Oh, right. I forgot you were here.

I’m a bad friend, blog. What can I say? I tease you with my company, then vanish for months on end. But I have an excuse this time! It’s Broadleaf related. AND WRITING RELATED! That’s good, right? And, well, it’s life related too, but that’s none of your business, so don’t ask. Just accept it. It wasn’t intentional, I swear. I just got … busy.

For instance, yesterday we launched the event site for the 2016 Broadleaf Writers Conference registration! It opens Monday, April 4th. It’s kind of absorbed most of my time lately, if you follow. So much work. But the committee folks are awesome people and they’re really making it happen. I mean, what, we talked about this more than two years go, right? And it’s happening. Really, really, happening.

Writing? Yeah, well, I’d obviously like to be doing that more often, but my time has been limited of late. Still shopping The Storyteller, hoping that someone sees the passion I’ve infused in a project that began seven years or so ago. I’ve worked a bit on the YA project that I wrote about here, but hit a wall. I walked away from it, to get some clarity, and found I wasn’t all that pleased with what I was doing. So I tinkered a bit on another project for a while just to clear my head. But I recently was granted an idea I’m very excited about. One that puts me back in Middle Grade fantasy, where I want to be. One that keeps me in a universe I love. One that I’m not yet ready to talk about. Jinx or something. I don’t know. Right now, I’ll just say it’s a series called The Kindred. About half the size of The Storyteller, an idea that hasn’t been done, to my knowledge. I’m always more comfortable there anywhere. There and satire. And someday I’ll get back to that. I have a killer idea that takes us a bit before Anointed, and allows me to reset that universe, should I ever want to do anything with the rights I have back to Anointed and Flutter.

And life. That.

So, see? It’s not you, it’s me. I’m sorry. I won’t make some blanket promise that I’ll be here more often. I won’t. It’ll be a lie. I’ll disappear again, then come back and update you. It’s who I am. My priorities are rather focused right now. I have shit to do. Good shit. Just trying to reinforce the point. Sorry for the language. I promise I haven’t hanging around any bad seeds.

So, that’s that. Gotta go, blog. Take care. Keep a watch on my brand, or whatever it is I’m doing here.

Because Writing About Writing is What Writers Do

Somehow, it’s reached a point these days where you aren’t really considered a writer unless you’re writing about writing. I can’t really say whether that’s good or bad. Perhaps because I don’t know, but more likely because I avoid reading most of them. One might deem this tutorial littering of the internet a consequence of self-publication, in that everyone who wants to see their book in print (or on a Kindle or whatnot), can then take to their respective blog (or blob, if you’re my mother, bless her heart) and detail all the ways in which you can achieve whatever level of success they deem they have attained.

Again, good or bad, I don’t know. This is just a truth we all have to accept. Maybe there’s useful information out there that can help you. Maybe there isn’t. No idea. I mean, I can’t tell you what the Onion is writing about today because I haven’t read it. I know it’s funny though. I can guarantee that. And it’s there. There is far better than not.  Just like writing a book. It will always be better to you if it is there than if it is not.

There you go. Hallelujah, praise Timmy Christ, and may the force be with you. My writing lesson of the day. If you don’t write a book, you don’t have a book you have written. Genius. I have now joined the ranks of pseudo-professional writers who have blogged about writing. I am nearly complete as a human being. I’m one drunken tour of Scotland’s Pub of the Day Club away from ascension.

So, what do you do? How do you decide whether the advice you’re getting is advice you should be taking? Look, the truth is–the thing you need to know before taking this whole writing thing to the next level–there’s no such thing as a simplification of writing that any one person can offer. As with life, the process of learning about writing is an extensive and exhaustive process. One blog, one book, cannot cover what you need to know. Yet here you are, all engrossed in my words, or perhaps just hiking your way across the internet one click at a time, so allow me to illustrate my point in as simplified a way as I can so you only have to read one blog about it. Then you’ll know everything you need to know about writing. Ready?

Writing is hard.

Boom. You’re welcome.

Ok, so maybe that was too concise. But the truth remains. Are there varying levels of talent in which writing becomes less hard? Absolutely. Tom Robbins forged a career out of his brilliance, tapping one mind after another with a skilled hand that is not so much stratospheric as it is alien. Yet, he wrote every manuscript by hand, working on each individual sentence until it was exactly what it needed it to be. He didn’t use word counts. He just let the work tell him when he was done. Which is not “as easy as that.” That’s fucking hard. That insane-level genius. Sure, it comes easier to him than it does to most everyone else, but his easy isn’t easy for him. It’s grueling.

