Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday's Quote: Gabriel Marquez

"It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams."~ Gabriel Marquez

I love this quote. I have talked a lot on here about pursuing dreams and never giving up. While a lot of people say that achievement is based a lot on luck, the other piece they agree on is that it is based on perseverance. Basically, you need to outlast the competition. I like that idea better. Not because I am patient and can wait, because, believe me, waiting drives me crazy. But I like this because I am not a lucky person. If my work has a raffle, my number is never called...unless they are drawing everyone and then it is close to last. I am not lucky. So, setting my life on this is kind of depressing.

The second reason I like this quote is because I have seen so many of my friends "settle." They settle in their marriage, they settle in their job. They give up the aspirations they had in high school and have accepted ordinary. I've been tempted to do this as well. In some ways it is easier. However, whenever I do, I start to feel depressed. I start to feel "old." What gives youth bright eyes? The possibility of the future. We should never forget that.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

My Next 30 Years

On Wednesday, I reflected on the things high school me wanted to happen by the time I was 30. It provided quite the laugh looking back. At first, I thought about making a list of new goals for the next thirty years. I decided against that partly because it felt like a “way to end my life” list…which is kind of depressing. I also started thinking about the list and wondering if the problem lies in making one. 

Don’t get me wrong. I like the idea of the “bucket list.” There are places I want to visit in my life. There are things I want to experience. But, when it comes to setting a goal for my life…that leaves open the haunting question: what if you don’t achieve this goal? What if I do everything right and never make the New York Times Bestseller (for an extreme example)? I’m okay with setting short-term goals that propel me forward, but I’m starting to wonder if I’m missing out on what really matters. Maybe, instead of saying I’ll be happy with my life if these three to five things are achieved, I should instead look at life a little different. 

I came up with this one idea. I want to be able to look back on my life and say that I grew, I made progress, and I never settled for anything less than what I want. I think these three things can apply to any aspect of my life, but I feel it especially applies to my writing. I want to grow as a writer. I may be better than a lot of people, but I am also not as good as others. There is always room to grow. I have yet to meet a writer who could say different. So, I want to grow and expand in my writing. 

I want to make progress. I know that sounds a little ambiguous, but it is that way for a reason. I don’t want to say I won’t have a happy life unless fill in the blank. I want to set goals to achieve, yes. But, as long as I am not stationary, as long as I am moving forward in my life, then who cares what the end result is? I lived. I battled the roadblocks in this life. And, most of all, I enjoyed the time I have here. I am reminded too often how short life is. Enjoy it. 

Lastly, I never want to settle. I say this knowing I might not achieve what society says I should. I may not find that perfect whatever. But, I think that is better than saying I settled and now regret it. I’m not sure settling will be the best option. So, I don’t want to do that. Not in my writing. Not in my life. Not in my job. Never give up, but never settle, either.

So, today I will cherish what I have and not be bummed about what I don’t. I will enjoy the day and sing Tim McGraw’s “My Next Thirty Years” knowing that the possibilities are still endless.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Goals Before Turning 30: to be so innocent

About this time last year, I posted about letting ourselves have the ability to change and adapt goals. I thought about it when watching a friend’s daughter graduate high school. Now, as I turn thirty at the end of the week, I have started thinking about this idea of goals and dreams once more.  I started looking at the goals I set as a high school student and reflected on how they have changed. I thought I’d share because they really are silly looking back. 

Goals set by high school me for “by the time I’m 30.”

1. To have an agent. In fact, this was more of a five year goal. I should have had one by 25…or 21…or like right out of high school. I was convinced I could just write a ton of query letters and eventually “Bam!” the agent of my dreams would fall into my lap and all my dreams would be achieved. After all, I’m better than the other person and I deserve it.

2. I would have a big time publisher who would love my books, be patient with what I wanted to write and when I finished, and work with me to make sure I was “successful.” (I’m not even sure this reality exists…)

3. To be writing for a living. To clarify, not just writing in a “writing job.” No, I was going to get my degree—at the time I had no idea in what, but it didn’t matter. I would get my degree because my parents said I needed to and then I would scrap it when I “made it big.” Once that happened, I’d just write all day long without a care for market, readership, and trends. I would just write for the love of writing.

