Jun 202017
 

And so, it has been. And so, too, it will remain. Through my life, unto death, and for the unfurling of eons beyond. Rainier, vast and massive observer of fidelity and betrayals; of sprigs and blooms; of the lives of things so small and ephemeral that you could argue their existence at all.

Rainier, bearing witness to the evolution of man and every element of the human condition. Diffident to joy. Indifferent to sadness. Stoic to what it has inspired in the hearts of anyone who from the fields of its foothills have gazed upon its vermiculate pattern of inscriptions, carved from the hands of God, Himself.

Remember me, Rainier, when I am gone.

Feb 192016
 

blurred crowdLast week, while in San Francisco for a writers conference, I was walking with my young daughter on Geary Street near Mason, not far from Union Square, when I noticed him: a towering, disheveled member of the city’s vast legion of homeless people, keeping pace behind me.

I deliberately altered my pace—already considerably slower than the rest of the people who were streaming past since I was holding the hand of my toddler—to let him pass. But instead of disappearing into the upstream swim of pedestrians, he slowed, too. Continue reading »

Nov 282015
 

Gumwall3It was 1993, and the name Lorena Bobbitt single-handedly drove the sales of flower bouquets through the roof. Sultry alligator wrestler-turned-attorney general Janet Reno ordered the deadly raid on the Branch Davidian Religious Sect in Waco, Texas. And the whirring, humming automated residential housing algorithms of Michigan State University matched me up with a snag-toothed, pumpkin-headed man-child from suburban Detroit named Mark (for legal, moral and humanitarian reasons, I won’t print his last name here but I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes quite symmetrically with oh, smell…). Continue reading »

Oct 292015
 

Guest Post by Jo Linsdell

Photo Jo Lindell on November Writing Challenges

Author Jo Lindell presents advice on preparing for the November Writing Challenges

Just as the calendar year winds down, three November writing challenges help writers jump-start their creativity. You can choose between NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), WNFIN (Write Nonfiction in November) aka NaNonFiWritMo (National Nonfiction Writing Month), and PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month).

 Not everyone, it turns out, is choosing just one. Guest poster Jo Linsdell, of WritersandAuthors.info and organizer of the annual online PromoDay event plans to do all three. She takes “plans” literally, so we’ve asked her to share how she preps to “put a jet pack” on her productivity.

 Even if you’re “just” doing one challenge, or partially participating, you can learn from her attitude and pre-challenge tactics.

I love a good challenge. I’ve never been one to do things lightly though. I have a go big attitude when it comes to setting goals for myself, and this year is no different. I’ll be taking part in, not one, but three different challenges this November. I’ll be doing NaNoWriMo, WNFIN, and PiBoIdMo.

Right now you’re probably asking yourself “Is she crazy?!” The honest answer here is probably “YES”. Continue reading »

Oct 202015
 
why I write what I write twitter screen capture

Is there a disconnect between why you write about what you write and what made you want to write in the first place?

As part of The National Day On Writing, via the #WhyIWrite Twitter meme, writers express why they’re willing—even anxious—to confront empty pages. Fellow writers’ 140 –character insight into what drives them makes inspiring, thought-provoking reading.

You’ll notice that very few of the #WhyIWrite tweets mention readers—particularly not the need to attract them. Which makes me think there’s a disconnect between what motivates us to be a writer and what we actually write about.

To succeed—whatever that may mean to each of us—experts tell us repeatedly that we need a winning concept. We also have to develop the ability to sell that concept. Which can lead us down a convoluted path of writing which has nothing whatsoever to do with what made us want to become a writer.

Why I write morphs into the more difficult to articulate, Why I write what I write.

Why I write what I write?

It’s not an easily contemplated question. Ideally, the same answer would apply to why you write, why you wanted to write in the first place, and why you write what you write.

Reality, for most of us, conjures a more complicated landscape. Many came into the field hoping to change the world with our words. We dreamed of our story taking root in hearts across the world, making it a better place, even if only infinitesimally so.

Some of us were driven by the need to create, but no one is paying for virgin creative juice. Like club soda on grocery store shelves, creative juice gets relegated to the mixer aisle instead of the main beverage aisle. Creativity’s market is dependent on bundling it with a trendier product, the ubiquitous yet damnably ethereal “winning concept.”

