Posts Tagged ‘reading’


Since an early age, I have had make-believe people in my head.  I know how that sounds and I am willing to admit its psychotic connotations. But quirky, questionable, batshit crazy, or otherwise, it’s the truth.  Psychologists might say I was unhappy and turned to creating an alternate reality to escape the misery of my own world.  But I don’t believe that.  I was a perfectly happy child.  Odd, but happy.  I just liked the idea of making up my own people whose lives I could script and design, and … who would live or die under my ruthless command (insert evil laugh here).

In the beginning of life, I suppose it seemed very normal.  Most kids have imaginary friends and the like… but mine weren’t really what I’d call imaginary friends.  I never interacted with my make-believe people, I just knew all about their lives: their names, jobs, locations, likes and dislikes, etc.  I used to sketch them out, and occasionally, I would put them in little stories, but many of them just sat until, by the time I was a teenager, I had notebooks populated with the profiles of these fictional characters and no idea why, or what to do with them.

By the time I was nearing twenty years old, I’d thrown away my stuffed animals and done away with ninety percent of my childhood fancies.  But one thing never changed: the people living in my head.  As I got older, they became more and more like real-life, three-dimensional human beings.  I suspect that as I matured, I began drawing on the traits of those around me, and those I saw on television.

You’d think that by now, when I sat down to write a story, I’d just pull out an old notebook and pick and choose characters. Instead, however, I’m still coming up with new people all the time. Different stories require different personalities, some of which haven’t yet come to my attention.

One of the most fascinating things about being a fiction writer, in my opinion, is getting into the minds of the characters. I use the word fascinating rather than fun because it isn’t always fun. For example, while writing Beautiful Monster, I was mortified at times to be in Sterling Bronson’s head. I remember frequently asking myself in various situations, What would Sterling do? and shuddering at the thought.

Currently, I am working on two projects. One is The White Room, which I still intend to have finished sometime near the end of summer. I’ve made this manuscript a lot more fun by discovering the joys of third person narrative. In this book, I get to explore multiple points of view, and now that I’ve begun doing it this way,I wonder how on earth I ever wrote from just one character’s perspective. The White Room is full of all kinds of fascinating points of view. There are good guys, villains, victims, sexually deviant women, men with addiction issues, living people, some undead folks, and even a guy with obsessive compulsive personality disorder. I’m seeing the world through several different pairs of eyes and I’ve never had as much fun writing as I am with this one.

The other project I’m working on is much different in a lot of ways. I can’t elaborate on this one too much because it’s still kind of top-secret… but it’s getting written, and it’s going well. For this one,  I am also exploring a few different points of view, but this is a whole new experience because I’m writing from a ten-year-old boy’s point of view…as well as a very old woman’s. This project is teaching me new things, expanding me in fascinating ways, and forcing me to stick to the point as it’s not intended to be a full length novel.

Having learned to see one story through the eyes of multiple characters has shown me new layers to the stories, as well as cleared up numerous issues I’ve had with past manuscripts which never reached completion. To be honest, I don’t know if I will ever return to first person…unless, of course, it seriously benefits a story I’m writing.

Anyway, I’d love to hear from readers and other writers on this topic. I’d like to know what readers love–and hate–about characters. I’d also love to hear from other writers about their process in character development.

Thanks for reading!



There are many things that determine what we want to read–and what we don’t want to read. Sometimes, a book comes highly recommended by a good friend or a family member. Sometimes, we’ve read other books by the same author and feel that picking up a new one is a pretty safe bet. Sometimes, we just like the looks of a book.

They say to never judge a book by its cover… but that’s exactly what I do. It’s a series of steps for me, really. First, when I see a cover that catches my eye, I pick it up. The next thing I do is read the back of the book. If the synopsis on the back hooks me, I open it to the first page of the first chapter–or prologue– and read. If I like that first paragraph, I buy the book.

What are your deciding factors when it comes to buying books? What makes you want to read a book?

I recently became acquainted with Gryffyn Phoenix through a mutual friend. As Gryffyn and I began to correspond, I knew this was someone I was going to be fast friends with. I’ve seen the work Gryffyn has done in various artistic fields, and I’m thoroughly impressed by her. It almost seems unfair that one person should possess so many talents! So… it’s my honor and privilege to be able to interview her here. Gryffyn is not only a great writer, but a fascinating and kind person. She is generous, open, and fun, and I look forward to getting to know her more and more. Her latest novel, Seat of God is the first of the Ethiopian Chronicles, and is available now. Visit Gryffyn at:


Q: What would you say is the highlight of your career as a writer?
A: So far? First time I read an email from a major New York publisher which said, “Here’s a contract, we’d like to put out your book.” But in all honesty … whenever anyone says they like your writing goes up on the list, I’m not exactly picky.
Q: When did you start writing?
A: Does birth qualify? I was eleven when a friend complained she was bored. I suggested she “watch one of the stories in her head.” She informed me there was no such thing. I didn’t realize before then not everyone has a movie constantly playing in their mind. This was when I figured out I should probably be a writer.
Q: What childhood events have contributed most to your writing, if any.
A: I don’t know many writers who didn’t have dysfunctional childhoods. Complex imaginations are built because they’re an easy escape. Let’s just say mine is Technicolor with multiple worlds.
Q: What inspired Seat of God?
A: It started as all my books do, a movie inside my head. The real man Father Josephus is based on influenced the story, but it was definitely first a dream. After I finished, a friend told me “I wrote a love song to Ethiopia.”
Q: Where do your characters come from?
A: Very rarely are they based on real people. All others are my imaginary friends, who occasionally decide to drive me insane unless I get their story on paper.
Q: What are some of your favorite books by other authors?
A: I read around five books a week. This is actually impossible for me to answer.
Q: In your opinion, what is the most important thing an author must do to be successful?
A: Understand this is a business. If you want to be an “artiste”and write mind-blowing, experimental fiction, go ahead. Just don’t quit your day job. If you remember it’s your job to entertain and you are willing to research and learn about the industry, you’ll succeed.
Q: Do you prefer writing for adults, or young adults?
A: Equal. I believe you write the story inside you that needs to be told.
Q: Is it difficult for you to switch between these two genres?
A: Not at all. Different energies and motivation.
Q: What is your favorite part of being a writer?
A: I now get paid to go into my mind and explore those stories. That’s awesome. Second favorite is my commute involves walking down the stairs and across the hall.
Q: What is the most difficult part of being a writer?
A: Editing yourself. Blech. It’s like cutting off your limbs with a rusty, dull knife. Strike that. Cutting off your limbs would be more fun.
Q: Of your own fictional characters, who is your favorite and why?
A: You spend so much time with these people; you really have to love them all. In Seat of God, I love Gabriel. If he was a guy I knew in real life, I’d want to marry him. I adore Jasmine’s fierce determination for her family. Raffe’s sense of humor and patriotism is awesome. And Destiny? Well, Destiny is omnipotent. Who wouldn’t want to know and spend time with the leader of a mid-East crime ring who dresses like a female Egyptian pharaoh?
Even with my bad guys. In my young adult book I have a character named Willow. Any scene with her makes me giggle; she’s just so unabashedly rotten, and proud of it.
Q: What do you most hope your novels will do for your readers?
A: No matter what you believe, with Seat of God the thing to remember is it’s all possible. It doesn’t matter if you are a devout Christian or atheist or anything in between. Everything I write about, even the thing is called “miracle,” is actually scientifically possible.
Q: What is your writing process like?
A: First you move the cat off the laptop, and then you move the other cat off the chair, and then you pet both of them into a coma, and the writing can begin. Then you stop to check email, facebook, pet the cat some more, and go back to the writing.
Q: Do you have a “writing area?” What does this space look like?
A: Depending on the project, I’ve written all over the house.
Q: What is the first sentence of your latest work?
A: From my young adult novel, HAVEN AWAKENING, due out this Spring:
Aria ran into the middle of the junkyard and, horrified, skidded to a stop. It was gone. The gateway had disappeared.
Q: What is the last sentence you wrote?
A: I saved this question for last so I could say … this one. If you mean in my novels, the answer comes from the fifth book in the HAVEN AWAKENING series, “Just because you have a dick, doesn’t mean you have to act like one.”
Q: What advice would you give to beginning writers?
A: Listen to your parents, take those computer/accounting classes and learn something that pays actual money. If you reject that, my best advice is don’t talk about it until you finish a complete manuscript. Nothing makes a writer’s head explode faster than hearing someone say, “Oh, you’re a writer? I want to be a writer. It seems so easy.” Finish putting seventy to one hundred thousand words on a page, put it aside for a month, and then read it. Now tell me it’s easy.

With just one month till the release of Beautiful Monster, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, mostly about how all of this came to be. It still feels like a dream to me, and I still expect to wake up any minute. And if it’s real, I’m waiting for something to somehow go wrong. I’ve been anticipating some kind of terrible news for some time now, but so far, things seem to be on track, and the novel is still set to be released on September 1st, one month from now.

There are a lot of things I anticipated when the day came that I finally got a book published… and there are some things I did not anticipate. First on this list of surprises is the speed at which this whole process has moved. I didn’t give much thought to the new age of e-books, and therefore, I figured once I found a publisher, it’d be a good few years before I’d be able to see and hold my own book. As it is now though, the book is set to  be released in both hardcopy and e-book versions in about three months after having been accepted.

I didn’t expect to get a publisher before I got an agent. While I queried just about every agent on (and a few off) the American Continent for The White Room, I did things differently for Beautiful Monster. Because of Monster’s violent and graphic nature, I never expected it to get picked up at all. My co-author and I queried 27 small to mid-sized publishing presses for Monster as opposed to the 157 literary agents I queried for The White Room. My feeling was that The White Room was simply more commercial, and therefore would have a much easier time selling. That hasn’t turned out to be the case at all.

I didn’t expect to be so worried about who might read this book. As I mentioned before, Beautiful Monster is laden with violence, sex, and drug use. And I didn’t skimp on any of the details… nor did I use gentle language to convey these acts. I suppose that because I never expected the novel to find a home, I was much more liberal with my own twisted-ness, but now that it’s going to be a real book, I’m a little bit mortified. Not ashamed… but I do cringe a little whenever someone in my family or someone I know (who isn’t a lover of horror stories) asks me about the book.

I didn’t expect so much support, and the person who surprised me the most was my mother. Not because she isn’t supportive, but because I know that if my own son had written this book, I’d probably be a bit concerned about what the neighbors might think. When the contract was signed, I called my mom (who had read – and actually somehow enjoyed the book) and had a little talk with her in hopes of preparing her for the possible negative side-effects of the situation. I told her that people whom we may not necessarily want to read this book might read it, and there’s nothing I or anyone else can do to stop them. I told her I would very likely be harshly criticized and that a lot of people, even people we love, may not exactly appreciate the wicked and vulgar nature of this story. After prattling off my list of possible unpleasant scenarios, she said, “So what? If they don’t like it, they don’t have to read it. I’m proud of you anyway.” That made my day.

I didn’t expect to make so many new and wonderful friends. Since this book has been picked up, I’ve made the acquaintances of so many other writers, many of whom were my heroes back in the days when I used to read for the sheer enjoyment of it while dreaming that I could one day do this thing. These other writers know exactly where I’m at, and they have all been absolutely wonderful about talking to me, giving me good advice, and letting me know what it was like for them.

Most of all, I didn’t expect that I’d so quickly feel that it was time for the next step. As beginning writers, we all live our lives in terms of, “one day, when I finally get published…” and I didn’t expect that when I finally did, I’d be worried about the next book just a week or two after. The sparkle fades fast, and soon you’re left with the feeling of “So… now what?” … So now, as best as I can guess, I just keep writing the next one. I knew I’d never be content having written only one book (or even just two or three for that matter), but I guess I thought I’d at least take some time off mentally to figuratively roll around nude in my newfound glory. But I never really did. I just started worrying about the next story.

One month to blast off… and here’s what I know: there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow… but as soon as you find it, you just see another rainbow to chase.