4. I would have a husband who adores my writing and helps me create stories. I would have a family who would not take away from my writing time that I could share my joys with. (I blame books and TV for this delusion)

I think the obvious trouble with these goals is that they are not realistic. Of course, most teenagers don’t understand the “real” world. Things are small and easy and fair. I would get everything I wanted because, after all, I worked hard and did things the way I was “supposed to.” I think this misconception comes from our childhood. Everything has to be fair growing up. The world doesn’t always work that way. The biggest idea coming out of my 20’s is that someone can do everything “right,” whatever that means, and still not get what they want. But, even if they are achievable, my desires change as the world and I change. Maybe I don’t want some of those anymore. Maybe they don’t fit or the market is changing so they are not the best. It is fun to look back and mock our perceptions…as long as we are still setting goals and striving to achieve them. But, we must also be flexible and adapt to not only the real world but also to what will be best for us.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday's Quote: Anne Frank

"I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”~ Anne Frank

The wisdom in this child always amazes me. And, what amazes me more, is that most of the time I see children who are beyond their years, their lives end in tragedy. Most will appear on television talk shows with some sort of ailment (cancer, etc.), but shine with stars brighter than any other and wisdom grander than most twice their age. I do have to wonder if there are more out there, but that we only pay attention when there is justification to do so.

This quote spoke to me because, over the course of my writing career, I have often questioned if I want to continue. This business is tough and there are plenty of people ready to state what you are doing wrong. Even Anne Rice has started a movement against people bullying authors on Amazon. I can't understand why people act in a way that she would have to do this. But, even if it is not some creep on the internet, it's something else. A rejection letter, sales not going the way you wanted, a plot that isn't working, etc. Why do we put up with the negative aspects of writing? For me, it's because there is no other choice.

I write because my world is darker without it. Writing is such a joy in my life. Everything I worry about goes away. It's just me and my characters in a world that is, at times, so much better than this one. I can be anyone and do anything. There is no other feeling like it in the world.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Nerdy Wizard vs Strong Wizard: which is better?

I am in the middle of reading two urban fantasy series The Kate Daniels Series and The Dresden Files. I actually am up to date on the Kate Daniels one—which is the first time I have ever been able to say that about a series that didn’t end after 4 books. I started to notice a few commonalities between these two series. First, they involve people who happen to have magical talent: Dresden is a wizard while Daniels has more of a hybrid genetics thing going on. They both acquire a wacky, oversized dog that follows them around. And they both seem to get their butt kicked…a lot…and yet still come out victorious against any monster they face—because they are just that awesome. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say both characters are “wizard” type people.

In my reading, I see two types of “wizards”: the comic-book hero, kick-butt-and-crack-jokes-while-doing-it kind and the nerdy, look-at-how-smart-and-wordy-I-am kind. The first type is always strong, putting the navy seals to shame with their physicality. They walk around in tight clothes…typically with leather…and, while they will claim they lack attractive appeal, the reader is left with the distinct impression that they are hot. I contribute this to the comic book style of writing that seems to follow urban fantasy. If the writers could get away with putting the little “pow” and “bang” bubbles in the middle of the text, they probably would. To their credit, they still create epic fight scenes satisfying the superhero status they are projecting.

The second type of wizard is all about the spells. There is not so much the hand-to-hand combat, but rather a battle of wills. I am thinking of the movie The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The battle scene at the end involved bolts of lightning being thrown back and forth in battle. Another example is Harry Potter. Again, most of the battles involved energies being thrown with words and wands. There isn’t really any “combat” as we typically interpret the word. While these characters may try to act cool, they are a little dorky. They wear cloaks and perhaps glasses. Instead of working out in the gym, their way to prepare is to study. After all, their battle is basically one of knowledge and mental power. This type seems to follow more in the fantasy genre, at least from what I’ve noticed, although, Dresden certainly mixes them.

Looking at these types of wizards, I couldn’t help but have what I admit is probably a very nerdy question. Which style is better? Not necessarily who would win if they went up against each other, but, rather, which is more impressive? Am I captivated by the character that can battle an eight-foot shapeshifter with just a sword…and win? Or am I more captivated by a character that can elicit thunderbolts and manipulate the winds? I know movie producers love the first…it creates more drama on the screen with their special effects. But I actually am undecided. I lean more toward the raw, physical power…but I think that is because it appears more human. In either case, I think there has to be a struggle. One can’t just say a spell and win the fight. That’s boring. What do you think?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Let's be Honest

