded souls where the energy of creation is so vivid. But I’ll remember, too, the importance of trips like this, where solitude and vulnerability can show us words that perhaps we wouldn’t have found otherwise.
In all things, balance. Now, for a bit of lunch and back to working on the novel.
Admittedly, the closest I’ve come to indulging in Asian literary influences were Sidhartha from a Far Eastern Literature class in High School, a Folklore course in college, and a bit of Manga, Dragon Ball Z, and Pokemon from my son’s affiliations when he was young. It’s sad, I know. I’ve been living under multiple rocks for far too long. Yet in my own defense, there is so much spectacular literature in the world… I can’t possibly be expected to understand it all intimately. So, with this read, I’ve been introduced to a new escapade in storytelling… at least for me… and I’m delighted.
I can’t tell you what I expected when I began reading this novel. I heard the author, Xander Cross, read during a few Virtual Book Festivals, and so I had a bit of a taste… but I was walking in largely unaware of what I might find. I love picking up books this way… first introductions are incredibly seductive.
What I can tell you now is that not one page of this book was tedious or indiscriminate. Every moment of conflict or repose was crafted for a reason. Every word of dialogue is spoken with the goal of revealing a personal connection you didn’t think you’d find. The cadence of the story feels natural, and the breadcrumbs of anticipation are impossible to neglect. The author knows his way around the playground of Asian folklore. His devotion to research adds depth to his writing as he crafts a respectful homage inside the allure of dystopian possibility.
Each of the characters in this story are full and rich in their creation. They fight, speak, dream, and strategize exactly as they should… none of it is out of place, nor dropped in simply for shock value. As the main character and the others follow through their individual story goals, we watch loyalties unfold and we discover relatable characters where we least expect them. Rather than trite, magic is natural. Battle is an honored tradition; a currency to earn respect.
The most interesting aspect of this book for me, was the way the author crafted the evolution of his main character. We’re taught in creative writing class that a protagonist should evolve, grow, and change toward a positive arc as the story tracks from chapter one to the end. Xander has, quite skillfully, flipped this notion inside out. The protagonist, Hayate, moves through the story from a place of near serenity and focused spiritual purpose, toward a place of emotional and spiritual degradation, but he retains a hard-won respectful dignity. It feels perfectly right that he does not deserve our disdain. We cheer for him at every step. Why? Because as our eyes inhale the story, we share in his frustration as he recognizes his fall from grace. We acknowledge that he’s making the change out of self-preservation and within the very same traditions that enlightenment demands.
Throughout this story, subtlety lives well in the shadows with assertive posturing, vibrant word choice, and emotional manipulation. This author has done nothing by happenstance. It’s all a beautifully choreographed dance revealing the underbelly of survival without giving in to the trope of sacrifice.
This is the first book of a series I am eagerly looking forward to devouring. Thank you, Xander Cross; you’ve set the bar very high for my next Asian folklore reading experience.
After reading A Slice of Fear by Andrew Allen Smith, one resounding phrase echoed in my brain. It was the old Monty Python television program’s transition phrase, “...and now for something completely different”.
This collection of short stories pulls you in several directions simultaneously. From the title, you can easily imagine that you’re going to be led down paths of suspense and tension… but with Andrew, you just never know what that might look like.
Andrew’s suspense-spy-thriller Masterson Files series undoubtedly delivers on what the genre implies; page turning action. You’ll get no such comfort in expectation with this book. The slices you're served will stimulate taste buds you didn't know you had, or wanted. Your breath will catch in the back of your throat, and you’ll think… “Oh, that was good;” smiling to yourself as you turn another page.
Don't you just love hunting for bargains? The ritual of Black Friday shopping is exhilarating! Masks and social distancing comfort our virus apprehension, offering us security. Flea Markets sometimes hold wonderous surprises in the most ordinary packages. A woman always speaks in earnest when she vows to protect her man. These are just a few of the familiar sunlit paths Andrew entices you to explore, and in so doing, you may discover that the gentle shadows have a more sinister silhouette... and it's invigorating.
This collection achieves something remarkable for it’s genre. Each story, while pulling you to the edge of fear and in some cases, enticing a certain squeamish terror, also invites you to examine your preconceived perceptions about how humanity thinks, acts, and responds to fear. These stories will pull at your racing heart and prickle at your clammy skin. Andrew will offer psychological temptations to blend the insight of terror with common life experiences. If you follow his lead, you may become irrevocably mesmerized with your own indulgences of fear. And you'll like it.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Pilgrimages? That makes it sound very spiritual. The journey that started me toward writing Dani’s Inferno started when my son challenged me, pointing out that I had put aside writing the fiction that I loved to write when I started writing professionally and had put my own God-given dreams on the back burner. That started a time of prayer and soul-searching in which I took a look at dozens of stories I had outlined or started and asked myself, “If I only get the chance to tell one story to the world, what would I want it to be?”