Writing will kick you to hell and back, then wait for you to stand so it can kick you around some more. It’s a giant sponge sucking all your time and energy, then squeezing it down the drain while letting you know it’ll be right back k thanks. It’s something that requires you to spend more time in a world that doesn’t exist than the one you’re supposed to be living in. It offers you an array of friends you can’t live without then scoffs at your genie-in-a-bottle wish that they were real. It tempts you with hope, then insists you proceed with squashing all level of hope anywhere and everywhere for everyone you create, and, shamed though you are to admit it, love. It coaxes you with the allure of wealth, readership by the millions, adoration and praise, then leaves you with a waste basket of rejection and the realization that you have yet to leave the workforce, and probably won’t anytime soon. Writing is your mistress, and it won’t be satisfied with an occasional text. It wants all of you, but it doesn’t want you to stay over, and it sure as hell doesn’t want to be anything else. It wants you to succeed, it needs you to succeed, but it doesn’t stop badgering you just because you don’t.

And you know what? You love it. You revel in it. You slosh around in your misery like a pig in filth. You devour the entire helping of writing for the pure gluttony of it, then dive into the fridge with an appetite for more. Writing is that friend you can’t live without, and it both is and isn’t there with you at every waking moment. It is the single greatest love-hate, abusive relationship you will ever know, and it will inspire you to journey into the greatest, most wonderful, corners of your mind, where mystery and fantasy burn like wildfire, where romance and seduction beat like a heart, and where the entire universe is willing to bow to the supreme truth of 42.

This is what you want. This is why you believe you exist. This is why most of your earth-based friends and family have difficulty understanding you. This is why you creep people out in crowded spaces as you stare off into alternate realities, completely unaware of your surrounding, or of the uneasiness you leave those in your path. This … this insanely hard, difficult, maddening, bitch of an art, is why everything matters, and why every struggle is survived, every fear faced, every trace of indignity of self ignored.

If not, you can stop looking for advice on writing. You can stop worrying about improving. Just write. Do your blog thing, keep a journal, write whatever your kids or family seem to want to hear, but leave the advice on the shelf, leave the expectations be.

Because writing is hard.

And quitting it is impossible.

Charles in Charge and Writing Do Not Mix

Sometimes I’ll do anything I can to avoid writing. I’ll run from the computer like it’s a Charles in Charge reunion special. Reading, destroying brain cells on Facebook, over-managing my fantasy baseball teams, catching up on baseball news I already knew, Words With Friends, walks, shopping, driving, sitting on the patio like a grown man in time-out, harassing the cat … name it. It runs contrary to the idea writing is my passion, my life, I know, but I do it regardless. Not because I’m afraid to write. Rather, because I’m afraid to write badly.

On the surface it’s an absurd statement. It reeks of a failure in confidence. If you’re afraid to write, avoiding it for any reason, then perhaps writing isn’t for you, right? However, I don’t lack confidence in my writing. Though I’m no savant and have a great deal yet to learn, I’ve worked hard on my craft. Besides, Publisher’s Weekly thought well of me. Shouldn’t I? My issue, though, isn’t with my talent, or my ability to weave a compelling tale, or whether or not what I’m about to type will be pure crap. The ‘delete’ key takes care of that. If not, editing exists for a reason. What I’m afraid of is producing work that floats off into the ether like space debris: forgotten and forever to orbit in the dark vacuum of nothingness. Perhaps that means it was bad, perhaps it doesn’t. Sometimes you can feel so damned positive you’ve written something great–or at the least good–only to watch it wander into an uncaring world that as much notices it as avoids it altogether.

Maybe that doesn’t qualify it as bad, exactly, but as a writer it becomes difficult to separate good from bad when feedback is non-existent.  Sure, you get some words of encouragement from those who know you, or from other writers, or beta-readers, or even your Publisher/Editor/Agent. They like it. They praise you in widely generic ways. They might even specifically site an instance in your work they particularly liked. Which makes you smile. It makes you proud. It gives you that momentary feeling of heroic wonder. Then it becomes print, you talk about it through various social media portals, maybe you have some events, and you wait for the accolades and reader reviews. And wait. And wait. Ultimately, the silence invades your mind, leaving a gap in your defenses wide enough for an F5 tornado of doubt to plow a destructive path through your pristine landscape of ignorant bliss.

No matter how much you talk it up, nobody’s talking back. Your book sucks. It must. It has to. You re-read it. It doesn’t feel as sublime as the last time you looked it through. Are you no longer blind to the truth, or have you allowed silence and doubt to insert their impression in your head? What does that mean for your current manuscript? Should you suspend writing in order to review what you’ve written? Will this unedited piece of unfinished potential crap offer you insight as to why your recent work is failing? Or are you over-thinking it? Of course, you can go to your Publisher/Editor/Agent for advice, but they’ll tell you to cool your jets, this kind of thing happens all the time. But no, you think, this is happening to me. It wasn’t supposed to. My book was good.

