Sunday, November 20, 2011

Making Time for Yourself in This Time of the Year

Well, here we are again. The holidays. Oh, I know we’ve had holidays before -- MLK’s birthday, Easter, Independence Day, Labor Day.

But, those were just holidays. Each one meant something different, of course. Celebrating the life of Martin Luther King or the resurrection of Christ or our nation’s birthday or the common working man and woman.

And, yes, these next three holidays -- Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day -- each have a specific subject of honor.

We know different, though. Those three events are the megalopolis of holidays. All across this great nation, families are making important travel plans for Thanksgiving. I, myself, will be on the road as well.

I don’t make such grandiose schemes for any other holiday. I don’t have to go to anyone’s barbecue for Memorial Day or Labor Day. The most important thing on Easter is my church.

But, woe to the person who has nowhere to go for Thanksgiving.

After Thanksgiving comes Black Friday (or Black Thursday night if you’re Wal-Mart or Target), kicking off the official Christmas shopping season. So, now, you’re in the Christmas mood (and, no, Hallmark Channel’s 200 days of Christmas movies doesn’t put anyone in the mood).

Should you and your wallet survive the yuletide, you come to one of the most important choices. As Al & Vicky once intoned: “What are you doing New Year’s Eve?”

The point I’m trying to make here is that from this point on, until Jan. 2, we are one a different plane of reality. Family, friends, food, travel, shopping, gifts, celebrations will be on our minds for the next 40 or so days. Some of us may even find time for some good will on Earth, peace towards men.

What we may not have is time for ourselves. And I don’t just mean not hearing screaming kids or chatty in-laws or the belching airline passenger behind you. I mean actual free time for yourself.

If you’re reading this blog, you know I’m talking about writing. Isn’t it ironic that November is NaNoWriMo? The true test of writing a novel in a month is November when you’re bound to be heavily distracted just when you need the most concentration.

Still, you must continue your craft. You must get in that minimum one hour of scribbling per day.

Trust me. After all the hoopla of the holiday season, you’ll welcome an hour of silence in which to write.

The question is: Will you give yourself that hour?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A New Appreciation for Editing

I’ve been doing movies off and on for the last 20 years. From being asked to fill in at the last minute for movies in Hong Kong, Australia and Japan to being a vicious killer in a low-budget Japanese trilogy to being a mystery man in several episodes of Homeland with Claire Danes, there was always one part of the experience I never considered.


Yeah, yeah, I know I’m a journalist and I’ve been doing it for 30 years. Editing is the most important part of the news writing process.

I’ve also published numerous short stories, novellas and, now, novels. The editing portion of those works still gives me headaches.

No, what I’m talking about is the editing associated with radio.

A different monster than movie editing. Robert Zemeckis is primarily concerned with Denzel Washington looking good in Flight, not with the fact that the same black guy in a tan jacket keeping driving by Denzel in a Toyota Prius. I just did what was asked, so I wasn’t bothered. Jennifer Aniston wearing pasties instead of really being topless in Wanderlust bothered me, but the Zemeckis thing didn’t.

Anyway, this past Friday, I got hit with a whole new level of editing when I hosted my new Internet radio show called What's Out There. Thank God I wasn’t on a time limit. I needed three hours to do 60 minutes of interviews. I also learned that I can’t say the word “okay” on the air (George Carlin failed to mention that one). I also found out my voice has modulations I didn’t know existed.

I got to the studio early, got a quick lesson on the layout, including testing the microphone to find out how close I needed to be to it. The special guests arrived and my producer Rob got soul jazz artist Cheri Maree and her manager set up as well. In case you’re wondering, I was so nervous during the interview that I said “soul jazz artist” at least half a dozen times.

Rob had to stop me about 25 times during the interview to correct my mistakes or modulate my, uh, modulations. I still have no idea what he meant.

We did the real interviews in 10-minute segments and needed 45 minutes to answer 10 questions. At least, Cheri Maree and her manager were great and talkative guests. I really only had my sense of humor. (I would like to take this time to apologize to Ms. Maree for pretending to be back on the air that one time she was in the facilities).

All through this time, Rob is monitoring things or attempting to blind me with a laser pointer when the clock was about to hit “0” for a break.

At last, I got to the finish. Then, we had a second interview to do by phone. That was a whole other kettle of fish. Laptop computer. Skype. Headsets. 3-M (the headset volume control got stuck).

The interview went well. Yet, I still felt weird talking into the headset microphone and the radio microphone at the same time.

Now, it’s all done, save for the...get ready for it...editing.

I’m depending on Rob to make me sound like a genius, which is no easy task. I have tried to imagine what he’ll have to do to cut out all the “okays” and keep the flow of the interview going. Most of all, I need a good editing process to make me look good.

Zemeckis, Soderbergh and company are concerned with the real actors, not the extras. Newspapers and publishers have the writers make the changes.

