The Quiet Scream in the Library: A Cynical Rant About Literature

I don’t always like fiction.

This may seem weird to say since I am a writer, I have an MFA in the field, and I used to do book reviews on NPR (actually I did those reviews for over three years, you can find them here), but it is true. Painfully, painfully true. I just don’t always enjoy reading fiction.  And it is rare on a relaxing Sunday afternoon that I feel like turning to a piece of fiction to pass the time.

I know… I know… blasphemy!

The problem is I believe that I have studied and analyzed literature to such a point that I have practically (and academically) taken the pleasure out of it.

It’s the great college conundrum! A question every college student has to ask him or herself- Do you go into a field around the subject that you love? Yes, you will enjoy the classes more than you would, say, in a different field but it also may impact how you view it for the rest of your life.

In other words, once Dorothy sees the wizard behind the curtain you can’t put the wizard back. English majors like me are Dorothys. And no matter how much we wish it, we can’t bring the “magic” back.

Continue reading

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Embrace Insecurity: An Important Writing Tool

Linus and his blanketOften when I get interviewed about my writing and my books I get asked some kind of variation on what helps me as an author. In other words, what is the one tool in my arsenal I can’t do without.

Sometimes I point to my education, many times I point to my library and my reading (for, it is my opinion that all writers have to be industrious readers), but there is a secret friend I usually never bring up. He is a nagging voice, usually the last one I hear in my head each night before I go to bed. He questions everything I did that day, and wonders what I can do in the morning to correct it.

That is insecurity, and over the years I have learned to look at him as a companion in this upside-down, backwards and forwards, writing career. He rarely cheers or gets excited when something goes right (if he goes quiet for even a minute it is rare), but he keeps me on my toes, challenges me and always has my back in any situation.

Yes, I am telling you my fellow authors to be insecure! Fill your mind with self-doubt and worry! Let your uncertainty overwhelm you!

…And then use that power like I do. Continue reading

Gender-Swapping: Some Writing Tricks for Taking on the Other Sex

GendersDuring my blog tour for Permanent Spring Showers (my last novel) I had an interesting question from a reader. It really inspired this post.

Here is the quote:

I always am amazed when a man writes from a woman’s perspective or a woman writes from a man’s perspective so convincingly. I was wondering how the author found writing from the opposite sex’s POV.

I don’t want to claim I’m an expert on this. That would be naive, because truly no one knows what it is like to walk in another’s shoes (or high heels), but I’ve experience doing this in my books and I have some tricks that work for me.

In my new book, I have a few female main characters (including one that has diary entries); and there is my book Megan which is entirely one afternoon in one woman’s life. So if you are thinking of writing a work where the “other” gender is the main POV, well, maybe my advice can help.

Oh yeah, and I’m the dude who wrote an entire book with Jane Austen as the main character… Again, not saying I know everything, but… come on! Jane Austen! That gives me some cred, right? I mean… freaking Jane Austen!?! Continue reading

“Beautiful Illogical Messes” A Guest Post on Marlow Kelly (Book Tour Day 8)

Messy BrushesOnly a few days left on the blog tour. Today is the 8th day and another guest post. This one is on the creative writing process and the creation of my latest novel Permanent Spring Showers.

The guest post is entitled “Beautiful Illogical Messes.” Here is an excerpt from the beginning:

I wish this could all make sense.

It would be wonderful if the arts worked in the same side of the brain as logic and math. But it doesn’t, creativity lives with dreams. It resides in that wonderful land people visit when they want to “think outside the box.” And if you try to control that part of the brain with deadlines and rules, it turns off, creating that painful writer’s block.

The trick, I have found, is learning to go with it. It’s almost zen in a way, allowing the river to take you, as compared to fighting against the current. So when someone asks me where my ideas come from, I never know exactly how to start. When you are in a river, the last thing you are thinking about is how you got there, you are more curious about where you are going and when you will reach shore again.

You can read the rest of the guest post here.

