Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Good Deals Ending

Just to let you know the prices of The White Lilac and Fadeout will be changing at the end of this month. Right now both are .99 however they will be going up to 3.99 in a few days. If you were thinking of buying one or both now is your chance. Also The Compound, a short story prequel to The White Lilac, is currently free at online retailers. Grab them while you have the chance. :)


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Talent or Hard Work?

A while back I was talking to my sister, Joanna. We were having dinner, a break from college stress for her and a break from a busy day for me. My sister and I have the arts in common, among other things, although our art forms of choice are different since I write and Joanna is a mime and actor. You can see some of her pieces on YouTube here and here. It's wonderful because we will both start talking about the creative process and the emotions we want to instill in a piece and whatever frustrations we may have over not having the story go the way we want.

So as we were talking she said, "I really don't like it when people tell me I'm so talented, because it ignores all the hard work I've done." And her comment struck me. Was she talented or did she just work hard over many years? Which led me to wonder where talent ends and hard work begins. Are people talented or do they just work harder than others and become better that way?

In my sister's case I believe there is a bit of both. She is talented, but she has been practicing and working on perfecting her movement style and body control for 14 years. Nine years ago we both wanted to get more involved in our art forms and so we both started practicing everyday. She created four or five new pieces to perform and I wrote a book and two short stories. We studied and compared notes and went back to the grindstone of work. I knew how hard she worked, because it was as hard as I did, actually harder. She went to college specifically for mime and practiced for hours and hours every day until she graduated.

Joanna came back from college and performed locally and I'd heard people gush over how talented she is. But when they say she is talented, it is as if they dismiss the years and years of hard work she put into perfecting her art. When other kids her age were playing video games and shopping at the mall, she was stretching and playing with invisible balls. When other college students were studying math, science or nursing and becoming proficient in those areas, she was doing the same only with dance. She didn't wake up one morning with all the grace and style she has now. She worked hard for it and her performance is a direct result of how hard she has worked, not how much talent she has.

A person can be able to pick up an action or activity quickly. Yet is this talent or just a quickness of mind? The only way that person will become truly gifted is through hard work: Practice, day in and day out over years, repeating it until the times it is right outnumber the times it is wrong. There is an element to which any person can become decent at any activity through practice. For instance, I believe anyone can write. Writing is a craft that can be learned. Words can be chosen, plots accomplished step by step, characters can be molded. All of these things are possible to learn and become good at through practice. Still even when a person knows all these things it does not make them brilliant or great. And perhaps this is when talent picks up to separate those who can from those who can amaze. However, the point is that those who can amaze have spent a long time practicing to get there. So are they really talented or did they just work harder than everyone else?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

4 Reasons Ideas Stop

Over the course of a life of writing there are ebbs and flows of creativity. Sometimes there is an explosion of ideas, other times the ideas dry up leaving a fear that they will never come back. But there are many reasons for why ideas stop. Here are a few:

1.      You may need to write more down.

Just get ideas out of your head so there is space for the new ones. The mind can only concentrate on a few things at a time and if you aren’t using your mind to create new ideas than you are only dwelling on the old ideas. The mind has to flow. If you bottle it up then it can’t discover new thoughts.

2.      You have grown up in your writing.

Remember the days when every idea sounded brilliant and possible? Have you looked back on some of them and thought, “Wow I would never do that now.” The days of accepting just any thought that catches your eye are long gone. But that’s a good thing. It means you are no longer willing to run with just any thought that flits through your mind. You’re sophisticated and waiting for the right ideas to hit you and when they do you love them because they are more mature and fit your style perfectly.

3.      You are forcing ideas.

This happens when you stress about not having ideas and you attempt to create out of stress. Sometimes this can work. There is nothing like a deadline to ensure a finished product. But sometimes this doesn’t work. Creativity flows. It doesn’t march to a beat. And if it is forced too often it may rebel altogether. Take a deep breath and don’t worry about when you will get your next idea. Because the best ideas come when you’re not expecting them to.