However, this Internet radio editing process is completely in the hands of someone else and it’s the most important editing of all.

Wish me luck.

Update: The show was just posted on Youtube and I sound okay. There’s room for improvement (a lot of room), but the editing obviously went well and kept Rob up all weekend.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Plotter or Pantster? Okay, What the Hell Is a Pantster?

During my recently-finished ebook tour with Roxanne Rhoad’s Bewitching Book Tours, I got an interview question about a word I’d never come across before.

The question asked if I was a plotter or a pantster.

Honestly, I thought this was a variance of the “boxers or briefs” question every politician seems to get (it’s boxer briefs, by the way).

Turns out, after a Google search, I was being asked if I plotted or planned my books ahead of time or just winged it, on the fly.

Of course, I’m a pantster. I rarely make up plots ahead of time. I try, don’t get me wrong. But, I usually run out of steam. I get so anxious to get my thoughts down on paper or to a Word file, that I stop plotting and type as I make it up in my head. Typing 70 words a minute helps but I still can’t keep up with my thoughts.

Do I recommend being a pantster? Not really.

It’s not for everybody. In fact, I’d say it’s not for most people. It’s for me because I’ve honed the skill working as a journalist for three decades. Especially as a sports writer, I often have to type quickly to meet tight deadlines. That means I’m creating the article in my mind as I type.

The habit carries over to my fiction. Unfortunately, I think it’s also why tend to edit my work 20 or 30 times. Because, somewhere under a bus are a slew of plot points I missed or left in the dust. That can create plot holes big enough to qualify for one of those awful Canadian-made Lifetime movies.

If you want my advice, stick to plotting. It gives you a chance to fully develop your characters before hand. It also lets you create the time and place and be accurate with your geography. If there’s one thing I wish I could change about my writing, it’s having to stop in the middle of a scene to research something to make sure I get it right. That’s like stopping in the middle of sex to read the directions for putting on a condom correctly. Yes, it’s very important and must be done the right way, but good luck getting back to the good place you were at before you stopped.

But, this is a free country. So, it’s your choice.

Plotter or pantster? Which one are you?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan

Sounds like solid advice, doesn't it? It's certainly the advice I follow when we're doing a construction project. But we haven't done a big job in a while so perhaps I've gotten a bit lazy with the concept.

What else could my excuse be?

Writer's Block? I'm not so sure I believe in writer's block. I believe more in a writer's lack of confidence and inability to focus more than an actual block. Sure, I've been stumbling with my word production lately, but is it a true block? *shurgs* Dunno.

Lack of ideas? My notebook and scribbled sheets of paper strewn about the house with one-liners and story concepts says different. Clearly, I could keep writing for a decade and still have ideas that are worthy to explore.

No direction? The book is almost completely plotted out, so I know where I'm going. And I physically know how to write…. although, I do admit the scenery is not as "clear" in my mind for book three. In compensation, I spent an hour this morning researching the Falkland Islands so I could get a good grasp on what my unchartered island off the coast of Argentina is supposed to look like.

Poor discipline? Ahh… I think we may have the winner for me. My writer friends are always so sweet telling me how much they admire all I get done, my tenacity, my work ethic…. and yet… they don't see the hours I spend not actually writing. Which, as it turns out, is most of my day.

Sure, marketing is important. Anyone who writes and expects to make a living off of it can tell you that. Social networking is a key component in reaching readers, and doing it properly takes a huge amount of time.

When do you take a step back and reevaluate your marketing efforts? When is enough enough? Is it when you reach 3k followers or 5k? Is it after you've done a month long virtual book tour and can't think of one more witty thing to write? Is it when the self-imposed looming deadline over your head makes you lose sleep?

I can't tell you how many times I've read the same piece of advice over and over, just said in slightly different ways. It goes something like this: You want to be successful as a writer, then you must first and foremost WRITE.

We all know that's how you get better. We all know it's how you build a following -- after all, the reader needs more than just one or two books to become a lifelong fan. And yet, a lot of us, including me, flounder at times and feel lost in our work.

When you don't write do you examine why? Do you turn that keen eye of observation inward and try to analyze why you aren't writing? Could there be something to this whole fear of success and self-sabotage I've read about?

I'm not consciously afraid of success, that's for damn sure. I'd say more accurately I'm acutely aware of failure. You see, for all the successes I've achieved a part of me still thinks I haven't quite "made it" yet.

My goal is to earn a steady reliable income, and until I get more titles out I don't think that will become a reality. I'm aware of what it takes to reach the success I dream of, so what pray tell, is holding me back?

How long can I blame my health and the daily care it requires? In all fairness, there are a lot of folks way worse off than me who handle far more, so I never feel right bitching about it. As my buddy Tre tells me time and time again, "be grateful you can afford the care and have access to it", and she is correct.