This is my sixth guest post on the tour. The others covered a wide range of topics. You can check out posts on how it feels to write an anti-romance (here), eccentric characters (here), passion and sex in the book (here), the importance of springtime (here), and some advice for new writers (here). There were also two interviews (here and here).Permanent Spring Showers

Just for the tour, the eBook of Permanent Spring Showers is on sale! Just $1.99, it can’t get cheaper than that! So there is no better time to grab a copy.

You can find it on amazon for Kindle here and for the NOOK here.

Sunlight Breaking: A Writing Update

SunOne of the things I have learned about myself over the last few months is that I am emotionally affected by the weather. We have been dealing with record colds here (and a snowfall that never seems to end) and it had completely warped me of any creative energy I had.

I got up feeling already tired, a little depressed, and the idea of doing anything creative always felt like a struggle.

The funny thing is, since I lived in Los Angeles for four years, you would imagine that those years would have been the best time of my life. Yeah, looking back it was a fine (and it was nice being warm everyday), but I don’t think I did anything more spectacularly then. I was writing more, sure, but I was also in a the MPW program at the University of Southern California. I had to write more!

Whatever the case, we had actual sunlight a few days ago. Wonders upon wonders! I took walks outside, breathed friendly fresh air; suddenly life seemed worth writing about again.

Okay, it’s not like I was completely stagnant during the time of the icy blahs. I was still doing my two or so blogposts a week, promoting my novels; heck, I even got a book deal for my latest novel (I’ll do a catch up below). I guess I just wasn’t feeling it… which mean I wasn’t feeling me, which looks really weird now that I wrote that.

Let’s move on. Continue reading

Is the word “said” too boring?

SpeakerWe live in a very fast world.

The days of quietly sitting and putting all your focus solely on the words in front of you are gone. Books are not even always on paper anymore! We might listen to music while we read, have conversations, text message, the TV might be on, etc. And then consider how we read things on the internet?

We are a pack of skimmers now. We skim articles, skim status updates, skim blogposts (Hello!), etc. Skim, skim, skim, SKIM! Yes, we might get the gist of what a writer is trying to say through that quick glance, and maybe that is enough, but we are just not consuming the words like we once did.

So, as storytellers, one of our new challenges is to fight to keep the attention on the page… or screen… or whatever.

We need to fight the distractions of television, movies, the internet, video games, and, well, life, getting our readers from page one to the last page with as few distracting hiccups as possible. Which brings me to my little controversial writing thought for the day…

Have we (readers and writers) outgrown “said”? Continue reading

The Demands of the Paper: A Writing Update

Stack of PaperA blank page of white paper is everything.

All possibility lies there and it can be a joy for an inspired writer, a dreamer. In A Jane Austen Daydream I have a holiday scene where I describe a snow-covered land as a fresh sheet of paper, just waiting for a new story to begin.

It’s hard not to get too romantic around the art of writing and creation. But there is a dark side to that white sheet as well. It demands attention, it makes you question everything, and it is always there. Never forgiving when you don’t create. And the longer it stays blank, the more it makes you question your own ability.

Why aren’t you writing? What are you waiting for? You say you are a writer, write! 

These days I have a love-hate relationship with that blessed piece of paper. I have so many ideas and things I want to do, but… But I am holding off, because I am uncertain of what the right direction is to go. Yes, the best piece of advice for any writer is to write for yourself, I preach it all the time. But there are moments when a person should stop and take a few seconds to consider the direction of one’s career. That’s where I am right now. I’m just trying to figure out which snow-covered path is the best one for me to walk and I hinder… I hinder.

The blank page of paper doesn’t see it that way, of course. It is weakness, it is hesitancy. Something I have never really had in my career. So while I still feel the thrill of all possibility, I can’t help but feel like I am letting that piece of paper down.  Continue reading

Poisoning the Genius

poison-symbol1I want to say this at the start and I want it be clear to all who read this that I had no intention of killing my professor.