Everybody has an opinion. I think it’s true no matter the topic—politics, religion, lifestyle, stories—that most people will proclaim their opinion as if it is the only one. I realized this weekend that part of my frustration with the writing community is this reality. I read two blogs last week that really drove home to me what I would love to see more of. The first was by Nathan Bransford. I have spent years having it being pounded into me that I have to write everyday on a schedule—no matter how big the struggle—in order to be a “true” and “dedicated” writer. So, when he posted that this is false, he immediately had my attention. His basic point is that all writers are different. We need to write on a schedule, yes, but our schedules don’t have to be formatted the same way. Maybe writing a big chunk on the weekend suits you better. The second blog that struck me was on The Newbies Guide to Publishing called “Identity and the Writer.” This one was more about the different types of publishing options and a writer deciding who they want to be, but it caused me to think of the whole “who is truly an author” debate. What I love about both of these articles is that they present a side without stating it is the only side.

I think the problem with the writing community right now is not just that everyone has conflicting opinions, but that those opinions are proclaimed as the law of the land. Just because it worked for so-in-so, it is declared the only way for any to make it. So, when someone new comes onto the field, they start following said advice and wonder why it’s not working. But, the more I’m in the field, the more I realize how often someone new, who hasn’t done much research and doesn’t’ have the experience, will stand amongst the crowd and proclaim their own opinion without it ever being tested. This angers me. Don’t pretend to be something bigger just for the sake of selling books. That’s kind of like setting others up to fail so they can get ahead. Or, even worse, it’s pumping oneself up as an authority figure for ego purposes. 

In a perfect writing world, we would be tolerant of writing and publishing methods. We would accept that right now the market is wide open. There are practically no rules for how to be successful. There is a lot of brilliant and trashy stories in all areas. The key is to identify what the individual writer wants and go for it. We are all different. We all write different and want different things. Let’s be honest. This works for me, but maybe not for you. This is one option, maybe something else would work. I never tried this, but it worked here. Let’s actually help each other instead of boost our own ego and authority. Just a little pet peeve brought up this weekend, but sometimes the writing world is not all roses.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday's Quote: Charles Dickens

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”~ Charles Dickens

I don't think I'm alone when I say that I can take life way too seriously. I focus on the day's agenda. I focus on the dreams I'm trying to achieve. I can, at times, forget that life is precious and short. I can also forget that the only way to get through it is to just laugh. I love my family because we laugh our way through most days. And, guess what? The days I laugh through the hiccups are so much better than those where I grow irritated.

I used to work in an atmosphere where people were unhappy. They had good reason to be upset, but it certainly took a lot more energy to go into work. Then, I switched jobs and found an organization that believed in the "half full" mentality. They smiled when they walked the halls. They joked and actually liked each other. I, in tern, adopted their attitude. I do believe that what we do can be contagious. We not only influence our own perceptions, but we also influence the days of others. So, maybe we should be the contagion. I have a photo frame hanging in my house that proclaims "Live, Laugh, Love." I think all of us can do a little more of that from time to time.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Considering the Market: something Independent Authors should still do.

I was having a discussion with my mother just yesterday where she was complaining about how a book series began. I told her fantasy readers value “world building.” The novelists had to set up the world before they could capture their readership and roll out the plot. She said she didn’t like it, but she’s not necessarily their target audience. This got me to thinking about the world of independent authors. 

If someone spends any time in writer discussions or blogs, they will discover this new trend of bypassing publishing houses. Writers as their own publishers; it is an intriguing idea. No gatekeepers. No sending letter after letter to try to capture a busy agent’s attention for the shot at a chance of success. The door is now wide open for authors. Wrote a book? It can be published in the matter of a click of a button. In the “old days,” which was five years ago, I couldn’t attend a conference without sessions about how to “write to the market” or “how to capture an agent’s attention on the first page.”

Now that this isn’t a roadblock, writers are free to write whatever fancies them. Want to mix cowboys with evil dragons? Sure. Want to write a murder mystery set in ancient Greece with Merlin as the main character. Why not? Maybe because, while this topic interests the writer, it won’t interest anyone else? To a certain extent, writers are selfish people. Yes, I’m lumping myself into this and please hear me out before hating me. We got into the writing business because we love to create. We build worlds and fall in love with this picture in our minds. Sometimes, the joy from this creation is better than the real world. After all, I can’t control other people’s actions—not to mention know exactly what the other person is thinking/feeling—in the real world. The created world is easier to engage in…if you get over the whole “it’s not real” thing. It is all about us and our joy within the creation. But, I do believe that we need an outsider to tell us what is not transferring from our head to the page. I also believe we need someone to tell us that maybe people would baulk at the idea of Merlin hanging out in ancient Greece…unless there is a really, really good/intriguing reason. 