When I asked Mark Tiedmann to give me a writing interview for my blog, his response was, “Sounds fun.” I think this is a good indicator of the kind of fellow he is. I had a lot of fun with this interview too, mainly because it’s my first interview with a Science Fiction author, and also because Mark’s answers were in equal parts thorough and thought-provoking.

I have always had a firm respect for Science Fiction due to the complex nature of it. I’ve often wondered what kind of mind could possibly come up with such intricately formulated worlds… and I’ve always known that such a mind couldn’t possibly be anything like my own! I still believe that, so I’m especially happy to be able to spend a little time in the mind of an awesome Sci-Fi writer like Mark.

Mark Tiedemann is the author of many Science Fiction and Detective Fiction novels. He is a past president of the Missouri Center for the Book, the Missouri state adjunct program to the Library of Congress Center for the Book. For more on Mark, check him out at:

Q: In researching the backgrounds of authors, I’ve found an interesting common thread among them: many of them began, oddly, in photography. This is true of you as well as myself and many others I’ve met, so before I get into the writing questions, I have to know: what is your take on this unusual commonality? What do you think the connection is (if you think there is one), and what do photography and storytelling have in common for you personally?

A: Until I began knowing other writers as friends and acquaintances, I didn’t realize the coincidence. Now I see it as part of the urge to chronicle. Chronicle what, you may ask, but I don’t think it matters. Chronicle life, the world, the particular way you see things. In my own case, I’ve always been involved in the visual arts, all the way back to before I entered school.  I drew, I painted. I love movies. Photography was a natural progression for me. I got into out of a love of the work I found from photographers like Ansel Adams, Edward Weston—but also Bert Stern, Elliot Erwitt, Dorothea Lange, Henri Cartier Bresson. The encapsulation not only of story but of place seemed undoable in any other medium. 

But I always told stories, too, and for several years I wrote and drew my own comics.  They went together, again quite naturally, and of course movies have it all (I’m a bit of an amateur musician as well).  I think it’s all communication and we go through stages of discovering which form will dominate.  But they never go away.  I still draw. 

Photography has been very useful to me in how it teaches you to frame things and allows for a thorough study of detail.  I try to write a very visual prose.

Q: I’ve also often found that most writers seem to have very supportive spouses. What role has your wife played in your writing career?

A: I simply wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without her.  She encouraged me to try to do it professionally before I’d made that decision.  I wonder now if I ever would have. I was certainly writing before I met her, but it was all in boxes, never submitted.  She crystallized the entire effort for me.

But the role she has played in my career has been to continually support my decision to do it and to work with our situation in order to see the end result.  When I applied to the Clarion SF Workshop in 1988, it did not occur to me that I’d get in.  When they accepted me, it was a shock, and I wondered aloud “Now what?” Her immediate response was “You’re going.”  If I had had to quit my job to attend, she would have backed me up.

She’s my first reader/editor, therapist, sounding board, and takes care of us when I’m deep into a project.  So when I say I doubt I’d be doing this without her, I mean that in a very concrete way.  I wouldn’t have the time or the foundation on which to base any kind of career.  It would be a hobby at best, but “hobby” doesn’t begin to describe the obsession that a career in writing becomes.

Q: In 2005, you were named president of the Missouri Center for the Book. What is that exactly, and what are/were your roles and responsibilities in it?

A: The Missouri Center for the Book is the state affiliate of the Library of Congress Center for the Book.  Its purpose is to promote and support Missouri’s literary heritage and the state community of the book in any way they can.  MCB put out various publications, held conferences, and now manages the state Poet Laureate program, in which the third poet laureate has just been named.  It is a nonprofit hosted by the state library and therefore attached to the Secretary of State’s office.  MCB receives some staff support from the state library, but no direct funding from the state of any kind.  I suggest you check out their website for more information:

I was made a board member in 2002, took charge of the programming committee, and in 2005 they elected me president, a position I then held, with one year off, till my retirement from the board in 2011.  As president, I was there for the creation of the state poet laureate under Governor Blunt.  I oversaw the reorganization and reinvigoration of the board, tried out new programs, represented us along with the board coordinator and others at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. and generally steered the MCB through the various channels of difficulties any nonprofit with an arts mandate experiences.

Q: You’ve written novels set in set in Isaac Asimov’s Robot universe. What inspired you to do that and what has it been like?

A: What inspired me was I landed the contract to do it.  An opportunity presented itself, my agent at the time found out about it, and I got the chance.  Of all the possible franchises I might have done, though, this one gave me no pause.  I loved Asimov’s robot stories and I thought I could do them justice.

They were not exactly based on I, Robot, though.  Asimov had constructed a universe called Robot City back in the 1980s which he set up with the express purpose of letting other writers play with his concepts.  It gave a number of relatively unknown authors a chance at more exposure.  When I came along, there’d been numerous spinoffs. Mine were based on the last open contract signed by Asimov with Byron Preiss before Asimov’s death.

There were a number of constraints on what I could do, specific requirements which resulted in some peculiar criticisms.  Some critics thought writing the novels had been my idea entirely and wondered why I chose to do things the way I did, without considering that I was constrained by the work that had gone before and the requirements of the franchise. 

However, because it was looser in other ways, I was able to write more “into” Asimov’s work and I took the opportunity to address a couple of things Asimov himself never really had a chance to talk about, like nanotech and what became of his Spacers.  I had a great time doing the books.

One thing, though, that I had hoped would happen did not.  I thought they would, in fact, give me more exposure for my own work.  This flat out didn’t happen.  It seems the audiences have so balkanized that people interested in the Robot books had apparently no real interest in the individual authors and I experience zero cross-over to my own books.  Apparently, the people who bought my original works wanted nothing to do with a “franchise” universe.  The cross-pollenization that occurred in the 80s failed to occur for me, so as far as I can tell I wrote for two completely separate, unmingled audiences.

Q: How does it differ from your own original universe, the Secantis Sequence?

A: Well, mainly in my own universe, I didn’t have to follow anything other than my own instincts, interests, and impulses, or adapt someone else’s characters to my own plots. For another, I wasn’t on deadline writing my own novels, while once the decision was taken to do the Robot Mysteries as a trilogy I had to deliver one a year, more or less.