However, I’m certain if things had turned out worse that fateful night, some of my fellow students would have sold me down the river. I can picture them even today, accusingly pointing their finger across the courtroom at me. “There he is! That is the man who did it! That is the monster!”

The funny thing is there is actually a precedence for poisoning teachers in my family. Back when my grandmother was a principal at monthly meetings one of the heavier set teachers used to eat all of the snacks before the other teachers had a chance. My grandmother, being my grandmother, decided that she was going to send a “subtle” message to that teacher.

At the next full staff meeting, my grandmother brought in “special” brownies. Oh, they were fine. Perfectly fine… except for the biggest piece which was filled to the brim with laxatives.

That teacher called in sick the next day.

“But that is my grandmother!” I would say to the judge. “She is not me! And I had no idea that I was technically poisoning the guy. I throw myself on the mercy of the court.” Continue reading

“Nightmares and dreams” Part one of an interview with Nancy Christie

Jane AustenHappy New Year faithful readers! 

Last month I was interviewed by novelist Nancy Christie as part of her “One on One” series. It was quite a long and fun interview, and she has turned it into a two-part series for the site!

If you ever wanted to get really into my writing head, meet the wizard hiding behind the curtain, this is that interview! The first part of her interview was released today; you can read it here.  In this excerpt is my answer to the most challenging undertaking I have had as a writer:

A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM was easily the most difficult book I have ever undertaken, because I had to be true to Jane. In other words, I wanted her to be alive on the pages, which means her own dialogue and spirit had to be part of the narrative.

So first, I had to research her life and her books thoroughly. I used to be able to quote entire passages of her novels! (Not anymore, now that space is taken over by cute kid songs from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood thanks to my young daughter’s obsession with the show.)

Then I had to decide what of her life I wanted to keep and what I wanted to use for the book. See, I wanted the plot to be influenced more by her own stories than her actual life (it is a daydream).

After the plot was in place (with some very notable surprises and literary twists included), I then had to write a book where her voice would feel natural, but not too dated to scare off a contemporary reader.

Yes, it was a slow process, with each sentence and chapter written and re-written numerous times. By the end, I felt like I had run a marathon (or at least what I assume that would feel like). But it was all very worth it.

You can read the rest of the interview here. Part 2 of the interview will be on Nancy Christie’s site on January 15. Thanks Nancy! 

A Jane Austen Daydream

My latest novel, A Jane Austen Daydream, can be purchased in print ($13.46) or as an eBook for the outrageously low price of $3.99 for Kindle. You can find it on Amazon here (http://amzn.com/B00CH3HQUU).

Charging the Melancholy Dragon: The Down Bits in Writing Today

Bugs Bunny in CasablancaBeing a writer can be… depressing.

This is really not surprising and most that work in the arts feel this to a certain degree, because you are putting a piece of your soul out there for the world to see and judge.

And everyone judges.

Yet, for an author there is something about writing that makes it seem so, so much more personal.

It’s probably because a story begins in one’s mind and resides there for months to years, until that fateful moment when a writer finally hits “print” on their keyboard or “send” in that first e-mail. And when you consider that most authors are introverts to a certain degree to being with.… Well, it just spells depressing doom, doesn’t it?  Yes, this all seems completely explainable, so why does it affect all of us so much?

Because creativity is all illogical! It’s on a completely different side of the brain from logic! Creativity resides with emotion and once I am ready myself to show or talk about a book, I usually expect to be disappointed and a little down. This is not me being a glass-half empty kind of guy; it’s just the nature of being a writer, especially in today’s overly-congested market of authors peddling their wares.

Yes, we writers when we are young to the field all dream of accolades and awards and long lines of readers desiring autographs at the local bookstore, but that doesn’t always happen. The chance of that happening to any of us is the equivalent of winning the lottery. Maybe three lotteries… back to back… in one day… and then getting hit by lightning while picking up the winnings.

These are the two most important lessons that get me through the rough authoring patches… Continue reading