Or was it?

It’s troubling to think all this can cross through the mind in a fraction of a second. Even more troubling, however, is the anticipation it can and might likely happen to your work-in-progress–before you’ve even finished it. You have constructed a fully viable, fully entrenched, vision of your manuscript’s future while it still doesn’t even know how it will end. The characters are gathering for an intervention and you’re in the corner wallowing about how nobody will ever care about anything you write. Ever. I suppose if I were a parent, I might better understand this, or how to cope with it. My cat doesn’t inspire worry. Her naps will always be quality naps.

So, I’ll stare at the computer screen, eyeing the open Internet tabs, finger ready to open Scrivener. I might read what I have to that point, if I haven’t wandered off already. Maybe pack the laptop and head out for coffee, read it there. Maybe take a drive to hunt for inspiration. It doesn’t happen all the time, and generally by the time I’ve begun typing, my fears have waned. My characters are at the forefront. I’m a God, moving pieces, orchestrating fates, divining obstacles. All is good. My work is good. My story is good. My book, so far, is good.

I’m a writer. I don’t write simply because I can. I write to entertain, to bring something to someone’s life they will enjoy and share. It’s narcissistic, cathartic, inspiring, and humbling. I like to imagine a God, creating a Universe, filling worlds with living creatures, molding paths, futures, destinies, holding arms to Heavens when the job is done, with a notable “Huh? Awesome, right?” expression. That God would be bummed if even the crickets went silent. I guess it’s okay for me to be as well.

I just need to keep writing.

Maybe a drive first, though.

The Peaceful Madness

A writer breeds madness.

Truthfully, this could be said of any artist. Any Creator. We are gods, after all, desperate to create worlds in which we’d much rather be, sculpting rules and destinies from the jagged peaks of our imagination, reforming the memories of our past and the hopes of our future into triumphant tales of heroic adventure. We write the code for the program, doing so with a reckless arrogance, ignoring reality in favor of the most favorable path to redemption. Not simply for our heroes, but for ourselves. And when we step away from our narcissistic free-for-all, we find bills, hunger, war, political mudslinging, and for many–loneliness beyond repair.

Something happens in the process that alters us forever. We begin to long for the worlds we created.  We begin to hunger to complete the stories, to enhance the landscapes, to better realize this fantastic scope through which we peer. Reality becomes less real. Fantasy more believable. Either word seems insufficient and life gets twisted somewhere in between. We find more time to stare through windows on scenes so far removed we appear to be catatonic, or angry, or one Sugar Snap away from inviting Dig ’em for a lengthy stay.

Our worlds live and breathe in our minds, taking on a life of their own; and though we see the world as perfect, the characters as family, we find the words lacking. Not simply because we doubt their ability to convey, or because they are insufficient or weak, but because they don’t breech the boundaries of space and time. They don’t open a portal to our worlds. They don’t allow us to escape. So we keep writing, we keep creating, we keep building, hoping to find something of our fantasy within the reality we are trapped.

We never do. Yet, the desperation is a madness we crave, the only place in which we truly find peace.

There are times I find this idea unsettling, depressing, an incurable infectious disease in which small pieces of my brain melt helplessly away by the day. Then I find things like this in my work:

“It is apparent to me now there is less between imagination and reality than I dared dream. I wonder at times if closing my eyes will be the end of me, or if I can never truly begin until the world fades to black. Therein lies the deceit of lightness and dark: They serve your need, or leave you mired in blindness, unable to distinguish truth from lie.”

And I realize my madness can manifest in beautiful ways. My characters can trumpet my words in ways I will never be able. My stories can bring civility to the war between the lightness and dark; and though I may never step foot in the worlds I create, I can give them life, hope, and a path to fulfillment. I can give them–with due struggle and pain–all that I want for myself. I will give them a life that pushes what they can handle, but allows them a heroic end. A Happily Ever After. I know their path through and through. I don’t know mine.

I can only hope, when my final second ticks and the clock draws into silence, I have left words that resonate. Words that, beyond belief, beyond the bounds of reality, have given life to worlds that will always be visited by eager minds. Perhaps then I will truly know peace.

So I write and I dream, and I hope that somewhere, in some world, there is someone writing my story, smiling at my ways, counting the days until I can be the hero I was created to be.

