Times, They Are A Changin’

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Nothing stays the same forever.

This is true of life, and it’s also true for my blog. As of next week, the format will change. You’ll be seeing a lot less of my thoughts about life and a lot more original fiction.

It was always my intention to post more stories, but the perfectionist in me always got in the way. I thought that if I wanted to share my writing, I would have to make it perfect. I’d have to go through the same kind of lengthy editorial process that’s required for books and magazines, because otherwise it wouldn’t be good enough. I became so trapped in this way of thinking that I only managed to post a single flash fiction story in all of the ten months that I’ve had this blog.

Then I realized that…this is a blog. It’s expected that my writing here will be a little rough around the edges, because blogs are like that. I decided that I had to let go, that I had to embrace imperfection. So I’m going to close my eyes, take a deep breath and jump.

What kinds of stories will I share in the coming weeks?

I’m going to start with a single modern fantasy serial that I’ll update once a week through the natural life of the story. When that tale comes to an end, I’ll start something new and continue the cycle. As I find more time in-between work and life obligations, I’ll try to launch more stories in parallel, with each serial continuing on a different day of the week.

I’ll also try to periodically post stand-alone flash fictions.

If you enjoy the current format, don’t worry.

While my focus will be on posting more fiction, I still plan to occasionally write the same kinds of essays about life, purpose and everyday magic that you’ve come to know for the past ten months.

My first modern fantasy serial begins next Monday. Stay tuned!

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Writing is Hard

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It really is.

Sure, you have the occasional explosion of creativity that spatters the walls of your mind, so that all you have to do is scrape the surface to create beautiful prose without really trying. This kind of intense inspiration can last for days, even weeks or months. But there inevitably come in every writer’s life moments when the ideas are gone, when all you can do is huddle in a dark corner with your hands over your eyes, wondering how suddenly it could have all been snatched away.

When the honeymoon is over, when you’re no longer in the throes of passion, doting over the muse with her intimately whispered secrets, when you’re left to limp alone across the desert of mediocrity and self-doubt, that’s when your dedication to the craft must not waver. It’s at the height of desperation that your faith in what you were created to do will be tested, a faith that’s critical if you’re to find the strength you need to continue stumbling blind in the dark, placing one clumsy word after another.

Good consistent writing is borne of hard work and discipline. You must be able to reach into the dusty corners of your mind, to wander through the labyrinthine corridors of consciousness, twisting and turning into infinity, diligently searching until at long last you stumble over deposits of the rarest substance there is, that raw clay of the mind, forged in the furnace of your imagination. You must shape, mold and sculpt this clay into something unique, something beautiful, something that catches the light of common everyday experience and reflects it back in all the colors of the philosophical rainbow.

Writing asks for nothing less than your soul. You must offer it willingly, allow it to be consumed by and absorbed into your stories, articles and blogs, and in so doing, allow your soul to be laid bare before the world, so that your deepest self is vulnerable to scorn and criticism.

Writing is emotionally draining, time consuming and is often without reward. Very few reap any compensation for their work at all, and of those who do, but a small percentage are blessed with the means to make a living through their art alone.

Yet, despite much hardship, the Writer takes joy in his work, for the soul of the Writer has, in spite of everything, accomplished what it was created to do. Like the One who created the Writer, he can gaze upon his work, a product of his blood and tears, and at last proclaim, “it is good.”

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What Am I Working On?

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I’ve been blogging once a week for half a year now. In that time, I’ve written about all sorts of things. But I rarely talk about my projects.

One reason is that I don’t want to come off as salesy or spammy. Though my blog does exist in part to help me build an audience for my work, I want that to be the by-product of what I hope are meaningful thought-provoking articles and stories that resonate with hearts and enrich my readers.

Another reason is that I don’t have a whole lot to show for myself, not yet anyway. There’s my short story, The Sign, but that’s pretty much it. Though I’ve been writing in some form or another since at least the third grade, it wasn’t until early 2013 that I began to take it seriously, and writing good books (and then publishing them) takes an insanely long time.

But I’ve decided I owe you some kind of update, if for no other reason than to let you know that yes, I am writing and yes, there are books on the way, even if it’s going to take me a while to get them to you. I’m not ready to reveal detailed information about titles, plot or characters, but I do want to give you a brief taste of things to come.

1. Middle Grade Fantasy

In March, 2013, shortly after I published The Sign, I began work on a middle grade fantasy about a boy who accidentally makes his sister disappear. The funny thing is that my target audience has always been adults; I never set out to write a book for kids.

It started as a simple novella. I had the idea while I was out for a walk. It wasn’t until after I’d completed the first draft and started showing it to my critique group that I realized I’d unwittingly stumbled onto a children’s book. In the process, I discovered that writing for kids is a delight, and I’ve since decided that, no matter how difficult it is to write for more than one audience, I want to make books for children as well as for adults.