What is the first book that made you cry?
Charlotte’s Web. I was probably six, and I think my mom spent more than an hour consoling me so that I could get to sleep. Incidentally, it still makes me cry. Doesn’t matter if it’s the book, a stage play, the cartoon movie, this story has always done that to me. I love stories of sacrificial love, and Charlotte’s sacrifice for Wilbur is what started my love for those sorts of stories.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
I grew up writing in a home with four noisy younger siblings, a dog, and a cat. At any given time, all of them except the cat were likely to want my attention. I really don’t have much trouble tuning everything out and writing. If anything, what I’ve heard others call “the rapture of research” may be my kryptonite. I’ve been known to spend entirely too much time on rabbit trails when I need to research some point or other. One interesting thing leads to another, which leads to another, which doesn’t lead to much addition to the word count.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I don’t see any reason a book can’t do both. I do have a sequel in mind for Dani’s Inferno and am working on a breakout short story based on one of the characters, but I hope that the sequel would stand on its own if read separately. I also have plans to write books that are completely separate and that will likely be standalone books.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I don’t know that it really has all that much. One thing that I am doing differently is using date/time/location tags with every scene change now. They will probably be edited out, but having them available makes it easier to answer timeline questions if they arise in the editing process.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Interesting question. I suppose an ant, because I love their focus and ability to stay on task - a skill I had to work hard at learning. Proverbs 6 in the Bible encourages us to look to the ant for wisdom, pointing out that they work diligently even though no one is looking over their shoulder. As an author, at least before you’re published, no one is cracking the whip and telling you to keep moving. You have to be self-motivated and self-accountable. That said, I lived a long time in Louisiana, so definitely not a fire ant. Those buggers are mean. Just a regular run of the mill ant.
What did you edit out of your books? (keep it family-friendly, please)
I had initially outlined the book to deal with an abortion but decided it had enough other heavy subject matter. On a funnier note, one part I intended to edit out was when I was writing late at night and realized I’d just had my 17-year-old girl protagonist tell a total dad joke. I shook my head and wrote in my notes to change that the next day. But my then-15-year-old daughter read it, laughed, and convinced me to keep it.
What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
Other than my family and my relationship with God, take your pick. Seriously, I think most of us who are serious about writing give up a lot of time - time spent writing, of course (ultimately the only way to get better at anything is to do lots of it), but also time reading and studying the craft of writing.
What is your favorite childhood book?
Tough call. Charlotte’s Web is still up there, as are the Little House books. Johnny Tremain was a favorite. Probably, if you’re making me pick, though, it’d be The Chronicles of Narnia. Specifically, either The Voyage of the Dawn Treader or The Horse and His Boy. I was first introduced to Narnia when my little brother brought the books home from the school library. Being 11 years old and way too mature for such things, I teased him mercilessly about his silly books about talking animals (not proud of that), then read them myself when no one was looking. Because I was reading them on the sly, I never did read them in order until I was an adult, reading them as bedtime stories to my son. Reepicheep, the noble mouse knight, is still my favorite character in all literature.
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
Deciding which idea to work on and sticking with one idea. I spent many years with multiple projects going on at any given time, which led to never finishing anything longer than a short story. I have never understood the idea of writer’s block, but I do have the opposite problem of so many ideas that I have a tough time picking one and buckling down.
What is the easiest part of your writing process?
Creating the stepsheet or outline. Sticking to it is another story. I tend to approach the process of writing like a planner, but the writing itself like a pantser, so sometimes I do have to go back to the drawing board when my characters carry the story off the rails on me. Fortunately, I enjoy that part of the process, so it’s not terribly tedious.
A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, how true is that?
I think writers are all over the spectrum, but we do tend to skew a bit toward introversion. Personally, I do fine in social situations, and I’m not shy or awkward, but I am introverted and can get along fine with only the people I make up for company most of the time.
When did it dawn on you that you wanted to be an author?
When I was in first grade. Our teacher, Mrs. Phillips, made a big deal to the whole class about a story I wrote about SCUBA diving with sharks and whales. Apparently, having a distinct beginning, middle, and ending is impressive for a six-year-old. She helped me turn the story into a little hardbound book. I wish I still had it. It’s crazy, but I can still get a case of the feels thinking about her affirming my creative efforts. More than forty years later, I can absolutely say that Mrs. Phillips, my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Kraft, and my eighth grade English teacher Mrs. Chandler are the biggest reasons I became and remain a writer.