The Living Story

I haven’t been writing for the entirety of the limited experience that I call, “life”. I mean, well, obviously I wasn’t writing in the womb, nor did I pop out with pen and paper and get to scribing my experiences in utero. I suppose that would have been quite the story, if not, an altogether painful experience for my poor mother. So, what I mean to say is, though I may have spent the majority of my capable time on this earth writing, I have some lingering years remaining that offer no insight whatsoever into my life as a writer.

What is that supposed to mean? I take it to mean that I need more coffee.

The thing about life, see, is life, in and of itself, is a story. Not the words you put on paper (or screen in this modern age), or in the ideas floating about the nether regions of your mind, plucking you awake at the most obscene hours of the night, but in every aspect of every person in every day that you live. Writing is, more or less, the centrifuge to the swath of stories we swim through on a daily basis. Perhaps because of this daily exposure, the anti-originality escape clause of “there is no story that has yet to be written,” gets bandied about with regularity. Eh. Maybe. It is a rather unoriginal thought, so, sure, the stories that are written are nothing more than variances of stories that have been around for centuries, experiences we have, personally or by degrees of separation, experienced. Stories your grandfather told you on cold nights by the fire, stories you heard while eavesdropping on that squabbling couple in the cafe, stories chipped in tablets and handed down (or succinctly dropped on the floor and cracked into pieces by that snarky caveman-esque editor with no appreciation for the man-mammoth-woman love triangle). But in each story, in each tale that rings of familiarity, there is a unique perspective, a unique slant, something that only happened that one time.

Oddly, it took me a while to see this. I had to actually look up from the page, so to speak, and take a nice long look at the world. I had to see how, in its persistent way, life prodded the art of storytelling. Let’s face it: Writers can become a touch insulated. A tad protected from reality whilst we delve into the preferred insanity that is our chosen world of fantasy. It’s safer there. We can do what we want. We can kill those who have wronged (or, sadly, been nothing more than model citizens), feel remorse, and move on without consequence. We can encourage affairs, destroy relationships, leave the winning lottery ticket on a bench, force someone who needs it desperately to toss it in the trash because, well, they’re just that responsible, then stick our tongue out at them when they realize what they’ve done a few hours later.  We can rule the moon, take the fragile psyche of a beaten soul and thrash it upon the ground like a small child who is curious to see what happens to the turtle inside the shell once it is broken. But we’re always safe, because it isn’t real. It’s just a story, and they’re just characters bent to the will of our perverse madness.

Some time ago I heard it stated that every writer has within them a musician wishing to break out (and likewise, it seems, many musicians have an insane loon within them wishing to break out), which makes sense, albeit in a slanted twist of logic.  After all, art in any form tends to illicit rhythm, flow, a pace to move to. A musician is to a writer is to a sculptor, is to a painter, and so on. But while each is an aspect of the fabric of life, life is the true art. Life is the song. Every life is a story, and in turn, every story is alive.

It’s so easy to forget that your little experiences, your seemingly insurmountable trials, your possessed frustrations are shared by all of those around you. We all feel a bit like Truman, trapped on the stage, the world as our audience…ever so alone in our experiences. But the world is replete in repetition, and in shared experience. No, the mind of that person next to you is not yours, and their similarities are not as yours, but their story is like your story, only in variation, in tempo, and it’s enough to make it unique. We are bound by what we are: living creatures who wander like mobile trumpets, blaring our stories for the world to hear. You only have to listen.

Life is everywhere. So are the stories.

Edit This

This New Stuff is New and Also Stuff

In 2009, my first book, Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO, was published. Publishers Weekly had this to say:

“Steele’s biting satire takes on megachurches and their murky brew of faith and business. Nagged by his wife into interviewing for the CEO spot of a 2,000-year-old religious corporation, Timothy Webb becomes Timmy Christ despite himself. He’s shocked to learn that his primary responsibilities are to profits and image rather than his followers’ genuine needs. After a slapstick start, a scheming Judas, a protective, repentant Satan and a murderous Anti-Christ show up to deepen the tale. Timmy soon discovers that battling supernatural evil is only slightly more difficult than challenging the legal labyrinths of the Christ Corporation Council. Those who endure the initial over-the-top chapters will enjoy the notion of a Christ CEO wanting to be Christ-like, presented in a mix of raucous fun and deep questions.”

It was nominated for the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate Fiction. Pretty cool stuff. I like that people have to endure my writing.

In 2011, the follow-up, Flutter: An Epic of Mass Distraction was published. I had this to say about it:

“Oh, hey, I have another book out. Cooool.”

In 2013, I had … oh, um, nothing published. That’s a bit of a bummer. Actually, 2013 in general has been a bit of a bummer, so perhaps it’s best to leave the publishing for another time. After all, 2014 is another number! I mean, year. 2014 is another year. I never get that right.