The problem with some of those winning concept beverages is that they’re not heart healthy. Perhaps that’s why blogging is so hard for many “emerging” authors. We’re blogging to build (or reinforce) our platform, but platform building ranks pretty low on our list of things we’re passionate about.

Your answer?

Even if I knew it, I couldn’t provide anyone with the right completion to ”Why I write what I write.” That answer comes from introspection. Despite all the “unleashing the stories in my head” responses that we read, it’s not usually that simple. Few of us have complete stories that are simply waiting for a romp off-leash. We’re creating, massaging, molding and editing for a reason. Perhaps it’s a personal one, such as understanding history or processing internal emotional turmoil. Perhaps it’s a need to inspire or to provide a glimpse of an alternative reality. Perhaps that reason hasn’t yet made itself clear.

But it’s a question worth asking, even if it doesn’t change anything that you do. The better we understand our inner workings, the higher the likelihood that we’ll be able to change gears if an attractive turn in the road presents itself.

You know, that road less written.

Jun 262015
 
Speaker ribbon -- Speaking can make you a better writer

Try wearing one of these! If you’re like me, You’ll find that speaking can make you a better writer.

Want to become a better writer? Try speaking.

Speakers, of course, often go about things differently than writers when communicating. However, the more public speaking I do, the more insight I get into my writing. I find more parallels than differences.

In fact, I’m convinced that writers can learn a lot from speaking.

How Public Speaking Can Make You a Better Writer

1. You Practice Engaging Your Audience

Before you think “thank you, Captain Obvious,” think of the “Wonk wonk wonk wonk….” drone of Charles Schulz’ adults in Charlie Brown. That runs neck and neck with a major wardrobe malfunction as the worst fear of every speaker.

Of course, writers aim to engage, too. It’s what drives us. Yet, we sometimes lose sight of that. Schedules, due dates, and word counts obscure our view of our audience.

Speaking can make you a better writer because speakers don’t have the luxury of losing sight of their audience. They know as they speak who is paying attention and who is doodling. It sounds intimidating, but as you write for listeners that will be in the room with you, you visualize them. It’s easy to keep them in mind. You know you don’t want to see them playing with their phones and it comes through in your writing.

2. You get Better at Storytelling

Speaking is all about storytelling. In Talk Like Ted, Carmine Gallon includes “Mastering the Art of Storytelling” as one of the “9 Public speaking secrets of the world’s great minds.” (This is a great book for authors and speakers!) According to Gallon, stories break down walls. They open minds by touching hearts.

I’ve haven’t latched onto this, simply because I’m into storytelling. Whether you’re writing or speaking, storytelling works. There’s no doubt in my mind that speaking can make you a better writer by honing your storytelling skills. In fact, good storytelling drives many of the following points.

3. You Have to Speak with Passion

QUote from Nietzsche proving that speaking can make you a better writer.

I wonder if Nietzsche was inspired to write this by a bad speaker….

As Friedrich Nietzsche asked, “Is not life a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves?” Passion is, in short, what makes our writing or speech interesting. It’s what conveys emotion. Speakers do it with their voice.

Writers do it with that other voice. Public speaking can help writers make sure they don’t edit the passion out of their voice as they perfect their style. Remembering the importance of passion can also help writers choose what to write about. Both speakers and writers fall flat when they chose a topic that doesn’t interest them. Passion is a hard thing to fake.

4. You Perfect Your Hook

Bad in golf, but excellent for writers…

I recently attended a Toastmasters “live coaching event.” Speakers started their prepared speeches and were interrupted by a champion speaker who analyzed what worked and what didn’t work. The process evoked a strong sense of Déjà vu—back to the San Francisco Writer’s conference with the first page critiques.

“Your hook was 30 seconds into your speech…” Sounds familiar, right?

Lance Miller, a former Toastmaster’s world champion, didn’t just focus on grabbing listeners’ attention. Rather, he advised them to help listeners engage emotionally. Which goes back to #1, #2, and #3. Hmmm.

5. You Learn to Speak (or Write) with Confidence

A writer’s audience can’t tell if the author’s fingers shook as they wrote, but they can sense our authority on our topics. Public speaking can make you a better writer by helping you develop that authority. Your confidence will come through your voice.