Who are your biggest literary influences?
This is a bit of an eclectic list, but C.S. Lewis, Jerry Jenkins, Francine Rivers, and John Jakes.
What’s your favorite movie which was based on a book? Why?
The 2005 version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s one of the few movies that I feel actually improved on the book - quite an achievement considering the book is fantastic. The directors did a fantastic job bringing that story to life.
How did it feel when your first book got published? How did you celebrate?
Incredibly validating. I’ve had lots of ghost-written work published before, and lots of editorials and news articles I’ve written have been in print but receiving an offer to publish my first novel was unforgettable. I didn’t do a lot to celebrate, other than share the information with the screenwriting class I was taking and maybe go out to eat, though. I’m a fairly low-key guy. I mean, I spent the next couple of months smiling a lot and doing virtual victory laps, but not much other than that.
What is that one thing you think readers generally don’t know about authors?
Sometimes people act like they’re in awe of your accomplishment when you say you’ve written a book. It’s not like it took some kind of superpower. There’s a certain amount of creativity that can’t be taught, of course, but for the most part, writing a book is like any other project - it’s work. Wonderful work, but work. So, I guess it’s that authors are pretty much like the rest of the world. We just have a little bit weirder thing that we spend our time and effort on.
When it comes to research for your books, are you a hunter or a gatherer? Talk about your research process.
Both. I always have my eyes and ears open for interesting information, interactions, and points of view, but I will also dive deep into research because I want to get things right, especially since I tend to write period pieces and historical fiction. I know as a reader it drives me batty when a writer gets basic historical stuff wrong in their writing, so I try hard not to do that to others.
Could you be housemates with your characters? Why or why not?
I already am. I mean, there’s a little bit of me in most of the characters, so on some level, they already live here, whether I like it or not. Seriously, though, there are characters I’d love to have a root beer with and characters I’d like to slap. Often, those latter types are the ones that have more of me in them than I’d care to admit.
What’s your typical writing routine or schedule?
I know this is probably the wrong answer, or at least an unpopular one, but I don’t really have one, at least not all the time. In writing Dani’s Inferno, I promised myself I’d write at least one scene per day and, with very few exceptions, I kept that promise. Whether a scene was 100 words or several pages, I made sure to write at least one full scene. So, when I’m on a project, I do set a routine, but I’m very loose as far as scheduling and I don’t feel like I always need to be in the middle of a project. I think I benefit from having seasons of writing and seasons away from it.
Writing can be an emotionally draining and stressful pursuit. How do you recharge?
Writing fiction is generally recharging for me. It’s what helps me recharge from the other draining and stressful pursuits of life. When I was doing a lot of journalistic writing, which is somewhat less recharging for me, I would take breaks and read something completely unrelated to what I was working on.
Do you prefer music or silence when you write? Do you have a writing playlist? What’s on it?
It depends. Sometimes, I need music in the background. Other times, I need quiet. I tend to tailor the music to what I’m writing. In the case of Dani’s Inferno, I listened to a lot of hair rock and Christian rock artists like Petra, DeGarmo & Key, and Amy Grant. With a World War II project I was working on, I listened to a lot of ‘40s music.
Which celebrity would you choose to narrate your audiobook?
My book switches back and forth between two point-of-view characters, the 17-year-old protagonist and her older brother. Ideally, I’d love to have it narrated so that the scenes in Dani’s head are read by a female and the scene’s in her brother’s point of view read by a male. I guess if I had my pick, I would love to see CCM artists Amy Grant and Carman narrate. I’m probably dating myself by picking artists who were big in the ‘80s, but that’s kind of the setting of the book (early ‘90s), so I think it fits.
What well-known author, living or dead, do you wish could be your mentor? Why?
C.S. Lewis. In addition to his being such an enduring author, I think we could really connect discussing theology and history.
What is your favorite of the six senses (touch, taste, smell, sound, sight, intuition) to write about, why?
Probably intuition, though I find I have to be careful not to overdo it. Giving a character too much intuition can feel a bit like cheating, but giving them those occasional flashes of insight can give readers a glimpse into who the character is inside.
What is a favorite location you’ve written about? Have you visited that place? How did you choose which details to include?
Northern California. And yes, as a matter of fact, I moved to Northern California in December 1990, and was there during the start of the Gulf War, which is when Dani’s Inferno, starts out in Northern Cali. I remember it well because I moved out there thinking the whole state was one big beach and constantly 85 degrees. Turns out, it got down to the teens when I was there (I hadn’t even packed a coat or a sweater). At the time, they were record-breaking lows. I had always wanted to work that little weather-related tidbit into a story, and managed to, albeit in a small way.