Mind you, my lack of publication hasn’t been for a lack of trying, or writing, but more a product of circumstance as well as a determination to produce quality material. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time refining my craft.  I don’t want my work to be good.  I want it to be great.  I want it to be unforgettable. My determination to improve aside, there was this: On August 19th, Mercury Retrograde Press, publisher of my first two books announced they would be ceasing operations as of January 2014, which was quite sad news to hear for various reasons, not the least selfish of them being my desire to spin a third novel in the Timothy Webb Universe into their eager hands. The War Maiden, the origin story of everyone’s favorite Satan, Natasha, has a beginning written, a generous plot, and now a nice cozy shelf to sit upon. At some point, I’ll get back to it. Likely as an ebook series of novelettes. On the plus side, however, the MRP closing reverts rights of Anointed and Flutter to me, so I’ll be reissuing those as ebooks in 2014. Not sure if I’ll make any changes to the text. Perhaps some additional material will be added.  You’ll want to buy them even if you already own them, though, because you love me so much.

In the meantime, my attention has been transfixed on a bugger of a book. I refer, of course, to the most time-consuming and personally-invested manuscript I have ever worked on: The Storyteller, Book one of five, The Shadowheart. I have worked on this for close to three years, the idea a bit of a noodle in my head for close to a decade. I’ve talked about it, discussed it, written it, rewritten it, edited it (again and again and again ad naseum) and rewritten it once more. I’ve sent it to Beta readers, agents, and discussed the concept with several editors. And now it’s as done as I can get it. I love it. I think it’s brilliant. I think you’ll love it. I think you’ll never pick up a book again without wondering if the universe the story resides within is real. I think Oliver Miles will win you over, and his cadre of friends will keep you amused. I think, above all, if someone will publish it, I will be extraordinarily happy. The series is somewhere in the Middle Reader (8-14) and Young Adult genres, depending on who you talk to. Either way, it’s friendly to kids and to adults. There have been some bites on it, one significant, others mere nibbles, and I hope to secure something before too long. I’m still open to Beta Readers, providing you’ll actually read it and offer insights, but I’m not sure how much more work I can do on it until an Editor has it in hand. Regardless, I’ll be talking more about it now, offering some snippets here and there. So, be on the lookout. I seek your thoughts. Share away.

With The Storyteller sitting in wait, books two through five will be on hold, allowing me the opportunity to toss a few more literary grenades down the pipe. The series of novelettes of The War Maiden is in line, and likely to find a voice in 2014 (which I would publish myself), but my focus at the moment is squarely on a manuscript with a working title of Specimen A. Easily the most complex story I’ve worked on, I’m stepping out of the satire game, to bring a more contemporary voice to the Science Fiction genre. Or maybe it’s Fantasy. Or more Speculative Fiction. I don’t know. There will probably be a new genre in the next six minutes anyway. I should probably wait on that one. I’ve written about religion. I’ve written about the imaginative power of an artist. Now, I’m writing about the reality of human existence and the overwhelming power of a mind awakened. Until I’m further along, there isn’t much more I can offer, but suffice to say, reality isn’t what you think it is. You aren’t what you think you are. And they would prefer you not figure it out.

Other concepts floating about: The Almost Heroic Life of Joey Flapp, a silly little romp of adventure, hope, and exploding cows which I’m looking forward to; and, The As of Yet Unnamed But Forever Talked About Zombie Story About Life Decades After the Zombie Apocalypse and Was Once Called The Zombie Rocker but Now isn’t Because I’m Not Sold on the Original Tone. The latter is a long title. Less of a working title than a poorly conceived description in italics. I might even write it as a screenplay. I don’t know. This could have a lot to do with why I haven’t written it yet.

Anyway, point being, I have a lot I’m working on. Now that The Storyteller is complete, I can focus on these other projects. Hopefully, I’ll be able to line up publications going forward so that the gaps are non-existent. That would be ideal. As would your willingness to buy them.

I had intended to write about my blog changes, not the least of which is the alteration of the site’s address. My former website is no more, and all information will be directed here. But that didn’t happen. And since you’re already thinking about dinner, or what the kids have done now, or your own ideas that are far more engrossing, I’ll leave that for another entry.

In the meantime, here’s an early snapshot of a possible new Anointed cover, as well as the less than exciting reveal of my new nom de plume:

Just playing around with it for now.

Just playing around with it for now.

 

Ducky Thomas Goes to Richmond

This is Ducky Thomas:

 

This is Ducky Thomas. He is a duck named Thomas.