This past spring I visited my first writing partner, whom I dearly miss working with. She was very proud and excited about all I had achieved and our meeting was months before The Hunt was released. It was nice to hear her praise, and yet I didn't agree with her sentiment. She asked me flat out what would I agree was "success" and I equated it to earnings.

Our conversation ended with her journalism background coming to the forefront and she fired a question at me like a challenge. "What will you have to earn to make this all worth while and where do you think you'll be in a year?"

I told her by May 2012 I'd be earning 40k a year on my writing or it was time to make another career choice. She advised me against setting a goal like that because I was clearly building a readership, and reminded me a lot of authors don't make diddly even on a second book (at the time I was earning about a thousand a month). When you weigh the forty to sixty hour work weeks I put in, I think my goal was pretty conservative. Shockingly, here I am five months later and on track to earning that by May.

I have reached the dream of writing full time and earning a respectable income so that no one will treat me like this is a damn hobby anymore. I've surprised my doctors and my fellow patients with embarking on a new career when I became sick and not shriveling up and 'waiting' to get better before I work again.

And now, I need to do what all the successful writers are doing: I need to set my ass down and write. No excuses. This is a job, don't ever forget it. And if you don't treat it like an actual job with hours you invest, no Internet surfing during work hours, and no social networking when no one is looking, then you're on the track to failing.

I don't expect comments on this blog, you should be writing. But if you read it and want to share your goals with me, I'd love to hear them. And yes, if you write your plan out in a comment I will expect you to work it.

Be accountable to yourself and get past what is holding you back -- YOU.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Why Andy Rooney’s Departure Matters

This past Sunday was a very notable one. That curmudgeon of the art of telling people about trivial things in his life -- one Andrew Aitken “Andy” Rooney -- bid farewell to viewers of 60 Minutes as he did his last segment of “A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney” after 33 years.

That probably means nothing to most of the readers of blogs today. Rooney is 92 and one of the final cogs of the old 60 Minutes regime (Morley Safer being the other) to bow out. After all, Rooney began his segments in 1978, before many Internet followers were born. If you said Rooney used to write for Arthur Godfrey, the return looks would almost be comical.

Yet, Rooney is part of a quickly dying breed -- the old-fashioned news gatherer and deliverer, that trusted face that generations of Americans came to trust night after night or week after week. A glance at the hosts and correspondents on 60 Minutes reads like a Who’s Who of American journalism: Morley Safer, Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley, Diane Sawyer, Harry Reasoner, Eric Sevareid, Dan Rather, Bob Schieffer, Morton Dean, Charles Osgood, Charlie Rose, Lesley Stahl, Meredith Vieira and Christiane Amanpour.

With all the cable news channels, it’s hard to find such a cadre of news reporters today.

And that’s the point I make with Rooney’s departure. It’s a signal that what once was so great about the world of news and of writing continues to erode, without any replacement. I doubt we’ll be as sad when Anderson Cooper or Bill Maher or Rush Limbaugh leave the air.

It’s the same with the world of fiction. It does us no good to lose an Arthur C. Clarke without a Stephen Baxter to take up for him. The same can be said of Ian Fleming, whose mantle was taken over by John Gardner or Marion Zimmer Bradley whose literacy legacy passed on to Diana L. Paxson.

Readers may hate me for saying this, but, even with the explosion of online publishers and blogs, I don’t believe enough writers are really stepping up to the plate to take the place of writers who are leaving us or may soon be.

For example, if you mention horror, it’s hard not to think of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Charlaine Harris and Clive Barker.

Max Brooks
Ask about the next generation and, well, it gets fuzzy. Max Brooks wrote World War Z and  The Zombie Survival Guide, but those are just two books.

The tragic death of Leslie Banks (aka L.A. Banks) on August 2 from adrenal cancer left a hole that still has not been filled.
L.A. Banks (1959-2011)
Not to despair, as there are some names out there. Tananarive Due, for example, and L.J. Smith, author of The Vampire Diaries.

Of course, the irony of Ms. Due is that she is black. She writes primarily horror but has dabbled in science fiction, the genre of her husband, Steven Barnes. In the horror genre, she can at least count on the likes of Maurice Broaddus, Brandon Massey, Evie Rhodes, Chesya Burke, Sheree R. Thomas, Zane, Robert Fleming and Terence Taylor.

For science fiction, it must be said that no African-Americans, save maybe Steven Barnes, have stepped up to follow Samuel R. Delany (Babel-17, Dahlgren, Triton). The closest contemporary was the late Octavia Butler. Delany is 69 and still waiting.

What must we do to rectify these aforementioned situations?

We must write and write well. No more incorrectly using “lead” instead of “led.” No more silly arguments about whether or not to get rid of adverbs.