Books are often difficult to write. It doesn’t matter how powerful an idea is or how inspired you might feel. Most of the time, writing is hard. There are of course those moments of pure unadulterated joy that every writer lives for, when the story flows out of you like a babbling stream, and your only job is to sit there and catch as much of it as you can before it stops. But as a serious writer who’s committed to creating stories come Hell or high water, I’ve discovered how rare those moments are. But writing this one was a dream. I sat down each night to one fiery burst of ideas after another. I usually have to outline at least some of the books I set out to write, but this one was completely off the cuff. It simply came to me, a wandering orphaned idea in need of form and expression. I completed the first draft in two months.

I’ve since been revising like crazy. I’ve gone through every chapter of the book with my critique group, have had my first round of beta readers provide me with their detailed thoughts and have almost completed my final initial revisions. Once that’s done, the manuscript goes off to a developmental editor for further refinement. I’m still deciding if I’m going to query agents and try to get this published traditionally or if I’m going to self-publish. Either way, I hope it won’t be too much longer before you start reading about the experiences of characters who’ve become very dear to me.

I actually plan to make this a series, because the characters and the story grew so large that to confine them to just a single book would be a crime. I’m excited to see how this story will evolve in the next few years.

2. Dark Fantasy Novel for Adults

I started this one in July, 2013, a little while after completing my middle grade fantasy.

Inspired by films like “The Neverending Story” and “Stranger than Fiction,” this book chronicles the life of an isolated and socially anxious writer with an unusual gift, whose stories are more than they appear to be at first glance. This tale, which is as much a symbolic reflection on the nature of art and writing as it is a modern fantasy, is very dark, and is intended for an adult audience.

The initial draft is only about 20% complete. It’s a full-length novel, and I anticipate that it’ll be a little while longer before it’s done. That’s fine with me, as I’m happy to let it ferment slowly over time. I care deeply about this story and want to take the time to tell it right.

3. Other Novellas and Short Stories

While alternating between the two above-mentioned projects, I’ve indulged in a few unrelated novellas and short stories. It’s difficult working on the same two projects day in and day out. Exploring fresh original ideas allows me the breath of fresh air that I so desperately need. Unlike the two books above, which I may try to sell to a traditional publishing house through an agent, these I plan to publish myself, since the traditional market for short fiction seems to have dried up.

That’s it.

I don’t mean that this is all that I plan to write (I’ll create stories until the day I die.) But that’s a pretty complete rundown of what I’m working on right now. I hope to have the middle grade fantasy out in a year or two (but don’t quote me on that, particularly if I do get it traditionally published, which would make it subject to someone else’s schedule instead of my own), and the dark fantasy a year or two after that. Along the way, expect more short stories and novellas.

Want to keep up with what I’m doing?

Then you should seriously consider joining my mailing list 🙂

I only plan to send out an email once a month to keep people abreast of what’s going on with my writing, to share the occasional piece of flash fiction that you won’t find anywhere else and to let you know when I publish something new. I want to connect with my readers and to make new friends. Highly personal emails that people can directly reply to is the best way I can think of to do that. If you change your mind later, it’s easy to unsubscribe.

As a thank you for caring enough about what I’m doing to sign up, I’ll send you a free copy of my short story The Sign.

You can sign up by clicking here.

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Getting Up and Trying Again

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Last week was really rough. I fell way behind on my reading and writing. I stopped interacting with people. I just kind of shut down and logged out of the world for a few days.

My dream for some time has been to be a full-time writer. In the past year, I’ve slowly built up a presence online, have shared the little finished work that I have with those who were interested, have made some good friends and have made some significant progress on my novels and short stories. But last week, something happened.

I suddenly got depressed and listless. I took a long look at all the hard work that’s required just for me to maintain what I’ve already created, then took another long look at all the work I have left to do before I ever come close to reaching my goals, and for a few days I just gave up. I stopped reading. I stopped writing. Everything that I’m passionate about came to a sudden grinding halt.

I want to blame this on the fact that I have a full-time career as a backend web developer that demands 40+ hours each week. I want to blame this on the fact that I’m tired when I come home, that the last thing I want to do is work for another couple of hours each night before I go to bed, only to repeat the cycle once more. I want to blame this on the fact that putting in 15-20 hours each week just isn’t enough, that to do my writing justice I need more time. But in the end, those are all just excuses.

I gave up because I chose to despair instead of working even harder to prove to myself that writing is what I really want to do. I made bad choices. There’s nothing I can say in my defense. In fact, I should be counting my blessings, because I have a job that finances what I love in my off hours and a roof over my head, because there are so many people out there who don’t even have jobs, or who work 60-80 hours each week and even then barely manage to make ends meet.

Fortunately, for every bad choice, there’s always an opportunity for another good choice. Even if you’ve spent your entire life turning left, you can always choose to turn right instead. This is my right turn. This is my choice to jump back into the game.