Q: How did you go about developing the Secantis Sequence?

A: That is a long story, but I’ll try to encapsulate it as succinctly as possible.

First off, I always wanted to write something with scope.  It’s one of the reasons I love space opera, with vast interstellar settings.  The sheer size and potential complexity of such a setting has always appealed to me.  I began setting up a background universe in which to write stories some time in the late 70s, early 80s.  Of course, except for the star map I laboriously constructed, virtually none of that original bible survived.

Secondly, I started teasing at a question that, to that point, never seemed to get raised in that kind of science fiction—or, for that matter, in most SF of any kind—which is: how do they pay for all this stuff?  It seemed to me that the economics of the future has been left largely untouched.  We watch Star Trek in any of its incarnations and with one or two exceptions, money is never an issue, not in the sense of how things are funded.  The major economic scheme in Star Trek is what we lately term Post-Scarcity, which is the concept that once we collectively reach a certain level of technology, the scarceness of resource ceases to be a problem.  For instance, if we’re mining asteroids for minerals, shepherding comets into close orbit for the water they contain, and constructing orbital platforms for collecting solar power to beam to the surface, then costs become secondary as a function of availability.  If well-managed, costs frankly disappear in the sense of contemporary distribution and relative value models.

I know, enough of that can be truly mind-numbing, which is what I discovered upon embarking on research into economics to build a basis for my own universe.  But it goes directly to the heart of the problem, which is—how are we going to pay for an interstellar future?  And furthermore, what benefit is that future from the perspective of having to go there?

Fast forward through the economics and we come to the problem of what kinds of stories to write.  And what immediately fell out of all this was: where are all the underclasses in this bright future?  William Gibson wrote a fiendishly subversive short story called The Gernsback Continuum in which he depicted the future as predicted by 1920s and 30s pulp SF and it was frighteningly sanitized upper middle class and very white.  I realized that with a few notable exceptions, poor people or oppressed people rarely appear in SF, at least not as part of the normal background.  They’re invisible or it is assumed that in our bright future there won’t be any. 

But there are always people who don’t fit in, who don’t go with the program, who can’t assimilate, or just plain fall through the cracks.  Where are they?  It seemed automatic from that point on that at least the first novel—Compass Reach—was going to be told from the standpoint of a disenfranchised habitué of that star-spanning civilization.  So the Freeriders were born and the whole scavenger existence and the characters of Fargo and Lis.

The rest came together in the process of writing the novel—the solutions to social constructions, technical aspects, cultural questions.

The next question was: given the barrier in communication that will definitely exist when we meet the aliens, how do we go about overcoming that and what will be the consequences, especially if the way we solve the problem does not meet with their approval?  The first meeting is mentioned in Compass Reach and the disaster it was implied.  Later I wrote a short story, called Texture of Other Ways, describing that meeting.  That story has been reprinted this past year in Marty Halprin’s anthology Alien Contact.

Once the framework was constructed, I started fleshing out the history through new stories.  To date there are three published novels and about a dozen short stories set in the Secant.

Q: So many books, including several of your own, are set in St. Louis. What do you think makes St. Louis an interesting place to read about?

A: I didn’t set out to write about St. Louis, but I began using it mainly because I’ve lived here my whole life and I’m familiar with it.  Later I realized that there are aspects of the city that simply make for good fiction, even good science fiction.  Samuel R. Delany once commented that all his stories are New York stories after a fashion and I can now understand that.  There’s a gestalt to  a place that requires and offers a deep familiarity that facilitates good fiction.

But from my standpoint, especially since I’ve begun writing about historical St. Louis, it turns out that this is the ideal petri dish for colliding cultures.  St. Louis is a layered city in terms of the wave upon wave of inhabitant that came, collided with the already-established residents, and then made something new out of the mix.  It’s happened here again and again.  French and Indian, French and Spanish, French-Indian-Spanish and American, American and German, and so forth.  It was a hotbed of sectionalism during the Civil War, a mighty hub city that got bypassed and had to become something new.  The transformations St. Louis has undergone are striking and yet it retains a singular identity.

Q: What originally got you interested in Science Fiction?

A: Wanting to leave.  I wanted to hop a starship and book.  Being unable to do that, stories about other worlds became the natural substitute.   That and the visuals.  I must have seen Forbidden Planet when it came out, even though I don’t remember—I was two.  But I had dreams of scenes from that movie for years before I finally saw it again on tv.  Science fiction was just the coolest thing I found.

That and the idea that brains counted for more than brawn.  I was a small, not very brave, and uncoordinated child.  I was never good at sports (in fact, never cared about sports enough to know anything about any of it, and in this town, growing up not caring about baseball was a good way to get the wrong kind of reputation) and so didn’t get included very much.  So I read a great deal.  SF valued intelligence and knowledge in the same way other genres valued a fast draw or speed or the ability to punch or shoot.

Q: Is there anything about any of your books you wish you could change?

A: I would like to write better first drafts.  I would also like my books to sell better.  Realistically, I would simply like to write better.  I’m working on that.

Q: What were some of your greatest frustrations as you began in the business of writing books?

A: Form rejection slips.  You can’t learn anything from a printed form.  I realize editors don’t have time to write personal notes to every wanna-be that sends something across their transom, but this was frustrating.  Feedback—good feedback—is one of the most valuable and hardest to get things in the business.

I am one of the least patient people in the world, so imagine the difficulty of sending out stories and waiting two, three, sometimes four months before hearing anything.  Longer with novels.

I once signed with an agency that decided I would be fit training for new agents and went through four of them before the agency finally decided that I wasn’t marketable.