Sometimes I think too much freedom is a bad thing. We live in a world where I could stay up all night, party and not go into work if I don’t want to. Is that a good idea? Not unless my goal in life is to be a bum and burden on my family for the rest of my life. Likewise, we live in a world where I could write whatever I want and throw it out into the universe. But, I believe some of the old standards should still apply. I still need to think of the genre and what appeals to my market. I still need to have others edit and help me polish my work. We need to acknowledge that maybe publishers had certain standards for a reason. What do you think?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

That Time of Year: Tucson Festival of Books

I know festivals and such take place all throughout the year, but I always think of the spring as festival time. I think it's because we have two major ones that take place around March. The first is the Renaissance Festival. I've been to this only once, but it was a fun time. Every year around this time, either the schools take field trips to the area, or people post on Facebook that they've visited.

The second major festival has only been happening recently. I may be wrong, but I want to say the Tucson Festival of Books is five years old. I remember going on the very first year with my writer's group: The Society of Southwestern Writers. That first year was crazy, but I think everyone knew it was going to get big...and it sure did. My second presence there was last year with the lovely lades at the Gecko Gals Ink. It rained the entire day and I only sold two books in my hour time slot, but it was such a blast. This year I'm hoping for the traditional sunny Arizona skies.

I'm looking forward to going there yet again this year...and this time I can brag about having a new book coming out in July. I love meeting fellow writers, readers, and people in the business. There is never a dull moment and the size is overwhelming at times. But it is such a valuable resource for any looking to mingle with some of the great names in the business. I think that's why I like the idea of the festival so much. It is a celebration of books with speakers and presentations. What can be better than that?

I'll be in booth #232 with the Society of Southwestern Writers from 3-5pm on Sunday. If you are in the Tucson area, please stop by and say hi. There are some awesome authors, both local and non. Please click HERE for a map of the area.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday's Quote: Suzanne Collins

"Aim higher in case you fall short."~ Suzanne Collins

This was by far the most popular quote last week. It is a pretty straight forward quote and therefore appealed to me on a blatant level. Growing up, my father always taught us to reach for the stars. My brother for the longest time wanted to be in the NBA. Likely? No. But my father never uttered a word of discouragement. He even drove my brother up to Phoenix to participate in a state basketball team. He paid for camps at the University of Arizona. When I was twelve and said I wanted to be a published novelist, he immediately pushed me toward this dream. He is the first to argue with me if I share any doubt about continuing on. I remember stating that I didn’t think I would make it to the NY Times bestseller, the odds were not in my favor. (Okay, bad pun, I know.)

Reach higher. Reach for the NBA. Reach for the NY Times Bestseller. Reach for further, because, even if I fall short, I still find success. It’s better than settling for something small. Reach, but be realistic. I love that concept.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Should We Judge Books by Their Awards?

It seems news about the Oscars has started to die down a little now that the awards have been given. I started to think about all the movies/actors who didn’t win…and further to the movies/actors who NEVER win. It seems like we use awards in movies, as well as books, to judge the merit of the work. We allow ourselves to be compelled that this set of people said it was the best and therefore believe them. I started to wonder if awards are doing a disservice. Having a math background, I had to consider the probability of winning. Think of all the movies that come out in one year. The odds of being the best? That’s tough. Even if we look at the “smaller” Oscars, the probability of being singled out as best in any area is still small. 

So, I did a little research. The one that spurred it all is Captain Phillips. While it was nominated for a few categories, the movie didn’t win a single Oscar. Tom Hanks being snubbed for a lack of nomination altogether sent me looking for others. My first stop was Philadelphia. It won two Oscars, but not Best Picture. Okay, so at least it won something, right? Let’s look at ones who didn’t win a single Oscar. The list is shocking. My all-time favorite movie: Shawshank Redemption. Nominated, but did not win. How is that even possible? It gets better. The only black and white movie still played every single year—It’s a Wonderful Life—is on the list of snubs. The last one that shocked me: Psycho. What is even more surprising is that Alfred Hitchcock—a man who is revered as THE man of horror fiction and cinematography, someone to emulate—never won an Oscar, either. I think of these, then I think of movies I won’t mention that I can’t believe they were even nominated let alone won. 