Travel back in time (without negative effects for y or the timeline) what year do you visit? Why?
Not fair to ask me to travel to just one period, but if it can only be one, I’d go back to sometime between A.D. 50 and 60 because my next project is set in that time period and I’d love to see how the common folks lived in the provinces of the Roman Empire (and Ephesus, in particular).
What is something about your hero or villain that drove their character, but you didn’t specifically tell your reader?
Dani, the titular character, becomes very attached to people and absolutely can’t stand to feel like she’s let someone close down. It makes her a loyal friend but also leads to some poor decisions.
Have you ever resuscitated a project you'd shelved? What helped it work better the second time around?
Yes. In fact, Dani’s Inferno originally started when I was working with at-risk youth in a residential facility. I made it up on the fly as a series of bedtime stories based loosely on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I started to write it dozens of times, and outline it several more, but it was never quite what I wanted it to be until one time I made one change - I changed the prodigal to a daughter and the story instantly became 1,000 times stronger. It went from a story I’d have liked to have told to one I had to tell.
What do the words “literary success” mean to you? How do you picture it?
If someone reads my book and is moved by it, especially if they experience the love of God through it, I consider that success. Numbers are great, and I’d love to sell millions of books, but it’s honestly not about sales or bestseller lists (cool as those are). For me, it really is about one reader turning the pages, finding something to relate to, and walking away with some encouragement, consolation, comfort, or really anything that makes them feel their life is better for having spent a few hours reading my scribblings.
Can you tell us about your current projects?
I’m working on outlining several projects. The frontrunner for my next project is a story set in first century Ephesus and deals with the relationship between a young man whose father makes silver idols for the Artemis shrine Ephesus was noted for and the family’s Christian slave. The other projects I could possibly move ahead of it include a love story set during the Louisiana Maneuvers in the runup to US involvement in World War II. There is a humorous and historically true interaction that took place between General Patton and a local priest in one of the small local towns that gave me the initial idea to set a story during those exercises. And there’s a sequel to Dani’s Inferno that I might move to the front of the line.
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring authors?
At the end of the day, if you want to be a writer, you need to write. With that said, though, take time to learn the craft. Read as much as you can about writing. Pick other writers’ brains as often as you can. And read a lot of the types of books you’d like to write.
Please provide links and/or instructions about how readers can purchase signed copies of your books.
The best place to buy my book is on Amazon, though it’s also available on Barnes & Nobles and most places where you can buy books. If someone would like a signature, they can contact me directly at my Facebook author page and I’m happy to make arrangements to send a signed plate or otherwise sign their copy.
Oscar Harlequin kept very still, waiting until the book store closed. It was a store warehouse with three levels, the top being an attic with a skylight that had never been dusted. Few book lovers went up there, and he had stashed the backpack with his books near the old-fashioned radiator.
He was in the second-floor men’s room when the lights blinked off and on. The most heart-arresting moment was when a clerk opened the door and announced, “Store closed in fifteen minutes.” For some reason, the clerk came into the room, walked around casually. Had he detected something? Was he naturally suspicious? The flushing of a urinal gave Oscar the answer.
Fifteen minutes later, the room went totally black. Oscar pulled out his iPhone and turned on the light. (He dismissed bringing a flashlight, that would raise suspicions.) For some reason the stall door squeaked. Had it squeaked when he first opened it? Was the blackness magnifying the sound? Or was he just jittery?
After several deep breaths, Oscar ventured into the book aisles. In the darkness he felt like a shadowy, meek Godzilla plodding through a city of ghostly book buildings and trying not to break anything.
Not sure whether the elevator worked, he took the spiral iron stairway to the attic. As he gripped the railing, he was overwhelmed with the sense of his own stupidity. Had he even thought about where to put the books? They had an imitation romance cover -- his wife trying to smile in a red summer dress with a big straw hat -- but how convincing was it?
Once in the attic, he threw the light from his iPhone in the direction of the radiator, but he didn’t see the backpack. He was about to rush forward in a desperate search when a figure emerged from the shadows. He immediately thought of the nun in the tower at the end of Hitchcock’s "Vertigo." But it wasn’t her.
“You don’t need to go through all this, you know,” the woman said in a stern but amused voice.
“It couldn’t be time yet, it couldn’t.” Kargil screamed over and over in his mind as he ran through the dense overgrowth. The thorns cut his skin and he felt the blood run from the stinging cuts. He did not stop.