 

Recently, Ducky Thomas had an adventure.  He went to Richmond, Virginia on a trip.  It wasn’t the grandest of trips, but it was exciting all the same.  He went on this journey with me, as I took to the town as a speaker at the James River Writers Conference.  Unfortunately, however, he did not attend the conference, as it cost quite a bit of money to pay the way for an attendee, and, well, ducks are just not allowed in the library.  So, while I was away, he manned—er, ducked–the hotel room where he…well, I suppose I should let his words speak for themself:

“I’ve never gone on a trip before.  For that matter, I’ve never gone anywhere before.  Before this weekend, I had only been out of the bedroom, where I stay, just once to sit on Zach’s desk.  He said he wanted to take my picture, which was okay with me, but ducks aren’t much on make-up, and don’t often pose for pictures, so I was a bit nervous about it all.  And that was just for a picture!  Imagine how I felt when he asked me if I wanted to go to Richmond! ‘Golly!’ I had exclaimed.  ‘I don’t even know what a Richmond is, but I sure do want to see it!’  So, sure enough, he told me I could go, and went to something called, ‘Target’–which I believe is not far away, but must be a magical place, seeing as how he returned quickly with a wonderful black traveling house with wheels for me to ride in.  Who knew there were such things in the world!  It had plenty of room for me to rest comfortably, and I was able to keep all of Zach’s belongings safe during the trip–though I do have to admit that the darkness made me sleepy, and aside from some bumpy moments, I slept quite a lot.  Fortunately, no one tried to open the house, and before I knew it, Zach was opening the door and I opened my sleepy eyes to see something amazing!  It was a brand new place, much bigger than the bedroom I’m usually in!  And, it had a really big window that let me see one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen!  Ever ever!

 

This is what a Richmond looks like!

 

 

There were lots of what Zach called, 'outtomobeels.' That's the rolling things over there!

 

 

Whoa. Richmond.

 

Well, boy, was I excited!  I just sat in that window ALL day long!  And when it got dark, everything got all sprinkled in little lights everywhere.  It sure was incredible!  Zach was gone most of the time, where he said he was spending time with the Righter people, who like to talk about the Righter things.  Apparently, Zach knows something of this Righting, because he was very excited about all that he had done while he was there.  He was almost as excited as I was about seeing the Richmond all day!  Well, anyway, he told me that he sat on a panel about religion, which does sound kind of unpleasant, and maybe a little painful, but he didn’t seem to be bothered by it at all, so I guess it’s not that bad.  I listened as he talked about his adventures that day, and then the next day too.  He spent an awful lot of time with the Righters, where they talked about the Right way to do things, I suppose.  It’s good that people try to be Right, I’ve been told, so it’s even better that they have conferences to discuss it.  Zach said that the people there liked him so much that they bought all of the books that were for sale!  Yay for Zach!  He said that there were more panels that he sat on (I still don’t know why he sat on them, but, I’m just a duck, and will not understand, I guess).  There was one on Fan Tah See, which is, according to Zach, about make-believe stuff that is in stories, and sometimes has dragons, magic, and shallow vampire characters that only little girls like.  And then there was the one on Die A Log, which is a funny name to me.  I mean, from what I could tell from my perch over the Richmond, it seems to me that logs–which I know from a television show that I watched with Zach, come from trees–are very pretty, and very helpful to things.  I can’t imagine why anyone would want to kill one.  But Zach made it sound kind of delightful, and said that the Righter people asked a lot of really neat questions about Die A Log that he, and two other Righters by the names of David L. Robbins, and Lauren Oliver, answered.  I don’t know them, but they sound neat!

Well, he just seemed to really enjoy his time, which was wonderful to hear, because I was beginning to worry that I might be having too much fun looking at the Richmond–more fun than Zach–and that made me feel bad.  I didn’t want Zach to miss out on the fun, either.  He did sit with me for a while watching the sun rise one morning, which was really neat!  I had never seen that before either!  I was glad he got to see it too, though he had to leave before I could tell him that.  But I think he already knew.  So, I guess that was pretty much it, after that.  Zach said he met lots of new people, and that there was something funny about something he said the Righters called a, ‘humanzee.’  I don’t know what that is, but as I’ve said, I’m a duck, and I don’t really know too much about things. Zach told me, as he was putting me back in the black, boxy house, with wheels that he hoped that he could keep in contact with his new friends, and that some of them were really nice, and pretty good Righters that needed to simply believe in themselves a bit more.  I liked the way that sounded, and so I just smiled at Zach, closed my eyes, and fell asleep.  The next thing I knew, we were home again.

I don’t have to stay in the bedroom anymore.  Now I get to spend time on Zach’s desk while he does his Righting.  It makes me happy. But not as happy as knowing that Zach has promised to take me to other new places too!  I can’t wait!

 

It's a big world for such a small duck.