I suppose the strangest period of frustration for me was for years being rejected because, and I quote, “We don’t know how to market you.”  I was sending them Secantis novels, which I considered space opera, and I thought, “What do you mean you don’t know how market me?  Put a spaceship and an alien on the cover and send it out!”  But then I was told, a couple of times, that whatever it was I thought I was writing, it was not “space opera.”  This flummoxed me.  I’ve gotten past all that now but from time to time I still hear that I don’t know what to make of it.  I was told once that I was writing novels of character, as if that explained anything—what, you can’t write character-driven space opera?—but apparently there were certain technical markers that I was ignoring and so forth.  It was odd.  Suffice it to say none of my readers have had a bit of trouble with this issue, so…

I suppose the biggest frustration—and this is true for all of us at some point—is how long everything takes to happen.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

A: Run away.  No, just kidding.  The standard advice, while boring and clichéd, is true.

Read a lot.  Not just in the genre you want to write in, but everything.  You can’t learn to write well reading just one thing, not even the one thing you want to write, because good writing draws from everywhere.  But read.  (I have encountered of late young writers who declare quite openly that they don’t read, and some of them get resentful when you tell them they have to, that this is the basic school work of becoming a writer.  In my opinion, they don’t want to be writers, they want to be authors, to “have written”, but without having to do the hard work or learn their craft or even care much about what they’re doing.  A few such might get lucky and publish something, but they are likely never to have careers and possibly will go to their graves wondering why the world has ignored them.)  So, read!

Then you have to write.  Every. Damn. Day.  It’s a muscle, it’s like weightlifting or running, you have to train yourself to do it by doing it.  Yes, you can take a course, yes, there are workshops, yes, writers groups, but before all of that develop the discipline to sit down and write every day.  Something.  Without that, all the rest is a waste of your time.

The key to having a career, assuming you have any talent and you develop the discipline I mentioned above, is persistence.  The people who fail are the ones who gave up.  Rejections are no excuse.  Someone rejects your story, send it to someone else.  Write another story.  Send it out again and again.

It helps to find someone who knows something about the craft who will give you honest feedback.  Not your friends who love you and want to be kind, but someone who will look at your work and tell you it’s crap and then offer a suggestion as to why it’s crap.  We all write crap when we begin, it’s part of the process.  You make a zillion mistakes before you get that first worthwhile story.  Some people make a dozen mistakes and sell, others struggle for years before they get it down.  If you have an honest reader it is priceless.

Avoid writing groups that do not require you to submit your stories to markets.  They are not likely serious groups but mutual admiration societies.  A serious group insists not only that your finish what you write, but send it out when it’s ready.  It is very easy to lose yourself in a group that pats you on the back and commiserates rather than demands you move to the next level.

Most importantly, if you are serious about writing as a career—-and primarily I mean fiction, art—you must understand that you and your writing are functionally equivalent to a relationship.  With a person.  So when your significant other enters the scene, there aren’t two people, but three, and if you don’t realize that and deal with it that way, you’re headed for hurt feelings and misery.  The reason serious artists seem to go through mates so fast is, I think, for this reason.  Your art is your first spouse and the flesh-and-blood one has to know this and understand, otherwise jealousy and resentment result.  Understand this yourself and you may find that you aren’t as confused by the reactions of other people when you get surly over not having enough time to write.  If you have a companion that understands that and is okay with it, cherish that person.

Those are the only pieces of advice that are universal.  Otherwise, everyone is unique in what they write and how they feel about it.  Seek out the tools that work for you.

After ten years of dreaming about it, seven years of preparing for it, and almost three years of ruthlessly pursuing it- I’ve finally done it. It took me exactly 190 rejection letters between two completed novels, but I have at last been offered a contract. It wasn’t for my first novel, The White Room, which was ultimately rejected by the two publishers who were recently interested in it. Instead, the offer was for Beautiful Monster, the horror story which I collaborated on with Kim Williams-Justesen~ a fact that, given the gruesome nature of the novel, surprises me. But that’s beside the point.

What happened: On the eleventh of May (my birthday!) we submitted the story to a press I’d come across through a strange chain of events two weeks before. A day after the initial submission of the first three chapters and the last chapter of the book, we received an e-mail asking for the entire manuscript. We’ve been down this road before, I thought, bracing myself for the agonizing coming months I’d spend waiting for the eventual, “thanks, but no thanks.” But… that isn’t at all how it played out. Instead, just a couple of days later, we received an e-mail congratulating us. Our novel was accepted for publication. I didn’t get the e-mail. I got the news in a phone message from Kim.

What it was like: It was unreal. I guess if I had to compare it to something, it was a little bit like being on an airplane when it climbs or drops several hundred feet in a matter of seconds. Your vision swells, your stomach lurches, your heart does a somersault, and your head feels like it’s imploding. I don’t think I took a breath for several minutes after I heard the news. I sat down, suddenly unsure if standing was such a good idea. In her message, Kim said she’d forwarded me the e-mail. I got on the computer, logged into my account, and there it was. I blinked at it. I read it three times. I logged out of my e-mail and back in again to check it a fourth time. It was still there. I picked up my phone, went to my voicemail, and listened to the message one more time. Nothing had changed. We’d just been made an offer.

That was when the bliss hit me. Bliss may be a strong word, but I think it’s deserving of its placement in this context. My body tingled and my mind raced. I wanted to jump out of my skin, but in a good way. I wanted to leap from my chair and run into the streets, thrusting my glee upon anyone within a five-mile radius. I could not sit still. I had nowhere to go, so I grabbed my phone again and began texting the news. I later learned that in my excitement, I’d made several errors in my efforts, sending the message, “We just got offered a contract on Beautiful Monster!” to my dentist in Utah, the landline of my poodles’ vet hospital, and, I’m pretty sure, to a woman I’ve never met named Joyce whose number is in my phone because six months ago, she was handling my property out-of-state. But I didn’t care. I was spreading the joy.

You’d think that after all the months and years of working for this very moment, waiting for it to be realized, the bliss would last longer. It doesn’t. I think I squeezed about ten wonderful minutes out of the whole deal before the doubt started in. The doubt is mean and ugly and wants nothing more than to crash your party. No sooner had I hit the send button on the fifth or sixth text to anyone within send-button range when the doubt began creeping in. It told me it wasn’t real. It told me I was being scammed. And worse, it told me that now I was going to have to go back and explain to everyone I’d texted that it was a false alarm. The sting of that blow was very real to me then, and I briefly considered sending out a mass Just Kidding! Gotcha! text to all my contacts.