Looking at actors, there’s Sigourney Weaver who didn’t even win for Alien—although I can’t think of many science fiction pieces recognized. Johnny Depp has never won. Okay, so maybe Pirates of the Caribbean isn’t something he should win for, but Edward Scissor Hands? Too Dark, maybe. Okay, my favorite movie of his: Benny and Joon (another movie not even nominated at Oscar time…actually for much of anything). Will Smith has never won. It would take too long to list the movies he should have won for. First movie I saw was Six Degrees of Separation, but not even The Pursuit of Happyness or Seven Pounds??

I mention these instead of books because I think it is easier for a movie to get nominated and win for something. What else would a book be recognized for? Best sentence structure? I think of all my favorite books and wonder if they ever won an award. Then I wonder if that is truly as grand as we proclaim. Don’t get me wrong. It is a stunning achievement. But should we discount books that haven’t won? I don’t think so. Charles Dickens was never appreciated during his time, but he is still remembered today. Don’t judge a book by the cover. Maybe we should extend this to don’t judge a book by its award.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How to Turn Off the Writer's Doubt

I didn’t watch all of the Oscars on Sunday. One, I was super tired and two, Gravity had just won for best sound and the movie prided itself on there being no sound in space. But, the next day I was told that Robert De Niro introduced best screenplay with the following statement, “The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying think: isolate, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”

I consider myself to be a confident person. I hold my head high and proclaim my opinion with authority. I don’t like socializing in crowds, but I don’t doubt who I am (anymore) or that I don’t have to change. However, when it comes to my writing I am exactly like this statement…except for the caffeine part. I question myself a lot. I love the “soul-crushing inadequacy” statement because that’s what I do. I think I’ve said before, no rejection letter has torn me down as much as I can. In fact, the only reason why I am still writing at all is because I talk to other writers and guess what—they have the same feelings. 

I think the reason for this is because writing is as personal as one can get. It is a part of our identity. It not only stems from my fantasy but it also includes pieces of me inside. No matter how much I try to avoid it, each character has some part of me inside them. It may be amplified or exaggerated, but I don’t think writers can help putting themselves into a piece. I’ve slaved over the piece, manipulated and struggled to make every plot twist work. It is me placed on display for the world. No wonder I doubt.

These feelings obviously don’t cripple me, so I thought it would be good to close by giving a few tips on how to finish a novel.

1.       I have a great support system with my family and friends. I have people who I trust. They will tell me when things don’t work without tearing me down. Therefore, I believe them when they say things work. I don’t use other writers to help calm the critic’s voice because they tend to be more critical by nature—not that this doesn’t have merit.

2.       No one looks/critics my work until I am finished unless I am stuck. Everyone has an opinion and they are more open to it if the work is not finished. Not to mention, this fuels my doubt.

3.       Don’t practice critiquing other work while trying to write. That puts me in the wrong mindset. First create, then critique.

4.       Finally, ignore the voice. This is the hardest to do. But, the more I ignore my doubts and move forward…within reason…the smaller the hate in my head. Listen if it sounds logical, but if it is just tearing down then shut that part off and continue forward.

What are your tricks to overcoming?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Monday's Quote: Jarod Kintz

"If I told you I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at, I’d be lying, because I have no idea where I am right now." ~ Jarod Kintz

I love this quote. I think it goes back to the discussion that is always going through my head, which is how do I measure success? Am I successful because of this or that? Have I even gotten to where I want to be yet? That particular question I think is always no. I’m always striving for more, whether that is good or bad I don’t know. But, just because I’m not “there” yet…wherever that place is…does that mean I am not successful. 

I think this idea plagues me because I don’t want to feel like I’m wasting my life. I don’t want to sit idle. I have things I want to reach for, dreams I want to see achieved. I don’t want to merely exist. If I have to be in this world, then I want to make a mark. I like the quote because I relate to it. I am currently working hard, but I rarely acknowledge it. In fact, while I’ll admit to being a workaholic, I always push aside the comments that I am doing too much. How much is too much? Surely I can do more. I am not working “hard enough” because I have no idea where I am on my path. But, on some levels, that is the fun part….or is it just me?

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