The fact is that writing is my passion. It’s what I was born to do. I can’t see myself doing anything else. If work gets tough and I have to put in extra hours, if I have to push through the pain and find time to write even when my body cries out for sleep, that just means I have an opportunity to prove to myself and to others how much I really want this. And someday, when I find success (whether great or small), I can look back on what I accomplished in spite of the pain and appreciate it all the more.

For a very select few, the winners of life’s lottery, things come easy. But those people rarely accomplish anything great, because they don’t know how to appreciate what’s been handed to them. They don’t realize how precious their finite lives here on Earth are, because they’ve never had to worry about it being taken away from them. I’ve decided I don’t want to win the lottery. I want to earn whatever success I can find, because only then can I appreciate it; only then can I take what I’ve worked hard for and know how to turn it into something even better.

I would appreciate any prayers (if you believe in prayer) and well wishes you choose to send my way. I can’t do this without God, and I also can’t do this without you, my loyal readers. It’s in large part because of you that I find the courage to articulate the stories that are written in the depths of my heart. Without you, none of what I’ve built so far would be possible.

I’ll keep writing, and hopefully you’ll keep reading and we can continue on this long and fruitful journey together.

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Why I Write

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Why do I write?

Writing isn’t easy, especially for those of us who work full-time in a completely unrelated field. You come home from work exhausted. Those very rare moments of explosive inspiration aside, you have to force yourself to sit down and work some more, when all your body really wants to do is eat and go to sleep. You have to face the demons of self-doubt, which hover over your shoulder in the darkness, whispering that you’re not good enough, that you’re a hack, that today is the day everyone will discover you’re a fraud. You have to recognize that you will fail, and you have to do it anyway.

You then have to be brave enough to confront the crap you wrote the next day. You have to take this rough source material, this hunk of dark grey clay forged from the jumbled stilted dreams of the insubstantial mind, and mold it into something half-way decent. You have to revise. You have to revise again.

After the number of revisions rivals even the number of stars in the galaxy, you have to break out of your shell and share your work with others. You have to not only accept but embrace rejection. You have to allow your heart to be broken, and then you have to pick up the pieces and try again. You have to revise. You have to revise again.

If you intend to publish, your not even close to finished. If you go the traditional route, you still have to send out hundreds of query letters to agents, be rejected over and over again, and hope that at least one will take an interest in your work. And whether you go through traditional channels or self-publish, if your book is to have a prayer of succeeding, you’ll still have to hand your work off to an editor, who will point out all the many things that are wrong that you didn’t catch in the first bazillion and one revisions. You have to revise. You have to revise again.

After all this, there’s nevertheless the very real possibility that nobody will want to read what you spent months or years writing. Bookstore shelves are littered with books that will never be purchased, books which will be returned to the publisher for a refund, books written by authors who will never have an opportunity to publish again. The Amazon Kindle store is bursting at the seams with self-published titles that will all suffer a similar fate. And if your books do sell, they likely won’t make anywhere near enough to financially justify all the blood, sweat and tears that went into your writing.

Why would anyone subject themselves to such a torturous and thankless routine? I can’t answer for all writers, but I can answer for myself.

I write because that’s who I am.

It doesn’t matter if I have an audience of one million, one thousand, one hundred, one or even zero. I write for my Creator, the author of the cosmos, because it’s what he called me to do. I in turn write for myself, because it’s my purpose, because composing new stories is what fulfills me as a human person. I feel compelled to write, even when it hurts, when I’m busy, depressed or lacking inspiration. It’s built into my DNA. It’s written indelibly upon the mandates of my soul.

I write because it’s in our own pale and imperfect reflections of the universe that we come to know and love the universe itself.

I write because beauty is important to me. I know that nothing I create will ever be perfect, but I strive for perfection anyway.

I write because I’m haunted when I don’t. The days I spend away from my notebooks and computer are days that I feel anxious and restless. Ideas back up in my mind like a clogged up sink, and their continually increasing weight begins to burn my soul like wild fire. I eventually have no choice but to huddle up in the dark after hours and yield to this all-consuming force.

I write because I have a passion for creating things. I liken the difficulties encountered when crafting a new tale to the pangs of childbirth. When the pushing is over, when you’re finally laying down in bed exhausted, sweat beading on your forehead, when the challenge of giving birth to an idea is finally over, you can at last gaze upon the child of your mind with stupid giddy love and wonder. It doesn’t matter that your child isn’t perfect, because the child is yours and you love it anyway.

In short, I write because I’m a writer. In the end, that’s the only reason that should matter.

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What’s In It For Me?