Suddenly, I doubted everything from the reality of the e-mail to the legitimacy of the publisher. I’d researched the press before submitting of course, but now I was obsessed by the idea that I’d somehow missed something vitally negative about them. I got on the computer. I spent the next several hours combing through their website, researching their authors, and looking for holes in their plans to rip me off. I googled their reviews. I visited Editors and Predators. I read everything I could. I found nothing that supported my suspicion that this was some kind of scam.

We got another e-mail from the publisher saying we’d be receiving a contract in the next few days. We also got our author guidelines and editorial formatting forms, which I believe is for e-book formatting. By now, I’d talked to a friend of mine, an author who has been in the business for about twenty years. She had a little experience with the press and knew someone who had substantial experience with them. The conversations that ensued calmed my mind enough that I made peace with the fact that until I saw the contract, there was no reason for me to neither celebrate nor mourn.

In the days while I wait for the contract, I am surprisingly peaceful. If this is a good gig, then great! And if not… I am out nothing. It is during these days of waiting that I believe I have probably grown the most as a writer than I ever have before. I’m realizing during this time that even when the dream comes true, there’s still the reality to be reckoned with; as soon as a wonderful thing happens, there begins the threat of the next potential great disappointment. A lot can happen between the signing of a document (assuming we sign it) and when the actual book is produced, and somehow, I’m okay with that.

All of a sudden, I’m not fighting anymore and this is new territory for me. I think I’ve finally given up. I don’t mean to say I’m quitting. I mean, I think I gave up the control that I never had in the first place. For the first time in years, I don’t care whether or not I get published. I’m turning my attention back to my writing, back to my life, back to the things I love. And for the first time, I’m realizing how hell-bent I’ve been on this thing… for the first time, I understand that even when it does finally happen, it doesn’t actually fix anything. Until now, I didn’t even know I’d been trying to fix anything.

I’m standing here~ facing, for the very first time, the reality of a dream I’ve been entertaining for ages… and I don’t care about it anymore. I realize that I love my writing and that’s all that matters. Above all, I realize with painful clarity all of the unnecessary pressure I’ve put on myself~ the tremendous weight of my self-imposed demands… and the unreachable heights I’ve set for myself.

I haven’t talked to many people during the past few days. I’ve been quiet and withdrawn, but I am at peace. There’s nothing to say. There’s nothing to do. I am tired, as if all the time I’ve spent working for this has finally caught up with me and is taking victory over me. I’ve been sleeping a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever been as exhausted as I have these past few days. I feel raw and weak, but I am finally at peace with the world around me, and at peace with the knowledge that whatever will be will be, and it’s no longer up to me to try to force it.

I’m optimistic about the contract. I don’t know yet whether or not we will sign it, but I feel good about it so far. Whichever way this goes, this experience has been nothing like I thought it would be. It is… real, and somehow I guess I never thought it could be. One thing is certain though. This is not the final destination I somehow thought it was. This is just the beginning. I’m as curious as anyone to see how this plays out.

I’ve always believed that the most important thing a writer can do is read. By reading, we not only see what’s out there that works, and what’s out there that doesn’t, but also, reading has a way of jostling the imagination, and sparking new ideas in even the most unexpected places. Unfortunately, once you’ve learned the technicalities of writing, it’s hard to forget them while you’re trying to read for pleasure. On every page it seems, there lurks some glaring type of technical issue such as misplaced modifiers, too much exposition, fragmented sentences, and overused adverbs. Another common problem (apparently) is the over use of commas, but I don’t seem to notice those (this is probably due to the fact that of all the rules of writing in existence, comma use is the one that I struggle with the most.)

I’ve always been an avid reader, and after I began to learn the rules of writing, I found myself unable to read without  being critical. There are times this education comes in handy, such as when I’m reading actively, setting out on purpose to read something critically. But when it comes to reading for joy, it’s a real buzz kill.

My first approach to regaining the former pleasure I’d always been able to find in reading was to practice turning that part of my mind off. It didn’t work. I’m ashamed to admit that because of this, I probably only read half a dozen novels in 2011. I believe that if I want to get any better at my work, I need to read, so I’ve decided that I need to change my approach.

A few months ago, me and my friend Tom began our own little “book club” where we take turns choosing novels that we want to read. We’ve done several books now, and with the exception of one, I’ve managed to not only get through, but genuinely enjoy, all of them. I will continue doing this because I don’t ever want to become stagnant in my own writing, or closed-minded to the writing of others. With each book I read, I’m coming to understand more and more clearly that what was formerly stumping me is really just a simple concoction of pros and cons. Although I may find a lot of things wrong with a story, I am also finding a lot of things right. For every line I scoff at, I find another one with mind-blowing beauty.

Reading these days takes a little more patience, but I have yet to throw a book down, call it “bad,” and tell everyone how much it sucks despite the fact that I didn’t finish it. I’d be doing myself no favors by closing my mind this way – not to mention this kind of literary snobbery doesn’t look good on anyone. However, I also believe I should be a little more selective about what I read, because as important as reading may be, it’s still second to writing, and if I am doing enough of that, I probably shouldn’t invest a whole lot of time into something I probably won’t learn anything from.

I can not un-learn the things I’ve learned over the past few years, and I’m glad for that, but most of all, I’m glad that I’m coming to understand that when it comes to reading, nothing has changed except how I choose to approach it. These days, I need to approach reading with an open mind as well as a willingness to accept that not everyone follows all the rules all the time, not even me… and that is okay.

It’s been thirteen months since me and my mentor/friend/writing partner Kim Williams-Justesen began writing our collaborative horror novel. Although technically finished several months ago, we are now in the process of revising the final draft. Currently, we’ve been spending anywhere between two and four hours on each chapter and have worked most days of the week. In a novel that contains a total of twenty-four chapters, that’s a lot of hours. (But as I write this, we only have two more chapters to go!)