4.      You’re looking for the wrong ideas.

Sometimes you don’t understand yourself as well as you think you do. You might want to be a writer in a certain genre or write about certain characters, themes or plots, but we all have areas we gravitate toward and sometimes they don’t include the areas we want to gravitate toward. We may want to be funny or mysterious or literary or romantic, however this doesn’t mean we are. It can seem right to push yourself to finish an idea, but if it is the wrong idea it will flow like iced concrete and look just as pretty. You will spend your days frustrated because the piece won’t do what you want of live up to your imagination. This is because you are trying to do something that is not you. Your mind doesn’t work that way. But your mind works in a different way that will be even more satisfying because it will flow and it will be beautiful. 

One thing to remember: It’s okay to run out of ideas. You are still creative! And one day you will be energized again and the ideas will flow. You just have to wait.

This was originally posted at Write Over the Edge where I am one of the contributors. Check it out for other great writing discussions!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Remembered: Chapter 1

For those of you who have read Fadeout, and even if you haven't, here's a sneak peek at the first chapter of Remembered, And Carillians for the Machine Book 2!

Chapter 1: Silas

The wet twigs and leaves slipped with every step Silas Durant took, often overstraining his leg muscles which tried so hard to keep his body upright. It had been two weeks on the run and he would have thought his muscles would be used to it by now. He glanced back at his sister Malina. Her eyes stared off at the distant trees. A bell rang probably from a nearby town, but she was not looking in the direction the sound was coming from. She was just staring at the last spot her eyes happened to look. The downhill slope they had been following seemed to have no obvious effect on her. Silas rubbed the sweat from his brow and then checked Malina’s forehead. She was sweating too, just not as much as he was, although she wasn’t breathing heavily despite the fact that they had been running for eight hours straight since early morning.

“We’ll stop at the bottom of this hill,” Silas said. There had to be some kind of stream or river nearby. He thought he could hear water trickling somewhere downhill. They would also have to find something to eat. Silas wasn’t sure how long he could make three slices of bread and a block of cheese last, but it was all that was left now after two weeks of careful rationing.

“Come on,” Silas said. He stepped and his foot slipped farther than he expected. His other leg slid into the dirt and his hands sank an inch in mud when they tried to stop his fall. Silas let out a laugh. That had to look awkward, but when he glanced up at Malina, she didn’t smile or look concerned. It made Silas feel alone, utterly alone when she did that. She was his sister, but all of her memories were taken out of her mind, removed to be sold for energy. She didn’t remember him, she didn’t even remember herself and he had to carry all of their memories by himself.

Silas quickly checked the pillowcase with the food tied to his back. He could feel the smooth surface of the glass e-mem resting against his back. The pillowcase was clean, which also meant the only memory Malina had left was safe too. The first chance he got he would find a way to get her memories and hopefully one day he would find a way to stick them back into her mind. But her memories were locked up in the Cartiam, the one place he was trying so hard to escape from. How would he ever get back there before her memories were shipped and lost forever?

He started to push himself up, but when he turned his noticed Malina’s right foot was soaked in blood.

“What happened?” Silas asked.

Malina turned her eyes to him at the sound of his voice.

He reached out and gently lifted her foot. Several leaves and a stick came up with it and Silas wiped all but the stick away. The angle of the stick appeared to pierce through her shoe into her foot and Silas couldn’t remove the shoe without taking out the stick first.

“I’m going to take it out fast, okay?” Silas didn’t look up because he didn’t want to see how calm her eyes would be. She never complained and now he wondered if he had been pushing her too hard.

Silas took a ragged breath and closed his fingers around the stick. With a quick tug he jerked it out of the shoe and gritted his teeth against the flow of blood from the hole in her shoe. He undid the laces and inspected her foot as well as he could. The stick had poked through the center of her arch, but the top of Malina’s foot was still whole. There was both old and new blood on her sock which meant that she had been running with the stick in her foot for a while and he hadn’t noticed.

“I’m sorry.”

She didn’t say anything. Much like she hadn’t said anything about the stick. He tried to think back if she’d sighed or grunted or made any sound over the last few miles that he should have paid more attention to, but he couldn’t remember. It would be up to him from now on. He would have to pay more attention, especially now that he knew she wouldn’t warn him if she was in pain.