 

Rejecting Rejection

(this blog first appeared on A Good Blog is Hard to Find)

I made it through the entirety of high school without having to endure the potential tragedy of a date.

Now, in that, it might seem as though I celebrate that I escaped the awkwardness of a staggered and indecisive conversation over a delightful dinner at Taco Bell, or that I rejoice in the passing of another dance without collapsing in a heap atop the punch bowl by way of two very clumsy, and inexperienced steps, or even that I am proud that I never had to answer that terrifying throttle of Ahab’s harpoon to the nerves, “Should I use my tongue, or would she slap ME?” But that would imply a choice in the matter. Sure, I was the shy kid that would blush if someone next to ME sneezed, but for the most part I gave gallant, if not altogether misguided, attempts at finding a girl who, “got ME.” The problem–the ultimate failing in this course–was that I spent those years of my life chasing after every single girl in the school that would rather have structured their weekends around delightfully dull dinners with their parents and younger siblings, than to have succumbed to MY cherubic charm (absent the charm). It made for quite a run of rejection, to be honest. The kind that, more often than not, left me standing bewildered in a hallway of students, a mere bumper to the course, a potential ramp of skateboarding delight, wondering why it was that a slap to the face could make MY feet hurt so badly.

The pure fact of it all is that rejection sucks. Sure, you can pick yourself up, you can tell yourself that they just didn’t get you, and that someday you’ll find someone to flaunt in front of the line of people that rejected you, and take the high road, give a simple raise of the brow, and maybe a knowing smile (which always works best with the tongue out, if you ask ME), and you’ll revel in your triumph, hand in hand with acceptance. But those words…those god-awful words, just never leave you.

“No, you’re just really not cool enough for me.”

“Yeah, um, I’m just not looking for you right now. Check back with me in a couple of years.”

“You’re a really great guy, and you have great potential as a companion, but I don’t think you fully understand what dating is all about. Maybe you should be looking for someone with lower standards.”

“You know, I might have gotten those messages, but I haven’t really had a chance to listen to them. How about you call me in a few weeks, and, if I’ve had a chance to review your proposal, we’ll talk then?”

“See, the problem is your pitch. If you had begun with the most important part–where you ask me out–I might not have lost interest so quickly. The whole, ‘I’ve been thinking a lot about what to say,’ bit is a horribly cliche start. It’s the way these things work, though. I get so many offers each week, and I only have so much time to listen.”

It’s a tired, tired, um, tired…thing, but you carry on. You carry on because you’re stubborn. You carry on because you just couldn’t imagine another day without a companion by your side. You carry on because, well, because you’re just plain lonely, and really want someone to share your time with. Mostly, you carry on because you refuse to be denied, and know that someday the right girl is going to come around, and that you will utterly, absolutely, and undeniably rock her world. You do this because the failure to do so, would mean the end of your dating life, which is something you just cannot allow.

But never mind that, we’re here to talk about writing, which has nothing at all to do with anything I have thus far said. After all, people will always appreciate you for spilling your guts out on the computer tremendously more than they do if you do so in person. You need thick skin in any area of life that presents the possibility for rejection, but writing is pretty straightforward, and is unlikely to ever cause you pain, or grief, or to feel like your brains have just been sucked out through your nose.

For example, I was on the verge of snagging a literary agent once at the William Morris Agency, but was declined, after a thorough reading, not due to poorly written material, but due to problematic scheduling, and an untimely submission. See for yourself: “Though we appreciate, and value, your talent as a writer, we feel that your manuscript is just not right for our agency, or for the market at this time. Please consider us for future projects, however.”

See? That’s not a rejection at all, and sounds nothing like the rejections posted above! They clearly wanted to represent ME, but were unable to because of the market. They just couldn’t wait to read the rest of MY work!

Earlier that same year, I had sent sample writings to the wonderfully compassionate, and caring, people at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. They were so very considerate in their attempts to encourage MY writing skills, that they sent me a letter to MY request that included the following: “Writing is a skill that we wish to harness, and cultivate, in each, and every, writer. We feel, though you do show great potential, that you would be best served to improve your skill further before applying again for Bread Loaf. Please consider sending us more material in a couple of years.”

Again, such a willingness to lead ME in the right direction! How can I feel anything but complete acceptance of MY skill, and ability? Goodness knows, I might very well have languished in a perpetual state of un-improvement for years to come! Now I’m a published author! Thank you, Bread Loaf!

