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

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My Writing Resolutions 2015

1962720_10203577001564582_780062720_nThis blog actually began as a writing resolution.

It was 2012 and I thought as a writer I had been living in the shadows for too long. Oh, I played the game with publishers and agents and fellow writers, many knew who I was (granted, that doesn’t mean they published me or represented me), but with readers I was a ghost. No, let me correct that. A person can at least sense a ghost. I was a ghost that no one was aware of. A quiet and very lonely shadow watching and waiting.

So it began with this post.

That started a year of almost five posts a week. I did everything from personal essays to thoughts on media and entertainment to the art of writing (which are almost always my most popular posts) to original fiction. There was a good chance, and I knew this when I started, that I would end the experience feeling more depressed than when I began. For is there anything sadder than a blog not read? Probably the blogger that wrote the blog, of course.

Lucky for me (and I do consider myself lucky), my blog grew. I think getting into writing the blog, I never realized how inspiring having it (and you the reader) would be. You might think a little click on the like button or an occasional comment no big deal, but it can make my day, any day. That support over the last two years had led to me creating a novel on this site (Permanent Spring Showers, which will be released in February 2015 by 5 Prince Books) and a book collecting some of my most popular and fun posts (Me Stuff, which you can find on amazon here).

Thank you.

Here are my writing resolutions for 2015.

1. Keep the blog active. This one is not surprising, especially since this is one of the things that keep me sane. You know, I never really know what I will do in an upcoming week. It usually just happens all organic. It is in many ways pure writing freedom. Someday in the future I might step away from time to time from it, but I don’t think I see that happening any time soon. You are stuck with me, I hope that is okay.

2. Find a publisher for Cassandra on the Island. If you have been following my blog for a while you might have heard hints of this book in posts. This novel was my Master’s thesis when I was working towards my MFA from the University of Southern California. I also had the distinct pleasure of having the head of the writing program call me at 10 PM on a weekday night, emotional because of it. He had spend all day reading it and just had to talk to me after completing it. It was an awesome moment for me. This book also got me my last agent, but sadly it stays hidden of all my works. I would love to change that. So I will probably do a new edit of it sometime in the new year and see what happens from there. Fingers crossed. Hopefully, there will be publishers and agents interested.

Permanent Spring Showers3. Support Permanent Spring Showers. My new novel drops in February 2015. This book feels very much like an epic for me, a story that has been around since the mid-1990s when it first began as a screenplay (which was what got me accepted at USC, by the way). I could not be more proud of this novel. This book began as an experiment on this very  site and grew… and grew. I hope you will check it out when it is released and tell everyone! Book clubs, fellow readers, friends, loved ones, casual acquaintances, people sitting next to you on the bus or in a waiting room, etc.

4. Finish that new book! So I got this novel that has changed numerous times over the last few years. It went from a very serious work to a mad comedy. The full gambit of emotions and possibilities has been spilled into this work. Right now I have it fully outlined with about four of the 25 chapters written. I need to make this a reality. I won’t say too much more about it, but it reminds me a lot of my radio comedy series The Dante Experience (which you can listen to free on this page!).

5. Think about my screenplays. My screenplays are my abandoned children. The funny thing is they are what drove me to Los Angeles and USC. I have three screenplays right now that I believe are very strong. Possibly the best things I will ever do. One is a romantic-comedy Christmas movie (yes, I said a Christmas movie); the second is a black-and-white film noir mystery (think a young Humphrey Bogart); and the third is an adaptation of Hamlet. Eclectic stuff? Yup, that is how I roll. But realistically, I’m not in any of the hubs of filmmaking. Of all of the items on this list, this would take the biggest bit of luck. My fingers are forever crossed though.

Okay, there are my five points, and I’ll be pleased as punch if I can pull off at least three. I hope you will stick around in the new year to watch.

Thanks again for reading! Happy New Year!

Loving Goodreads (And Some Reviewing Suggestions)

Good ReadsI am addicted to Goodreads.

I visit the site a few times a day and I can lose hours (hours!) just scrolling through the home page, looking at what readers are reading and saying about books that they had just finished. It’s almost like a sport as I moan and then cheer.

Yeah, I can get depressed by how few classics are being read by the population (I’ve never been one of those people who believe reading something is better than reading nothing), but it is always a thrill to see this immediate literary data. People always like to claim that literature is dying, but I see breath and heartbeats on this site everyday.

Right now, I have over 4,300 “friends” and over 80 fans. Some of this is related to my Twitter account, but I think it’s also because of my books, my blog (Hello!) and the book reviews I do on my local NPR station (you can check them out via links on this page).

The thing about book reviewing is that in many ways it is an art onto itself. Yet, ever since Amazon so long ago allowed customers to review products and books, that special door controlling whose voice is heard in the market has swung so far open that the hinges are broken. That door will never be fixed, and everyone is now welcomed in.

I know someone who will never give a book 5 stars. Never. Her reasoning, nothing is perfect. Case closed. I also had one person give my novel A Jane Austen Daydream only 4 stars with the comment that she would give it 5, but she wanted to encourage me to write more. I still don’t know how I feel about that. (Does that mean I am encouraged? I don’t feel encouraged, only a little confusedly sad.)

So yes, anyone can review on Goodreads, and, yes, anyone can review how they want. But I would love to give some suggestions for my fellow Goodreaders. Consider these my recommended new ground rules before you join this new literary sport.
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

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

Working The Audience: A Very Useful Writing Trick

On the StageI am a little bit of a helpless romantic.

For those who read my novel A Jane Austen Daydream that is not at all surprising. And before I met my wife I thought of my writing as a gateway to the heart.