Although the final round is probably the most arduous part of this process for me, it’s also the most rewarding.  Since writing the words The End, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this novel front to back, but I’m guessing this must be the fifth or sixth time. Needless to say, I would have expected to be sick and tired of this novel by now. I would have expected that whatever passion I’d begun the novel with would have flickered out and died months ago. Strangely though, that isn’t the case. In fact, as we have labored to tighten and refine the novel, my passion has been not only been reignited, but it has climbed to greater heights than ever. I think it’s because this is where writers get to see their work come together, and can view the novel as a whole rather than in fractions. Also, the final round is your last shot to prevent embarrassing yourself before you place the manuscript in the hands of your trusted Beta Readers~ and these are the reasons why I believe this the most important part of the process.

The final round of revisions is the time to address all of the things that bothered you in the previous readings. This is where you must tackle those irritating little, (and sometimes big) weaknesses you’ve been putting off. This is where you add lines, subtract passages, sprinkle detail, rearrange dialogue, fill  in the plot-holes, fine-tune your characters, slaughter your “sacred cows”, and scrutinize all the text in search of grammatical errors and technical blunders. Kim and I currently live several states away from each other, so for us this requires a lot of sitting in front of the computer Skyping and IMing. Currently, my computer sits on a black ottoman in the middle of my living room where I sit on the floor to work. This has given me leg cramps, back aches, and neck and shoulder pain… not to mention a likely addiction to dramamine, given a ridiculously elevated proneness to motion sickness which I seem to have been born with. But that’s okay. This is where the real magic happens.

I went into the final round of revisions with a very clear, singular goal: to heighten the emotional impact. I decided that if something in the story was supposed to have a creepy effect, I wanted my skin to crawl. If a certain scene was supposed to make me feel sad, I wanted to be on the brink of tears. And if something was meant to be sickening, I wanted to feel the bile rise in my stomach. I decided I wanted to know what each character looks like, how each room smells, and mostly, I wanted to feel what every character was feeling.

As we have yet to be finished with these final edits, I can’t be sure how well we’ve done our jobs, but given my own emotional responses as we’ve fine-tuned the story these past weeks, I’m pretty confident we’re damned close to having what we want. In fact, just earlier today, due to my own mounting nausea, I had to take a breather from a particularly graphic scene and ask Kim to please not expound anymore on the topic. I don’t squirm easily, so to me, that’s a good sign.

As an added plus, the final round can reveal some wonderful new concepts. Today, I think Kim and I stumbled upon our perfect working title. As we were rewriting a scene, Kim wrote this beautiful passage that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, and both of us paused a moment, thinking the exact same thing. The project that began as An Evil Heart and soon became Gallery of Dolls, is now about to take a new name entirely: Beautiful Monster. Not that a books title won’t possibly change (or be changed) down the road, but I think it’s important to have a strong title. I liked Gallery of Dolls, but it always sounded too much like The Valley of the Dolls (a novel written by Jacqueline Susann in 1966) for my taste. Besides, I think the phrase “Beautiful Monster” in and of itself, is as contrasted as the personalities of our two main characters and therefore a pretty solid title for this book. Plus, to me, Beautiful Monster just kind of pops.

So that’s where I’m at right now. I haven’t been doing much blogging lately due to the demands of Beautiful Monster (I really do dig that title!), so I just wanted to take some time today to keep the connection in tact. Blogging is a bad habit to break!  In the meantime, my third novel is underway (with a much bigger set of balls now), and due to some weaknesses I’m just realizing, I plan to take my first novel, The White Room off the table for a few months to revisit it and give it some upgrades. I predict that in the next five to seven days, Beautiful Monster will be fit to be looked over by some Beta’s and from there, it’s just a matter of fixing any errors they might find, and then sending it out the door to find a home. By this time next year, my goal is to have three (maybe even four!) full-length works circulating throughout the world of agents and publishers… and to be well into the next big literary adventure.

When I finished my first novel, I couldn’t wait to take a long-awaited and well deserved break. My intention was to take a week or two off and then begin the second one. Because the second book was co-written with a good friend who is disciplined and knows how the writing process works, I didn’t have the luxury of letting too much time slip by before getting back up on the horse. After the second one was finished however, it was a different story. My third book, which was supposed to have begun in May, didn’t get started until late August. Now it is mid-October and I am all of seven (and a half) pages into it.

I could blame this inactivity on a dozen various external sources: I moved, started a new job, I was busy revising the previous book… the list could go on. But the truth is, I’ve let the priority of writing slip into second (or third) place. The reason for this is simple: I am sick of writing! But, I am also sick of combing my hair, eating, going to bed on time, getting up for work, brushing my teeth, and shaving that godforsaken unibrow of mine that just refuses to admit defeat. But I do these things anyway. I do them, regardless of my mood, because when I don’t, I’m not happy, and the same could be said about writing. When I am not writing, I am not happy. So, with this newfound reality check, I decide to put myself in the chair, and just write… whether I feel like it or not. And… an amazing thing happens. Nothing.

The trouble with taking too much time off is that the creative muscle, just like any other muscle in the body, will atrophy with disuse, and be strengthened the more it is exercised. After four months of literary lethargy, I’m having a hard time finding anything to say. The bad news is, this is a form of writer’s block. The good news is, there are a million different ways to combat it. Listed below are the exercises I’ve successfully used in the past to strengthen my writing muscles, and as soon as I am finished writing this blog, I will begin to incorporate some of them, and get my own writing back on track. Also, I hope these suggestions help you build your writing muscles! Grrrr….

1. Read something. One of the most effective things I’ve done when I am faced with the perpetual blank page is read. It doesn’t seem to matter what I read, but a good thirty to ninety minutes of reading something usually gets my mind working in a more creative way.

2. Get some exercise. I don’t know how or why this helps writing, or if it applies to other people at all, but for me, getting some good, strenuous exercise seems to release those mysterious “endorphins” everyone’s always talking about, and gives me the extra push I need.

3. Write something else. Sometimes, I just need to write something totally unrelated to the story I am working on. This is where having a blog comes in handy. I might also write someone a letter, or a long e-mail, or write some new poetry.