Silas took off his cleanest sock and wrapped it around Malina’s foot. Then he put her sock and shoe back on and pushed himself up. Once they found the water he would clean her up and then they would take the remainder of the day to rest.

“Lean on me,” Silas said when he straightened. He wrapped his arm around her waist and took a few steps with her. Malina walked on both feet almost as if there was nothing wrong, but she didn’t seem to step as hard on her hurt foot as she did with her other foot. Silas tried pulling her weight on him when she did need to step on her bad foot and they slowly followed the sound of the water until the little creek came into view.

He found the safest route down the creek bank and helped Malina down. The mud was thick and oozed around his shoes and the water seemed to fill the air with the taste of cleanliness. Leading her to the nearest flat rock, Silas had her sit while he removed her shoe and the socks and placed her foot into the water.

The mid-spring water was cold and made his fingers go numb while they were gently rubbing her foot and scrubbing the socks. After hanging the socks up to dry, Silas inspected Malina’s foot again. It wasn’t bleeding and the hole didn’t look nearly as big as the amount of blood in the socks had suggested. But there was a large bruise, dark and puffy, that covered the sole of her foot.

“Look,” Silas said and pointed to the foot. “You need to tell me when it hurts. Okay?”

Malina’s brown eyes stared at him, like a little child who didn’t speak the same language.

“When you feel pain,” Silas touched the wound, “You tap me on the shoulder.” He took her hand and rested it on his shoulder. He let his hand drop, but Malina left hers there a moment longer and then she placed her hand in her lap.

Silas pulled the pillowcase over his shoulder and opened it.

“Here,” he said handing her a whole slice of bread. For himself, he drank some water and tried not to think about food.

Silas let all his air out in a whoosh. The plan to keep running wouldn’t be sustainable much longer. When he escaped the Cartiam with Malina it was thrilling to be free. What he hadn’t counted on was how hard it was to stay that way. In one sense it was so much harder than he’d ever dreamed possible. He was in charge of everything: food, clothes, a place to sleep and any health issues. Never had he imagined how hard it would be to find food in the forest. There were just leaves, trees, dirt and rocks, none of which looked anything like the food he’d been served in the cafeteria.

The bell from the town rang again and Silas refused to let the sound call to him. There would be nothing in the town but the threat of being caught. Out in these woods they were safe. He had seen or heard no one over the last two weeks and it was best that way. If only he knew how to find food it would be perfect.

“I’m going to look around,” Silas said. “To see how close we are to the town.”

He double checked to make sure her foot was out of the water and resting in the open before he added, “You stay here.”

Malina stayed as she was and when Silas peered back at her five minutes later she was still in the same position. There was something to be said for how well she obeyed him. He should have been worried. He doubted she would move if the creek flooded. She’d drown where she sat and still not move. But he’d be back before that could happen.

It was rough going. The ground was soaked from all the rain that had fallen over the past few days and it was difficult for Silas to find any secure foothold. Still he managed to hike over three wooded hills and at the top of the fourth was a road. Not like the old roads he had seen in the woods every now and then, this one was current. Packed gravel and tar smoothed the surface of the road. He didn’t have time to inspect the road more because a rattle of wheels and clopping of hooves sounded near the bend and he quickly retreated to the nearest trees.

The wheels grew closer and Silas’ heart thumped louder. He checked his arms and legs to reassure himself they were not sticking out in plain sight. They weren’t but he pulled them in closer to the center of the tree just in case. As the wagon passed the tree, Silas inched along the trunk always keeping the tree between him and the wagon. Once the wagon was past, Silas peeked at it.

The wagon was pulled by an ox and it must have belonged to a farmer because it was full of seed bags. On the tail flap of the wagon sat two boys, both younger than Silas. At first he thought they must have belonged to the farmer, but when the farmer glanced back both of the boys ducked so they wouldn’t be seen.

Silas waited until the wagon was almost out of sight before he started following it. The boys stayed on the wagon until it was in sight of the town’s first buildings. Together they jumped off and slipped between the two closest buildings with the farmer unaware of his passengers. Silas wanted to creep closer and see where the boys went, but it would require him leaving the comfort of the trees and that was something he wasn’t willing to do. It made him wonder what they were doing though. Did they have family or were they more like him?