6. You Have to Be Authentic

Every audience wants a reliable narrator, whether they are in the room with them or not. If readers trust you and like you, they’ll stay with you. If they understand where you’re coming from, your viewpoint is more digestible to them.

Speaking authentically also brings home the writers’ mantra of “Show, Don’t tell.” For instance, my Toastmasters colleagues will quickly catch over-abundance of drama. Emotion is great. Drama, for drama’s sake isn’t. In fact, you’ll hear member suggest a tone of voice implying that the speaker’s emotion is kept under control, but with great effort. Again, you become a better storyteller. Which brings us to #9.

7. You Become Aware of Body language

In speaking, you do show with your body language and hand movements. Speaking drives this home. You won’t tell an audience that you were mad. You’ll show them with your voice, your stance, you facial expression and your gestures. It’s good practice.

8. You Improve Your Organization

Good organization is critical in a speech. Unlike readers, listeners don’t have the luxury of referring back to previous paragraphs or looking at bullet points.

Speaking can make you a better writer. As you prepare for speaking, you become hyper-aware of your talk’s organization. You learn to make sure you audience understands where you’re headed and any turns in the road.

9. Your Become Intentional about the Appropriate Amount and Type of Detail

Authors have the luxury of making their writing as “long as it needs to be.” Within limits, through the way they weave their story, writes can provide a wealth of background and backstories.

This is more challenging for speakers. First, they usually are operating under a time limit. Secondly, due to their length, speeches seldom offer the type of structure that lends itself to much back-story. Speakers need to provide detail that will engage readers in the story or setting, but not so much details that their listeners hear “wonk wonk wonk.”

They have to pick and choose which detail to use, which isn’t easy. Many times, it comes down to the listener’s ability to visualize the situation. Other times, it goes back to engaging. Which details will engage? Add humor? Increase impact? Public speaking can make you a better writer as you become sensitive to what details you include.

10. Strong Endings are Easier

As a non-fiction blogger, myself, a strong conclusion is often the hardest part. Perhaps it’s my internal distaste with ye ole “call to action.”

Somehow, in speaking, crafting a strong ending isn’t as hard. Perhaps it’s the immediacy of my audience, but when I end a speech, I beholden to help them figure out what they can do with any edification they gained by listening to me.

Your turn:

See if speaking can make you a better writer. Try your hand (voice). You can take a public speaking course or join a Toastmasters club. You’ll gain great insight into your writing.

Jun 112015
 

339181-hourglassLast week, I turned 42. In a society as age-centric as our own, you’d think I’d be freaking out about it. After all, the half-century mark is creeping ever closer. The faint etchings of age around my eyes are slowly becoming fault lines. And the old knee injuries of youth have come back to haunt me. It ain’t all bad, though. I’m actually in better shape now than I was 20 years ago. My vision is still 20/15. And when I look at turning 42 as simply having seven 6th birthdays, I trick myself into thinking it’s not such a hard thing to deal with.

Inevitably, however, there comes a day when the lights will go out. When the flame will get snuffed. When—not withstanding a person’s personal religious beliefs—we’ll all be spending the eternity drifting and tumbling through a moist, black void of non-existence. It’s the worst blow of all to the human ego to think of our minds—our consciousness—as nothing more than the mesh of a functioning brain; our bodies simply a bag of tissue and enzymes.

No artist can ever truly explain the drive to create. It’s a maddening, arduous process to sit there before a blank page and try to give some tangible form to artistic expression. Aside from the hours of thinking and ruminating and spelunking deep into the oft-treacherous caverns of the mind comes plenty of self-doubt and second-guessing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve championed what I thought was the perfect set of paragraphs, only to glance at it the very next day and consider it all just complete garbage. A hobby like golf or stamp collecting would be much easier on the psyche, for sure. But that’s just it: a writer, and I mean one who writes with the desperation of someone trying to take air, doesn’t see writing as merely a hobby. It’s not something you do because you have an hour to spare. It becomes something you must do. A need to be fulfilled. We write to beat the Devil and that’s the point. Whether it’s painting a canvas or writing a song, sculpting a garden or writing a story. It may sound like a stretch but the basic goal of creativity is to compete with the inescapability of our mortality. We long to create something that’s bigger than us. Leave some part of us behind that will, at least in a pragmatic sense, remain timeless. Does that mean that all artists are narcissistic? Who exactly does longevity and timelessness matter most to anyway? The writer, or the reader? On any given day it can be either.