The clearing came fast, and he tripped and fell to the sandy ground carried by the momentum of his push through the brush. Before him he saw the bare feet of his wife. He looked up from his kneeling position to see her knees, dress, long red hair, and finally her face. She was overcome with fear, sweat covered her visage, and she was breathing heavily. A huge taloned hand rested below her chin.
“Why do you pursue us,” came the gritty and powerful voice from behind her. “She made the deal; the deal is done.”
“She did it for me!” Kargil cried. “I was not worthy of her gift, take me instead.”
The laugh sounded like hundreds of teeth in a blender being shaken. “You are of no value to me. The deal was I save your life and she was granted 5 years to spend with you. Has it not been five years, have you not had this time?”
“I made the deal,” Karen pleaded, “I knew, let me go.”
“You see?” The voice boomed. “She has accepted her fate, you should do the same.” A second taloned hand reached out and a deep mist formed behind them. “She is mine now and will serve my needs for dozens of years.”
“No,” Kargil screamed and launched towards her, grabbing her hand. “I love her!”
Two more arms reached around Karen instantly and grabbed Kargil by the shoulders. The grip was impenetrable. “You task me human. Do not do so again or I will take your spawn for my pleasure as well.”
Kargil thought of their daughter as he was thrown to the sand. He did not move as the 8-armed monolith stood and leapt into the mists with his wife.
As he felt the tears run down his face a shrill cry echoed in the mist.
“Who are you?”
“You don’t remember me?”
“You were a friend of my fathers?”
“I was a friend of your family, for a very long time, but…”
“Do you remember the Clydewell house?”
“Yes. Vaguely. Why?”
“Do you remember what happened there?”
“You’re referring to the accident? What happened to my sister?”
“I know that what happened at Clydewell house was not an accident. ”
“What do you mean wasn’t an accident? What do you know about how my sister died?
“You’re asking the wrong questions.”
“what question should I be asking then?”
“Where is she, and what was your father covering up?
“Are you telling me that my father lied?”
“No, I am saying that he only told you half the truth.”
“And my sister? She’s alive?”
“Yes, but I can only tell you this for certain, your sister knew something, something your father had to keep hidden.”
“What did he have to keep hidden?”
“Men of wealth and power have many enemies and many more secrets.”
“How do I find her?”
“Figure out what your father was trying to hide, that is the key to this riddle. I also believe that it cost me my life.”
“What I saw of your sister, I should not have I think and your father well…you know your father.”
“How could it have cost you your life, you’re sitting here, on this train with me now and you’re telling me my sister is alive?”
“What was your father trying to cover up? That is the only way you will find her.”
“No, wait, don’t leave.”
“Would you care for a drink sir?”
“That man, who was he?”
“Excuse me sir I do not know of whom you speak.”
“Surely you passed him just now, in the hall. He was old, scared face, with a pipe.”
“No sir there were no others except you. Can I get you anything?”
“Very good sir.”
As I searched, moments were frantic, the world around me blurring as I rushed about my cluttered bedroom. The clock clicked in an annoying reminder that Noelle was due to be knocking on my front door sooner rather than later.
“You forget something?” Mike, my roommate with the consistently worst timing, was leaning against my door frame, smirking at me.
I brushed my hair flat again, my reflection showing a messy appearance rather than the handsome Prince Charming I was hoping for. “Come on, bro...you know what this means to me!”
Mike rolled his eyes. “Dude, it’s Noelle. We’ve been friends with her for three years now, I don’t know what has you such a mess.”
A tried to control the heat creeping up my neck. “Yeah, but this is our first real date and I want her to see me as more than a friend.” I could see Mike’s fighting a grin, his blue eyes twinkling with mirth.
My curt dig was cut off before it could begin by a light knock to our front door. It was her. I took a deep breath, Mike was right...date or no, this was Noelle, one of my best friends and just about the prettiest girl I’ve ever met.
“What do you think?” I asked my roommate.
His eyes roved me up and down, “Well, she’ll definitely be looking at you differently!”
After answering the door, Noelle’s eyes brightened and she giggled. “Where did you say we were going?”
“That barbeque joint in town? Figured something casual would be ok. I mean, if that’s what you want?”
“Oh, casual is fine...it’s just...I think they still might require pants.” Noelle vaguely gestured to my lower half. With a blush, I looked down to see my Batman boxers winking back at me.
I ran my hand back through my hair, feeling the locks spring into their usual messy cowlick as my face burned a bright red. “Right. I’ll be right back…”
Mike was wiping tears as he gasped through his laughter, “Well dude, at least she can check out your butt!”
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