The more he thought about it, the more it seemed like those boys were hiding from society too. It was doubtful they were Carillians too, but just knowing they were there made him feel a bit less alone in the world. He stayed and watched a few more people mill about the town. Each person had their mind on their own troubles and didn’t bother with anyone else. No one was in the habit of questioning random new people. That was something at least. He wanted to get closer and watch more, but the sun was close to setting and he didn’t like to leave Malina alone for long periods of time.

He snuck deeper into the woods before he broke out into a slow run and jogged back to the creek. It pleased him that he had been able to find his way back to wherever he needed to go in the woods. Often when he first left he would take a moment to memorize the trees around him and when he returned he found there was always something he recognized. He felt at home in the trees perhaps because they crowded around him and gave the appearance of the walls he was too used to seeing as a child.

Silas was too busy looking around that when he burst through the bushes the first thing he saw was Malina sitting on the rock with a red fox standing a foot from her hand. The fox’s head whipped up.

“Get away!” Silas yelled and he jumped down the bank into the shallow creek, cold water splashing up his legs. The fox jerked and then trotted away into the bushes. His heart pounded as he tried to walk without slipping.

“Are you all right?” he asked her.

Malina looked at him. He wasn’t sure if she looked a bit pale or not, but her hands were calm and whole. Her foot was still up on the rock where he left it and aside from the bruise looking a deeper brown it didn’t appear like the fox had bit her anywhere.

He collected the dried socks and fitted them over her foot. Then he held out his hand to her and said, “Here let’s find a place to sleep.”

Malina took his hand and he pulled her up. He turned her toward the shore, but what he saw stopped him cold. The rock Malina was sitting on was stained in blood.

Monday, August 5, 2013

5 Ways to Know You’re Not an Intermediate Writer Anymore

Here are the marks of the next level of writer. If you breezed by 4 Ways to Know You Are a Writer and passed through 4 Ways to Know You’re Not a BeginningWriter Anymore, then this may be where you are. Here are the ways to find out:

1.      You can teach writing.

This happens when you have gathered and studied enough knowledge on writing that you can teach on writing topics without completely relying on others. You can pull from your own experience to help those who are not quite as advanced as you are. There may still be the occasional beginner’s work that completely baffles you, but on the whole you can identify or recognize what an unpolished work is missing and how to fix it.

2.      You’ve started to run out of ideas.

There is a creative high that comes from being a beginner and intermediate writer. But as you move through the steps growing deeper in your writing style and personality, there comes a time when you realize you don’t have as many ideas as you used to. The possibilities of writer’s block loom right around the corner and things don’t flow as well as you remember they did. This though is a sign that you have matured. You’re more careful because you don’t want to waste your time with an idea you know you won’t use later.

3.      You have worked on a piece of your writing until you are sick of looking at it.

This is especially important because it means that you cared enough about your writing to want it to be perfect. So you worked and worked on it. You added a word here changed a word there and then changed it back. You’ve done this so many times that you are now certain your piece will never be perfect and it makes you sick to look at it. You are right it may never be perfect, but as Leonardo da Vinci said, “Great art is never finished only abandoned.”

4.      You know what works for you.

Wading through the flood of advice on writing out there is difficult, but you’ve tried the different approaches: Outline vs. Creative flow, Character interview vs. Just see how it goes, or Index cards vs. Notepads. You have recognized a pattern in the way you craft a piece whether you should start in the beginning and move along linearly or jump around writing whatever scene you have the passion for. You know what makes your writing easier and what makes writing more like work. And because of this you have become a sufficient professional. 

5.      You can write even when you’re not inspired.

It is normal for a writer to write when inspired, when the ink flows through page after page, but to write when you’re sick, tired, frustrated and uninspired this is the sign of a mature writer. It takes discipline and self-control to buckle your pants to the chair and churn out the words. The amount of words is not important because it’s all about the dedication and determination.

These are the signs of a maturing professional writer. Have any resonated with you?
This was originally posted at Write Over the Edge where I am one of the contributors. Check it out for other great writing discussions!