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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The Importance of the Writing Heart

Writing HeartThere is this truth around writing that we all can’t put our finger on. It’s enigmatic, elusive. But this “thing” can make a story or destroy it; it can change a letter from something that is thrown away or kept; and it is what makes an e-mail readable or spam.

Let me break this down in a different way.

As a book reviewer, I’ve had the pleasure of reading a lot of contemporary literature. And many times, these works will be by academics with amazing degrees and resumes. No one can deny these books are well-written, with a well-developed vocabulary and well-crafted plots. Yet, as a reader they don’t stick. I have no emotional attachment. It is like finishing a dry work assignment, not a work of art.

Recently, I had the same feeling reading Purity by Jonathan Franzen (you can read and hear my review here). No respectable reviewer will deny that Franzen is a good writer. He is, but his writing always misses something for me. And while I can respect the talent, I rarely remember anything after that last page is turned, almost relieved I got to the end of another gigantic tome.

So what do the academics and authors like Franzen miss?

Technically, they would argue nothing. They checked all the boxes that should make a work successful. Critics and publishers will agree. I might even agree! But it doesn’t change the fact that something was lacking and it is something behind the words.

I’m talking about heart.

Heart is the one thing that truly can’t be taught in an English or writing classroom, but it is also the most important thing a writer will need. And if used right by a writer, it can change opinions, stir a reader to act, and even make people cry or laugh. It is what takes a jumble of words and turns them into a message.

When writing has heart (be it in fiction, nonfiction, or even in marketing or business writing) it can move mountains. It can stir donations, create movements, and make art that truly will live after a writer has shuffled off this mortal coil.

Heart is the one thing all great writing share in all genres and styles. And yet, while we all have emotions, why is it so difficult for so many of us to call upon this organ? Continue reading

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

A Highlighting Break: A Quick Writing Update

HighlighterAfter the madness of the blog tour over those ten days (you can see the posts and interviews I did on the page for Permanent Spring Showers), I needed to get away from the site. Yes, this site you are reading right now.

Yeah, I got a bunch of ideas for posts, that never seems to stop, I just began to wonder how I would feel if I was a follower here. And really it has been feeling relentless, one post after another about the new book. Now, if you found me via my fiction (which is awesome), you might be cool with the updates, but there are others that come here for my personal updates, my writing advice, my rants about entertainment and the like. Well, those readers might be feeling differently. And while I would love for everyone to buy my new book, the last thing I want is for this site to just be about my novels. (I did mention they are awesome, right?) So less about my writing. Deal?

So here’s a writing update!

Wait… That didn’t make sense. Okay, a new writing update! How about that?

Well, I’m busy working on a new novel. I’m in the midst of a second draft. I don’t want to say too much about it (Heck, I don’t even want to say the title here), until I have a copyright in my hand. I will say it is probably the closest I will get to a science-fiction work, which isn’t a science fiction work.  I can also say it is very different from anything else I have done. I really have a hard time finding something to compare it to (from my past works to other authors). And this book has made me cry in quite a few spots.

Crying in a good way, not like in a “Man, I suck.” kind of way. (I do have those moments just not with this book.)

I’m trying a new trick with this editing of the book. I just combined all of my chapter drafts into one giant document (we’re reaching over 420 pages now) and I plan to re-read it with a highlighter. I’m going to highlight the sentences, the moments, even the dialogue, I might not be happy with.

See, I envision this as a targeting editing approach. I’ve not done this before. Usually, I always take my books as a whole (well, except for A Jane Austen Daydream, but everything was different with that book), but this will focus me down just to sections I need to work on during this draft. This feels so efficient!

Okay, can I just say now using the word efficient is rare when it comes to my writing. I’m a scatter shot, all over the place. Let me give you an example, recently I cleaned the hard drive on my computer and found three unfinished screenplays and four unfinished novels. My books are born on the bodies of those that didn’t make it, kind of making me think of those war movies with the survivors crawling over the dead.

Where was I?

Oh, yes, I am writing. The new book is going great and it’s a lot of fun. There, that sounds like an ending. Almost… damn.

“The Power of Springtime” a Guest Post on Andi’s Book Reviews (Book Tour Day 2)

"Morning on the Seine in the Rain" by MonetGet on the bus! It’s day 2 of my book tour!

Yesterday, it was a guest post at the Long and Short Review with some writing advice for newbies (You can check it out here). Today, it is something a little different.

On Andi’s Book Reviews, I take on one of the silent characters in my novel Permanent Spring Showers. Oh, the season might be silent, but it plays an important part in the work and the inspiration behind it. Here is the beginning of my post “The Power of Springtime: Setting the Stage for Permanent Spring Showers”:

When you grow up in Michigan, you feel the seasons.

I know, everyone in different states will argue with me on this one, but we hit all the hallmarks in our mitten of a state, each time, each year. Snow in winter, check. Leaves in autumn, check. Summer at the beach, check.

It’s all here!

And when you grow up in such a setting, chances are your emotions will start to attach something to each of them. In autumn, I am reflective. It is a time for remembering. In summer, a little hyper and full of excitement. I’m usually more daring during those three months. And in winter, I always feel more peaceful, quiet like a light snowstorm. But, in spring, I get edgy.

Spring in Michigan is unpredictable.

You can’t help but feel that in the very air you breath. It’s almost as if the world can shift on a dime. It’s moody. It’s a time of change, of rebirth (but into what?). And when I set out to find a time period for the story that became Permanent Spring Showers, I couldn’t think of a better season. Because like the season, my story is passionate, unstable, dramatic, comedic, and never the same from chapter to chapter.