I was one of those fools that bought into the lie of the romantic novels and the romantic comedy films. You see this plot twist all the time! That grand gesture that makes a person reconsider another in a different light. Oh, it is a great idea in a story, but we all know, honestly, it goes against how people are wired in the real world.

Short stories with hidden messages (and not so hidden ones), books, and I still squirm to remember the poetry. I have admitted a lot of embarrassing stuff on this site, but this is one of those few memories I still want to crawl into a cave and live out my remaining days because of. Yup, just the hint of it makes me want to become a hermit.

I, Scott Southard, was the creator of bad love poems. And I have sent them, strategically left them around, and even mailed them once anonymously in the hope that it would make another stop and see me as hotter (as some kind of light rock classic kicks on in the background like in a bad movie). In the end it never worked… and, by the way, the recipient of the anonymous love poems didn’t even figure out they were from me until I said something! Ouch!

All those bad memories aside, there is something to be said for the importance of an audience. I’m not just talking about the readers all writers dream to have, I mean that more enigmatic dream of a reader. The one we hope will find our work, the one in the back of our mind that drives the creation forward. They demand the story. What many don’t realize is that dream reader can be a tool, and can help over many different steps in the creative process if used right. Just be sure to leave the poetry at home… Continue reading

Looking for a Literary Agent…

Empty StageSometimes being a writer can feel like being a designer at a fashion show. (Well, that is what I imagine, I’ve never been a designer. Some would laugh at that idea. I’m slightly colorblind which wouldn’t help, that is for certain.)

You spend so much time preparing your “look” and then suddenly the model needs to take the walk in front of the crowds. And you wait, terrified, seeing what reactions you get.  Are there gasps or moans?  It’s all stressful, with highs and lows, but we all have to do it. It’s part of the gig.

In the next few months I’m going to start to query different literary agencies about my new novel Permanent Spring Showers. Yup, I’m pushing my new book onto the catwalk and I will stand backstage with my fingers crossed not daring to look.

Preparing my query letter, synopsis and excerpt has gotten me thinking of my experiences and also some of my writing posts about literary agencies. Below, after the jump, are links to some of those posts as well as new helpful insights on them. Some of these writing articles are the most popular things I have ever done on this site.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with literary agencies on other books and I hope that Permanent Spring Showers gets the same chance. I’m really proud of it. Permanent Spring Showers revolves around an artist named Vince who is about to create some of the most important and groundbreaking contemporary art.  Inspired by an affair, his creations will affect all around him in this multi-cast tale about relationships, academics, art, authors, and lies. You can learn more about the book on this page and read the first chapter exclusively here.

Now about those agency articles… Continue reading

Tackling The Problem of the Agent Query Letter

I agree Charlie, I completely agree...There are no guarantees in the world of writing.

You may feel after completing that dream novel that you are standing in a packed football stadium ready to kick the field goal. And this should be an easy one! You already did the hard work bringing the ball this close down the field, right? That was those hours writing and outlining and planning until late in the morning. And in all of your dreams, this part of the writing career was easy. It always is. The field goal is right there!

The sad thing is that in reality the holder with the ball is a little bit like Lucy from Peanuts. Which makes you something akin to Charlie Brown.

Now before you lose hope with that analogy, let me remind you that Charlie Brown actually did get to kick the football once or twice. Granted, one of those times was in a TV special and he was invisible thanks to Snoopy and some happenstance magic. But that is how things sometimes work in the world of literature as well. Sometimes you need that bit of luck… or a dog with a magic wand.

The first step to achieving your dream, the field goal, is getting that agent. They are the gatekeepers to the big publishing houses. Here are some suggestions to consider before you start running up to the ball.

Continue reading

Happiness Forever in Waiting: A Writing Update

GrumpyI expect never to be happy in my writing.

Never happy with a final draft of a book, never happy about the success (or non-success) of any work, and all together grumpy, grumpy, grumpy. Yup, that’s my dwarf… at least as a writer. Usually, I would consider myself somewhere between Dopey and Doc as an actual person. Of course, Doc can play the organ. I can’t, even though my grandparents had one while I was growing up. It didn’t have birds and all that wooden trickery, but it did have great buttons with options for fun noises…. Okay, I lost my train of thought.

Happiness! Lack of it in writing!

This is all not a bad thing really in my opinion (I have even wrote about this before on this site as a writing lesson here). I’ve trained my brain to always consider the next step, to accept when something is done and immediately begin to think what needs to happen next. Happiness would probably just delay everything else. It is frankly too distracting. Continue reading

The Importance of Delusions: The Four That All Writers Need

Imaginary FriendsWhen I was a child, I never had one imaginary friend.  I could never limit myself to one. And when I did seek them out, I would steal them left and right from books, having in the end something more akin to a kingdom in my head.

The funny thing is this kingdom is still around. No, I don’t need any help, but they are there, transformed now from warriors and wizards into readers, editors, agents, interviewers and publishers.

And if I am walking my dog on a late evening, there is a chance I might be working out a pretend interview in my head or I might be thinking of a meeting with a producer interested in one of my books, figuring out how I would pitch the material. Typically, I don’t talk out loud (even my dog would question my sanity then), but those conversations are there as I am always planning, considering my options and thinking of the next steps I might need to take in my career.

Yes, the imaginary friends or the capability for internal debate like this is still around and it is now a tool I use. And using my imagination like this has grown, assisting and encouraging… and not always truthfully. Spawning dreams and delusions that I use as tools as well.

All artists have delusions, some are big and some are small. They empower our debates, drive our inspiration forward, and give us hope even in the bleakest of hours. There are, in my humble opinion, four universal delusions that all writers share.  Continue reading