I strive first and foremost to be honest and straightforward with my readers. I’ve found that in the great adventure of life, beating around the bush and pretending to be something you’re not is not only wrong, but a recipe for failure. I could pretend that my blog serves no other purpose than to entertain and share ideas, but that wouldn’t be the truth. These things are all an integral part of why I’m here, of course — I wouldn’t waste your time if I didn’t think I had something of value to share — but this blog also serves another purpose.

I’m an author. I’m trying to build an audience for my work so that I can get my stories out into the world.

It’s hard when you’re first starting out, because you’re completely unknown. You’re just another nobody in a sea of nobodies. The market is currently oversaturated, so that there are more books than there are readers. And to make matters worse, many of the books released today are hastily written and poorly edited, which means trust in a new author is automatically very low. I not only have to demonstrate that I have good ideas, I also have to find a way to prove that I can write well before people read my writing. This is not an easy thing to do.

I want to make it clear before I continue that marketing will play a very small role in my blog. I believe that the best way to prove myself is not to climb the nearest rooftop and shout at the top of my lungs, but to engage my readers with meaningful thought-provoking posts, and to let my writing speak for itself.

With that understanding, I want to ask you for a favor. Despite all of the many innovations in social media, the best way to keep in touch with readers and to let them know about your work remains good ol’ fashioned email. Consequently, a mailing list is vital for success. I’m going to provide a link that allows you to add yourself to my mailing list. If you’re interested in my work, I’m asking you to sign up for it.

What's In It For Me?
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I know what you’re thinking. “What’s in it for me?”

First, here’s a promise of what I WILL NOT do with your information:

I WILL NOT share your email address. As someone with his own personal information to protect, I can assure you, I take your right to privacy seriously. I’m looking for a meaningful connection with an interested audience, not a block of random email addresses to be sold to the highest bidder.

I WILL NOT send you spam. Your time is valuable; you shouldn’t have to sift through junk. You’ll only receive an update from me once a month, and if later you change your mind, you can easily remove yourself from the list.

Second, in return for entrusting me with your email address, here’s what I WILL do with your information:

I WILL give you a steep pre-release discount on all of my new books. My success hinges on your willingness to read my work, and I want to thank you for your support by saving you as much money as possible. I might require financial support to be successful, but that doesn’t mean I need to take you for all you’re worth. Your support is truly appreciated, and I want to return the favor.

I WILL offer you exclusive content that can only be received through the mailing list. I haven’t yet decided what this will be, but it’ll probably include supplemental chapters that add depth and insight into the characters and scenarios you encounter in my books, as well as original short stories.

The SignIf you sign up, I’ll also send you a free copy of my short story on Amazon, The Sign.

Whatever you decide, thank you for reading!

You can click here to join my mailing list.

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2 Ways That Characters Are More Intimate Than Best Friends, Husbands and Wives

If you’re like me, reading fiction usually involves an endless string of love affairs and heart breaks. It’s always the same. I meet someone new. I fall in love. I’m on an emotional roller coaster. I burst with joy when my character is happy. My heart aches when my character is hurt. I’ll invest hours of my time into the relationship, only for it to come to a sudden abrupt end when there are no pages left to turn.

The relationship between Reader and Character is intense and intimate. What follows are two ways in which this relationship is more intimate than those we share with our closest friends and spouses.

1. You, Along With the Author, Are a Character’s Co-creator.

In real life, when you meet another person, what follows is purely a process of discovery. Who that person is has already been fully defined, independent of you. A real person always exists outside your mind. You may be lead to believe certain things about who that person is based on your own observations and biases, but whether or not those beliefs are correct has nothing to do with you.

By contrast, while the author might provide you with certain details regarding what a character looks like, what he thinks about or what happens to him throughout the story, he’s only partially defined. It’s up to you to provide the missing pieces. Unlike a real person, your character only has the fullness of his existence inside your mind. As a result, it’s as much a process of creation as it is one of discovery. Together, with the author, you give life to this other person.

The unique role that you have as a character’s co-creator is what allows you to understand him so intimately. Who he is depends in part on who you are. Because of this, you know this person more completely than you could know anyone else.

2. The Relationship Between Reader and Character Has No Boundaries.

In your relationships with real people, there are always boundaries. Between husbands, wives and best friends, there are always secrets. When dealing with real people, you can only completely know yourself. What your friends and spouses experience in their own minds you can only experience imperfectly through what they choose to reveal.

In your relationships with fictional people, this is not the case. In fiction, a character’s innermost thoughts, desires and motivations are all laid bare before you. You can peer directly into a character’s mind and soul. You can know a character better than he knows himself.

Conclusion

There’s a reason we connect so profoundly with well written characters. It’s basic human nature to crave love and intimacy. We strive to know others, for it’s in knowing that we can love. The fictional characters we encounter in stories might not be real, but the love that we have for them most certainly is. It’s a very unique kind of love, one that, in some ways at least, exceeds that which we have even for those real people who we hold closest of all.

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