When you nail a sentence, it takes you to euphoric heights. Flub one, and it sends you plummeting to crushing depths. But that’s how it goes. You take the good with the bad. You follow your instincts while not always knowing what the instinct is saying. Because with every valley comes a peak. Ignore the value judgments of others and write only what is truthful. For when you create something you can be proud of, then you’ve already beaten death.

May 042015
 
Signing with a publisherIt’s been about two weeks now since I signed with my first fiction book publishing contract, and now I am preparing to possibly sign with a publisher for one of my non-fiction books. It is an exciting time, and I want to bring up some considerations for others at this crossroads.

1. Freedom versus collaboration

When self-publishing, you take on a lot of the risk, but you also have freedom. You can do price promotions when you want, decide on your cover and all that jazz, but you have to be serious about the details. Plus, you can publish immediately! Small presses take anywhere from 3 months to 3 years to get your book out there.
When working with a publisher, there is a risk that they may do something you don’t like, but it’s also more likely that they have a better idea of what they are doing than you would if you were to do it yourself.

2. Marketing and cross-discoverability

 Having someone out there with a known name marketing your book will likely lead to enough sales to make up the difference in royalties you’ll be losing to your publisher. However, I have heard a lot of stories of small-press publishers NOT doing any real marketing – so make sure to know what you are getting into.
There’s a chance that, when publishing with a traditional publisher, someone may discover your book by clicking on another book by your publisher and going to their website.

3. You can always self-publish other books

 Just because you go with one publisher, it doesn’t mean you always have to go that route. But beware that a lot of contracts will have stipulations, such as the right to consider your next book. Some authors prefer to be self-published, others traditionally published. Some, as is the case with me, like the idea of being a “Hybrid Author,” both traditionally- and self-published. It’s like splitting in Blackjack (is it? I actually don’t understand the game that well, but you get the point).

4. Traditional publishing still carries more weight

 Some of us may not like to admit it, but traditional publishing still carries a certain level of prestige that self-publishing may not. Yes, most people just see your book on Amazon (Nook, etc.) and think it’s awesome you published a book, but if you meet someone at a writers conference or agent pitch fest or whatnot and they ask if you are self-published, you may see interest drop when you say yes. That used to be me (sorry!). My co-blogger here shared stories with me as well, where she met folks who said skeptically “Oh, you’re published?” and only showed real interest when they learned she wasn’t self-published. Unfortunately, a lot of people self-publish works full of issues, so you can’t totally blame the skeptics.
So if it’s the prestige you are after, considering going traditional with at least one of your books.
If you would like to follow my book publishing progress, you can find several of my self-published novels on Amazon, to include Teddy Bears in Monsterland and Back by Sunrise. My literary novel Mohira will be published when the publisher is ready!
Mar 282015
 

Teddy Bears in Monsterland: An Urban Fantasy Novel: Teddy Defenders, Book 1 | [Justin Sloan]Why would you just sell your book in ebook or print, when you could sell it as an audiobook? Maybe your answer is that you have no idea how to get your book into audiobook format. If that’s the case, there are a couple of choices, but the one I like is ACX.com.

I recently released the audiobook for Teddy Bears in Monsterland, my preteen novel of a teddy bear that goes into the lands of monsters to save his boy who was taken in the night. And guess what? The process was easy. ACX is like a big brother program, pairing us up with amazing (potentially) narrators and holding our hand along the way.  Continue reading »

Mar 122015
 

“You don’t have to,” said Marci, with an affect that made it impossible for Davis to know whether it was being uttered out of sincerity, or more as a disclamation to have to reciprocate such favors some day in the future. Either way, it mattered not. It was a small price to pay to shake off any stodgy reservations that his newly appointed division support assistant might have had regarding her assignment to the company’s Topeka branch. Over lunch (she had had the chicken dumpling soup and a salad; he, a chicken cordon bleu sandwich, fries and Sierra Mist), Davis had detailed for her his own odyssey from mailroom clerk in the company’s Boston flagship office, to Administrative Assistant in Danbury, to Administrative Assistant Coordinator and later Client Relations Specialist in Charlotte, to Facility Manager and Administrative Assistant Manager at the Minneapolis branch, before finally landing the Division Supervisor gig in Topeka. Continue reading »

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