Sometimes–yes, even in the publishing industry!–the level of acceptance you receive from publishers, or agents, or editors, or the like, can be twinged ever so slightly with a heavy, yet suggestive, hand. You might even feel a bit put off by the words they have chosen, but rest assured that they only have your best interests at heart, and want nothing more than to see you in their fold, successful and happy! They try so hard to offer you their acceptance that they will chance to wake you from your blissful rest with a most carefully aimed bomb. For example, I sent a manuscript to Harper Collins many years ago, offering them the glorious chance to view a book I knew they would trip over themselves to purchase. What I received was a carefully worded letter, indicating that my work was such a stellar piece of art, that they wanted to ensure I knew how elated they were that such a young man (I was 18 at the time, and fresh off a new branch of female-induced rejection) had, “taken up writing as a hobby.” Wow! What kind words! I mean, I’m sure that spell-check missed the, “hobby,” part of that. Obviously, they meant, “career,” but such are the follies of the computer age!

So, rest assured, dear friends of the craft, that rejection is not something you will ever have to deal with. Your best interests, and the cultivation of your art, will be coddled by those in your midst: by your friends, fellow writers, agents, editors, the kindly old lady in the cafe that threatened to beat you with her walker if you talked about your writing just once more, and so on. They want only to see you succeed. All you have to do is smile, and wait for the offers to pour in.

Just don’t ask ME for dating advice.

The Writing Life

(I wrote this post on the Southern Author’s Blog, so it’s a bit of a duplicate)

I haven’t been writing for the entirety of the limited experience that I call, “life”. I mean, well, obviously I wasn’t writing in the womb, nor did I pop out with pen and paper and get to scribing my experiences in utero. I suppose that would have been quite the story, if not, an altogether painful experience for my poor mother. So, what I mean to say, is that, though I may have spent the majority of my capable time on this earth writing, I have some lingering years remaining that offer no insight whatsoever into my life as a writer.

What is that supposed to mean? I take it to mean that I need more coffee.

The thing about life, see, is that life, in and of itself, is a story. Not the words you put on paper (or screen in this modern age), or in the ideas floating about the nether regions of your mind, plucking you awake at the most obscene hours of the night, but in every aspect of every person in every day that you live. Writing is, more or less, the centrifuge to the swath of stories we swim through on a daily basis. I’ve been told many times that, “there is no story that has yet to be written,” and to some degree I get the concept of that statement. To some degree, yes, the stories that are written are nothing more than variances of stories that have been around for centuries. Stories that your grandfather told you on cold nights by the fire, stories that you heard while eavesdropping on that squabbling couple in the cafe, stories that were chipped in tablets and handed down (or succinctly dropped on the floor and cracked into peices by that snarky caveman-esque editor with no appreciation for the man-mammoth-woman love triangle). But in each familiar story, in each tale that rings of familiarity, there in a unique perspective, a unique slant, something that only happened that one time.

Oddly, it took me a while to see this. I had to actually look up from the page, so to speak, and take a nice long look at the world. I had to see how, in its persistent way, that life prodded the art of storytelling. Sometimes, as a writer, you become a bit insulated. A bit protected from reality whilst you delve into the preferred insanity that is your chosen world of fantasy. It’s safer there. You can do what you want. You can kill someone, feel remorse, and move on without consequence. You can encourage affairs, you can win the lottery and stick your tongue out at the world, you can rule the moon, you can take the fragile psyche of a beaten soul and thrash it upon the ground like a small child who is curious to see what happens to the turtle inside the shell once it is broken. But you’re safe because it isn’t real. It’s just a story, and they are all just characters bent to the will of your madness.

I heard it stated that every writer has within them a musician wishing to break out (actually I ready that today from a source I’d rather never listen to again, but I liked it, so now it’s mine…bwahahaha!), and I have to agree. However, it would be irresponsible to music to claim that it resides within any one person. Stories, music, dance, painting, sculpting, they’re all art. They’re all the same. They are all the fabric of life. They all flow. And not one is inspired from within, nor do any reside there. Life is the art. Life is the song. Every life is a story, and in turn, every story is alive.

Ok, so the idea is a touch out there. It’s as inspired as it is insane (though there really isn’t a difference…all artists are insane with inspiration). It’s something out of a Russell Crowe, or Dustin Hoffman-type movie, but it’s true. It’s so very easy to forget that your little experiences, your seemingly insurmountable trials, your possessed frustrations are shared by all of those around you. We all feel a bit like Truman, trapped on the stage, the world as our audience…every so alone in our experiences. But the world is replete in repetition, and in shared experience. No, the mind of that person next to you is not yours, and their similarities are not as yours, but their story is like your story, only in variation, and that variation is enough to make it unique. We are bound by what we are: living creatures who wander like mobile trumpets, blaring our stories for the world to hear. You only have to listen.

Life is everywhere. So are the stories.

Go find them. It isn’t hard. They are waiting for you.