4. Reread the story. This one is a tricky one and it wouldn’t be at the top of my list of things to do, but a lot of times, rereading the story I  am working on inspires me to go on with it. There have been times though, that this exercise has resulted in the opposite effect.

5. Pry, spy, and lie. As a natural-born busybody, this one is probably my favorite. I take a pen and paper and go somewhere and find someone (or several people) who strike my interest for some reason or another. I give them new names, new jobs, a brand new past, and if I am cranky, a life-threatening illness. I cast them into a make-believe present situation, usually something very critical and/or scandalous, and ponder the different ways they might handle it.

6. Try something new. As simple as it sounds, there’s something to be said for doing something you’ve never done before, tasting something you’ve never tasted, going somewhere you’ve never been, or talking to someone you’ve never met.

7. Get involved in your local writing community. Wherever you might live, chances are good that you share your space with a few or a few hundred like-minded folks who are part of a local writing community. Getting involved means meeting other people who have fresh ideas. It means submerging yourself in the world of writing and bringing it to the forefront of your mind. It means learning new skills, meeting with new opportunities, and finding new inspiration.

8. Join, or start, a critique group. When you’re part of a critique group, it’s hard to not write. You have a sense of expectation from yourself, and the other members are depending on you to keep the group going.

9. Assign the time. By assigning yourself a certain time of day to write for a specific duration, you are training yourself to respond accordingly. If you know you have to sit down and write Monday though Friday from 6:30 pm to 7:00 pm, it’s just a matter of time before your mind starts to accept its duties. If you don’t know what to write for that half hour, start out by writing about not knowing what to write.

10. Interview the characters. Another one of my favorites, interviewing my characters almost always leads to some kind of revelation about the character or the story he or she is in, and makes me eager to write it all out. To interview the characters, I sit down at the computer and write out a kind of questions and answers game. This exercise is both fun and effective.

These are just a few stars in the endless galaxy of different ways to strengthen your own writing. Whether you’re blocked or just trying to get a little better at your craft, there is no end to the ways you can invigorate and improve your creative writing.

There are many books written on this subject that I would highly recommend to anyone. Among my favorites are: The Writer’s Block by Jason Rekulak, The Pocket Muse – Ideas & Inspirations for Writing by Monica Wood, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias, and Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich.

However you choose to boost and strengthen your own writing, it’s my opinion that it should be fun, and finding all the different methods that will work for you is a big part of that fun. Remember that in writing, what works for one person may not work for the other, and keep in mind that writing exercises can fast become the perfect excuse to get no actual writing done, but if you are sincerely dedicated to writing, there are hundreds upon hundreds of ways to go from this:

To this!

Happy writing!

You’d think that after spending the countless hours, days, weeks and months required to write a novel, you’d get to relax. You did your research, developed your story, and invested almost all of your free time into writing it. Now 80 to 120 thousand words later, it would be nice to be able to call it finished. Unfortunately, the hard part is just beginning. Now it’s time to reread, revise and rehash.

Although this is not my favorite part of the writing process, it certainly isn’t the worst. Revisions are a good opportunity to strengthen story, add necessary detail, and perhaps most important of all, cut the fat.

I’ve learned that there are a few key things to look for in the editing process. One of them is character consistency. Are the characters solid? Do they remain true to their base nature throughout the story, and if the character goes through personal changes, are they believable? In Gallery of Dolls (the project formerly known as ‘An Evil Heart’), this wasn’t too big of a problem. My main character was very clear to me from the beginning and I was happy to see that he remained pretty true to himself throughout. There were a few lines of dialogue though, that when reread, didn’t sound like him. These, luckily, are easy fixes.

Plot consistency and holes in the plot are another, and probably the worst, potential good-story-destroyers that are commonly found in the revision process. Rereading Gallery of Dolls, Kim (my co-author) and I discovered some interesting issues. Hearing the story front to back, we think we may have to move the meeting of our two characters up a couple of chapters. This means some very serious rewriting and I am hoping that once we have a few outsiders read the story, it won’t be as big of an issue as I am afraid of. Beyond that, we found minor inconsistencies. I will need to go in and add a couple new scenes to smooth some transition but that’s about the worst of it.

Another thing to look for in revisions are wasted words. I tend to reiterate. And reiterate. This is a very bad habit that needs to stop. But that’s what revisions are for. It never ceases to amaze me how much stronger a sentence can become by taking away from it rather than adding to it. Adverbs are a fine example of this… but I’ll get into that later.

Also, a lot of what you find in revisions are total surprises. When we reread Gallery of Dolls, we found an unusual likeness in the names of our characters: almost all of them started with a C. We had Courtney, Cassidy, Claire, Connie, Claudia, Cassandra, and Carlisle the cop. We don’t know how or why this happened, but there it is. Again, this is an easy fix. We have since changed several of the names.

The last thing I like to do in revisions is assassinate the adverbs. Not all adverbs are bad, of course, but when it comes to these cute little verb modifiers, a little goes a long way. In my first drafts, I never worry too much about them. Personally, I love adverbs, but it really is true that there is usually (<—-see? adverbs!) a finer way of saying what you meant without them, so the last thing I do is an “ly” search in my document. I go through each adverb and see if there isn’t an opportunity for more powerful phrasing.

Like it or not, revisions are a necessary part of (good) writing. Many people are intimidated by the process. Others believe they are golden enough that their work requires no revision. Personally, I try to write clean first drafts in order to keep editing to a minimum, but the fact remains that in order to get the book written, you need to sit down and actually write it. In order for me to do this, I have to try my best to minimize or eliminate the need to edit as I go. If I am editing as I go… I am usually not going at all. It’s a slippery slope.

The worst part about revisions in my opinion, is that after reading your story over and over, it loses its shine and numbs you out until it’s impossible to even tell if the story is any good. I think this is a good time to put the story down for a while and pick it up when you can view it with semi-fresh eyes again. That’s where I’m at right now. I need to not look at it for a couple of weeks. Our goal is to have it presentable by October, so if I take one or two more weeks away from it, we should easily be able to attain it. Till then… I’ll be thinking of the next story…

Write (and revise) on! And remember….