Just because it seems a brand new online publisher pops up every day, it doesn’t mean you give a half-vast effort. The biggest problem with the online world has been this belief that since it isn’t necessary to meet the stringent standards of the traditional book publishers like Penguin and HarperCollins; that writers don’t need to put forth as much effort.

Yes, we do. We need to put out the best product we can. We need to write the novel of the year every time.


Because, instead of being one manuscript among a few hundred at the big publishers, we are now one story among tens of thousands. We have to rise above the throngs and make our work stand out.

Then, one day, we, too, can take our hard-earned places where once the admired giants of our profession once stood, becoming beacons of hope and inspiration for those coming behind us.

Enjoy your new life, Mr. Rooney. And may you live long enough to actually be replaced.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Domestic Abuse Awareness Month

There are so many causes designated for different days, weeks, and months, that most of us will easily miss the next one and not know about it. Should we feel guilty? No. Life is too short to hold onto such a useless emotion.

We do wheat we can and we move on. But some causes hit closer to home for certain people. Like Breast Cancer, Autism, Diabetes… I could go on and on. While a lot of the conditions honored and spotlighted for public awareness can be inherited or your lifestyle can bring them on, many can be brought on by your environment (think nature versus nurture).

Like Lyme disease, asbestos exposure, Gulf War Syndrom… you get the gist. Knowledge is the key to overcoming or avoiding the issues thrust upon us in our daily lives that we don't genetically have a disposition to. Being aware of these dangers can often educate you enough to save another person as well.

I did not know there was a whole month dedicated to domestic abuse. Fellow Indie author, Darcia Helle, of Quiet Fury Books, did a shout out on Facebook last month for writers who either wrote a domestic abuse aspect into their story or suffered some form of domestic abuse to come forward and share their stories to honor the cause this month.

I felt such admiration for her effort I reached out to her. Interestingly enough, even though I did not know about the awareness month, I have suffered domestic abuse in my past. For people who know me well it seems rather shocking. I'm strong, outspoken, and know--without a doubt--my place in the world.

I spent four days crafting a piece worthy of inclusion on Darcia's blog. Her 1500 word limit was my biggest challenge. Hell, I write novels. Trying to pair it down to something cohesive, not overly depressing, meaningful, and yet ending on a good note was a huge task.

Darcia posts an excellent introduction in her Oct 1st post and I'm honored that she liked my piece enough to have it lead her kick off for the month of guest posts planned. She's gathered some great statistics in her post and I recommend checking it out.

I'm nervous on how it will be received. The personal experiences I wrote about happened twenty years ago and putting it all on paper brought a lot of the horror back. Things I pushed deep down and pleasantly forgot about. I know I'm not alone in this type of behavior. It's how we cope. You deal with it, you face the demons, you make choices, you move on.

Many, many women and families have suffered far worse than I have, and many more still do. Take a gander as I bare my soul and reveal things better left to the past:

And please, if you've suffered abuse yourself you can leave an anonymous comment on her blog or pass the link on to others. Survivors need to stick together. Hold your head up proud you got out of a bad situation and let go of the hidden shame that you were in one to begin with.

We all make mistakes and bad choices in life, it's how we deal with the consequences that defines us.

~~ C.J. Ellisson ~~
Guest Speaker at Vamps at Sea – A vampire themed cruise to Alaska 6.23.2012

Friday, September 23, 2011

In Awe of Multi-Taskers

This week is an open topic, so I thought I’d offer a few thoughts from my book tour to promote the release of Hunters.

Probably the one thing that stands out is the blogging. Many of the tour stops have been guests blogs, such as Mad Moose Mama, Lissette Manning. I’ll be the first to admit that, even though I’ve been writing for more than three decades, these blogs are kicking my ass.

This is why I’m in awe of bloggers who multi-task by writing more than one blog. I wonder how they keep their subjects and topic straight. More importantly, I wonder how they avoid bleeding, by which I mean having one blog topic spill over into another so it looks like one of those chain letters you get at election time.

I’m serious. During football season, I cover multiple college games and write separate articles about each game, usually doing write-ups of 5-6 games. Each one has to be tailored to a specific game.

This experience has nothing on blogging.

With the sports, I know specifically what to look for. For example, I can look at tonight’s game between Hampton and Bethune-Cookman and see how fumbles, interceptions and penalties decided the game.

Not so with blogging. I find myself scouring my brain for a topic for the blog. Since there’s typically nothing substantive in my head, this is a harder process than it seems. Thank goodness Roxanne Rhoads, the coordinator for this tour, has given me some topics. Other times, however, I go to the blogs themselves, see what kind of articles are being done and try to tailor my guest blog to that format.

I certainly thank these blog sites for giving me the time to hawk my wares and speak to their subscribers and fans.

And I certainly thank them for giving me the (badly needed) experience of writing for multiple blogs.

So, how about you, the reader? Do you write for multiple blogs? If so, how do keep everything straight?