The writing life should be about sitting in front of your keyboard and creating. Even better if a roaring fire, quietly content children, and an adoring dog and spouse are thrown in.
But, for most of us, it’s not that simple. We blog. We take to the blogosphere, not out of a desire to create and communicate, but because it’s good for business. Website builders and their plugins can boggle the creative mind.
When I decided to get serious about blogging, I looked to my small business and non-fiction authoring idol, Stephanie Chandler. Back in 2011, she had published 8 Favorite WordPress Plugins for Business Blogs. Although not all her favorites are my favorites, I found it a great starting place.
Of course, the plugin landscape keeps changing. It’s time for a fresh list. (more…)
As a Christmas present to all of you, I would like to share my interview with Will Wight, the author of the Travelers Gate trilogy. It makes sense for me to share this with you all today, because Will is offering a Christmas discount on the second book in his trilogy, The Crimson Vault. He also has his next series coming out soon, and the cover looks amazing (Of Shadow and Sea). To add extra candy to the stockings, my book Creative Writing Career features his interview and many more, and is also on a Christmas sale for $0.99. So treat yourself to some Christmas magic and pick up electronic copies of both of our books and enjoy some wonderful reading this weekend.
Will went straight into an MFA program from undergrad, published the first book of his trilogy, and has had some success working as an author. The result of his drive to write was that he did not have to find a mediocre desk job like many of us have to do in order to pay the bills—he is a writer who pays his bills through his writing. We have much to learn from Will.
Notwithstanding the potential of turning this into one massive passion-fueled, rolling tumbleweed of theological debate and discussion, I think the question is fair and quite simple: When you die and (assuming) you go to heaven, what will you look like?
I’m not much for writing about what happens after death; only the slow, steady, agonizing, degenerative, angst-filled crawl toward its destination. But as a writer, there occasionally comes a time when I might feel a pang of interest in dipping my toe into a storyline about a character or two whose story continues even after that heavy dark curtain has been dropped.
Case Study #1:
“Steve”; a 28 year-old slightly overweight white male of average height.
Steve owns a 2005 Yamaha YZF-R1 “crotch rocket” that he likes to take for rides along the planes and twists of Old Beatty Ford Road in North Carolina. One late afternoon in May, while crossing into the intersection of Phaniel Church Road, Steve encounters a UPS truck. Its driver, being temporarily blinded by the bright and low-hanging sun, pulls into Steve’s path of travel, causing Steve to slam into the side of the truck.
A local media team descends upon the crash site. The community rallies around Steve’s family to express their love and support. Despite the doctors’ wonder and amazement at Steve’s strength and endurance for having initially survived the crash in the first place, they try rationalizing for his family that due to his extensive injuries and his no-hope-for-recovery comatose state, consideration should be given for disconnecting him from the ventilator. Steve’s brother and sister agree to it. Steve’s mother on the other hand – a devoutly pious evangelical woman – curses the doctor for even suggesting it. Hence comes a contentious, 15-year odyssey in Steve’s life where the matter of his life and death inches its way along into the upper echelons of the judicial system. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court rules in favor of Steve’s siblings and the ventilator is disconnected soon thereafter.
In his life, Steve’s withered, vestigial and severely atrophied body “lived” to the age of 43.
When Steve arrives in heaven, is he 28, or 43?
Hell’s waiting room, or your typical line at the DMV?
Case Study #2:
“Emily”; a 56 year-old black female and retired teacher.
Children can be cruel, as evidenced by the sometimes vicious and demeaning verbal abuse they can slosh at those with even the slightest of imperfections. A pair of pesky keloids on her left earlobe has destined Emily to such an existence. But despite this, she flourished in her role as a teacher at Shreveport Central High School where she taught tenth grade English and Math. She had married her high school sweetheart, “Daniel”, fresh out of college and together they had a boy they had named after Daniel’s father, Eric.
Despite her husband’s constant reassurances, Emily’s keloids had remained a constant source of embarrassment and frustration for her. Doctors had given her a statistically high probability that surgical intervention would only exacerbate her condition and expand the keloid growth. As a result, Emily had no choice but to resign herself to absorbing the occasional taunts of “cocoa puff”, and “Goober earring”.
One day, after having just started a load of laundry, Emily was climbing the basement stairs when she dropped dead of a heart attack.
When she was shown to her celestial cottage on the sparkling Eustelean Glens overlooking the mystical, mermaid-swelled waters of Lake Absentia, she couldn’t help but be curious about something.
Slowly, Emily eased herself in front of the mirror…
Keloid, or no keloid?
Quick Case Study #3:
Husband dies at 47. Wife goes on to live until the age of 92. Do either get to choose the age in which to spend their eternity? Taking it further, let’s say the guy liked himself best at 24; chiseled body, six-pack abs. Full head of hair. The woman, meanwhile, had come to appreciate the glow and wisdom of her 60’s. Will their age gap cause a paparazzi-sized sensation? Divorce…is it even an option?