You can read the entire post here.

There is also a brief excerpt from my new novel, as well as a giveaway that will be Permanent Spring Showersrunning throughout the tour to win a copy of the book. But this is really cool…

The eBook of Permanent Spring Showers will be on sale during the tour! It is on sale for only $1.99. So there is no better time to grab a copy! You can find it on amazon for Kindle here and for the NOOK here.

“Hope, Feathers, and Blogging” a Guest Post on Long and Short Reviews (Book Tour Day 1)

FeatherHappy Monday everyone!

My virtual book tour is up and running! Sponsored by my wonderful publisher 5 Prince Books, for the next ten days I will appearing on different writing sites around the internet promoting my new novel Permanent Spring Showers. On some there will be an interview, on others there will be an exclusive post written by… this guy. Me. Hi.

Today, I am on the Long and Short Review with a guest post filled with some of my writing advice for new authors bravely considering taking on the publishing world. The post is called “Hope, Feathers, and Flogging.”

Here is an excerpt from the beginning:

Being a writer is not easy.

I’ve been chasing this dream since I was a teenager. I have had three different agents in my time, worked with numerous publishers and I have had highs (for example, the publication of my new novel Permanent Spring Showers) and lows. I’ve gotten close to achieving some of my dreams, and I’ve fallen a few times from them as well. There was even a point where I walked away from writing for four years.

Four years.

That is not to say I wasn’t getting ideas during that time and still dreaming something might happen, I was just exhausted and nothing felt worth the inevitable disappointment that I was sure would follow. Everything looked like a negative query letter waiting to happen. Yeah, I was fun to be around.

You can check out the rest of the guest post here.

The Long and Short Review also has an excerpt from my new novel, as well as a giveaway that will be running throughout the tour to win a copy of the book. But wait… there is more! Permanent Spring Showers

The eBook of Permanent Spring Showers will be on sale during the tour. It will be on sale for only $1.99 soon. So there is no better time to grab a copy! You can find it on amazon here.

This and the Other Thing: A Writing Update

Even Superman writes!So this is my life right now.

I got this book. I can’t really talk about it. I mean, it’s still being created. It’s fresh, still new, like a babe. Let’s call it SB for Secret Book. This book has taken over a good part of my daily thoughts, and I’ve spent the last few evenings just working on it.

SB has also entered my dreams. No seriously, I’ve had two dreams with it and both moments ended up in the book.

This is the part of writing that I love about writing. The pure joy of creation, not being bogged down in marketing, query letters (to agents and publishers), etc. Just me and a blank piece of paper. Nothing but possibility.

The only thing I can compare the feeling to is back when I used to play jazz. For me it was the saxophone (alto and soprano), and there is this wild feeling of freedom once you know a song and its chords. That confidence that you are on this, you are in control and you can take the song wherever you want. There is pure improv possibility at that moment. It’s a flash of lightning, controlled energy.

That… right there, is what putting together a first draft feels like for me. And I’m in the midst of it. That is the smile on my face.

Hello. Continue reading

Throwing Logic to the Wind: Talking about Permanent Spring Showers at Focus on Fiction

Permanent Spring ShowersGreetings, fearless readers!

I have recently written a post about my new book Permanent Spring Showers. It is called “Throwing Logic to the Wind” and is being showcased on author Nancy Christie’s site Focus on Fiction. Here is an excerpt from the beginning:

There is no logic to writing. At least that is what I have learned playing this author game.

It doesn’t matter how much I have outlined a work, considered its potential on the market, or other such nonsense, there is no guarantee that it will fly or even work in the slightest. My computer is a graveyard of abandoned characters and plots. Their folder names are like little tombstones to the stories that might have been. And just like a visit to a real cemetery, there is an almost eerie silence when I explore that realm on my computer.

Permanent Spring Showers, my latest novel, is a great example of the non-logic of creative writing.

You can read the rest of the post here.

Permanent Spring Showers was just published by 5 Prince Books. It is available on all online retailors but you can find it on amazon here in both print and ebook.

I hope you will grab a copy! And then buy one for a friend… and then a second friend… and then a third… it’s good to have friends.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Permanent Spring Showers by Scott D. Southard

Permanent Spring Showers

by Scott D. Southard

Giveaway ends February 26, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Writing a Good Christmas Story: Four Things to Consider

Santa Checking His ListI totally get it.

Each year the media world is starving for new holiday stories. They want them for the bookshelves, for the TV screens, and the cinemas. So why wouldn’t any struggling writer (which is 98% of us) not want to give the old Santa Claus an adventure or two?

It pays the bills and, maybe, you will unwrap the golden present. In other words, create a holiday tale that becomes a classic, one that audiences return to yearly… which can also pay the bills yearly as well.

The problem is that for all of the attempts to make that blessed holiday classic it so, so rarely happens. Most holiday tales disappear at the end of the year. The books and the DVDs end up in the bargain bins, and the TV specials and movies are shown at random times in the early morning (if they are shown at all).

Recently, I reviewed a new collection of holiday short stories called My True Love Gave to Me (edited by Stephanie Perkins). My review will be on WKAR’s Current State later this month. I don’t want to say too much about my review here, but the book, in the end, just left me feeling sad.

Not exactly a Christmas feeling, I know, and probably not the one most of those contributors were hoping for. But it is a common feeling for me each year as I dare to check out the new holiday samplings from my fellow writers.

So why is it so difficult to write a good Christmas story? Basically, it is because most holiday writers seem to forget four important stocking-stuffing-ho-ho-ho points. These points are what separate the classics from… well… anything on the Hallmark Channel. Continue reading