Look, it’s not that I expect everyone to be walking around heaven looking like porn stars. But if the motivation for wanting to vanquish our imperfections and become our most “perfect” self in our earthly form is simply to increase our odds of getting laid, who’s to say that a part of that doesn’t carry over into our “heavenly state”? The second circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno just so happens to center around “carnal malefactors”, after all.
All I’m saying is that it would help me greatly as a writer to be able to wrap my head around this minor issue of physical appearance as it relates to the afterlife.
Such considerations seem moot in a place like hell, where we’re all just a pile of screaming, burning feces shat from the foul, hemorrhoidal ass of Satan, himself.
A logician tasked with conducting an analysis of this issue might very well conclude that heaven is comprised of differences; of choices. Using this logic, would it be safe to say that hell means being the same as everyone else?
It would be for me.
Have you considered turning your novel into a screenplay? How about a graphic novel? Video Game? Many writers out there find that dipping their toes in multiple lakes leads to a greater chance of success, and if nothing else it will lead to more discoverability.
Take for example, the first question I ask of Allen Warner (below), in my interview with him that you can find in my book, Creative Writing Career. Allen’s journey included a screenplay, a short story, and the published graphic novel series. And the screenplay was optioned! This likely would not have been possible if he just sat back and wrote the novel version.
I like to write early. And by early, I mean that knife-edge, where-does-the-night-end-and-the-morning-begin? ass-crack-of-dawn kind of early where everyone’s still asleep and the house is quiet and even the dogs look as though they’re trying to sleep off the remnants of a ruff night (har har…get it?). The smell of coffee wafts through the house and it’s the time of day when I’m at my least self-critical. Early in the morning, everything seems in place. Distractions are limited. All I can hope for is that once I finally sit down at my laptop, my expectations don’t go slamming head-on into a wall.
I once had an idea for a novella about a long-haul truck driver who, at day’s end and by the glow of a map light in his sleeper cabin, commits himself to writing a poem a day. Its working title was Road Scholar and I’d kept detailed notes on everything from semi-truck mechanics and nomenclature to radio jargon and trucker lifestyle (with two subsections devoted entirely to trucker gastronomy and lot lizards). I’d given my salty dog protagonist a Kris Kristofferson-look and had even sketched out a limited backstory that included a dishonorable discharge from military service for having killed the pimp of a Laotian prostitute.
It was a sure thing. Something easy and fun. The intellectual equivalent of ordering-in. But in those precious, waning hours of early morning silence and concentration, I found myself barely able to squeeze out even a few sentences. The same thing happened the next day, and the day after that. Weeks passed, and nary a page came and before long I had all but aborted the project.
I suspect that, like most writers, the turbine that generates my creativity comes from some precinct of my unconscious; a place that can never be charted or mapped by even the most sensitive of neuro-imaging instruments. It can be an ornery and complicated thing. A frigid lover. And you have to ready yourself to accept that inspiration might just reject you when you’re most ready for it, only to come pounding down the door of your unconsciousness at 3 am when you should be asleep.
Personally, routine is what seems to be the best companion for writing (I like to write in the morning…rarely do I ever write past noon). But on a bad day, when I’ve squandered my time with self-doubt (which is the inevitable by-product of non-performance), I find myself feeling as if it’s necessary to work past my “normal business hours” until I can find just one sentence I feel good about ending the day with. Perhaps it’s no different than a gambler at a blackjack table who feels he’ll win it all back if he just hangs in there. It doesn’t help, of course, when you compare yourself to other established writers who seem capable of churning out one work after another with little to no effort. In a swelled and euphoric state, you may produce a good six or seven pages of what might seem keepable material one day only to scrap it all the next; perhaps no different than bedding someone one night only to regret it the next morning.
Inspiration can strike at any time. Have your coffee ready.
Consider horror maestro Stephen King who was, at one time, contracted to produce three books a year. Norman Mailer’s series of child support payment books were written quick and haphazardously just to keep the Friend of the Court off his ass. Literary jokester David Foster Wallace once famously said of John Updike that “…he’s never had a single, unpublished thought.” Each writer I’ve just mentioned have themselves struggled with productive droughts. Yet, between the three of them, the words produced would probably rival the number of stars in our galaxy.
So, is it still possible then to plod through and produce volumes of passable material in a relatively short time? I guess the answer is subjective. If you think what you’ve written isn’t entirely shit, then it shouldn’t matter how much time or effort you’ve put into it, which brings me to my own self-evaluation. I can’t help but wonder sometimes if I acquiesce too much to the ebb and flow of inspiration to begin with. Perhaps the advice should be to just ram through any future creative roadblocks and keep…writing.
That’s the thing about advice, though. It’s much easier to give, than follow.
Today I am happy to share my interview with Tomiko Breland, who I had the pleasure of meeting at my time in the Johns Hopkins MA in writing program. Tomiko is a fiction writer and an Associate Publisher at The Zharmae Publishing Press. She won the Ploughshares Emerging Writer’s Contest and is working on a novel. Additionally, she has an editing/graphic design/freelance business, called Paper Star Editorial & Design.
(If you would like to read more interviews, check out my book that will be coming out late November on how to position yourself for a creative writing career. To get on the mailing list, contact me at SloanArtst@gmail.com)