Saturday, July 31, 2010

Mentally Preparing Before Sitting

The topic this week at Wicked Writer’s is writer’s block. I stared at this sentence for a week! I’m just kidding. For those of you wicked readers who have surfed over this week, looking for someone to help with a problem that you either have had or are having presently, only to find a group of (mostly) unsympathetic unbelievers, waiting to feast upon you like starving vultures – I want to apologize. I want to apologize for joining in that feast!

You see, I am another who has yet to experience any real trouble with the muse or creative process of writing. Even this particular post was something that I volunteered to write only two days before. Forgive me for sounding cocky and please allow me to explain.

I write fiction. That has been the bulk of what I have been thinking about since puberty, other than a little time spent thinking about girls, that is. If you know anything about me as a writer at all, then you know why I have done little writing over the last twenty years or so. It was because I was busy with career and family, never really believing that this time would ever come. Thankfully, it did come; however, I will not bore you with those details here. What I will tell you is how the inspiration does come. I will explain how it is that I have had two short stories published, my debut novel published as an e-book (poised to become a paperback this fall), and finally the novel’s sequel written in a mere eight months.

For me, the key is to wait for the inspiration to come…but not while sitting in front of the keyboard. I have mentioned what I do in previous blogs, so some may have read this from me before. What I do is build up to the writing. Whether I am in the car, in the shower, or in bed during those first moments before I fall asleep, I remind myself where I left off the following day and allow my mind to decide what should occur next. A gestation occurs, if you will.

I do outlines, but they are extremely rough and leave a lot of opportunity for new ideas to take shape later. I remind myself where I left off the time before, so I usually know where I am heading. The next part of the story does not always come easily. Sometimes I dismiss ideas or decide what I do like out of a given brainstorming session. If I like what I am seeing in my head, then it usually powers the next part rather excitedly. If I do not like what I have, I give myself more time.

There are many moments in life for the mind to go off on tangents. Have you noticed? I’m in my early forties and have been married for over twenty years now, if I see an attractive woman, it is very easy for my mind to go places that I do not need it to go.  Therefore, this is a very helpful process on a great many levels! I am sure my wife would second that notion. All humor aside, for me, it really works.

Early on, I received many questions during interviews, where I was asked just what it was that I was attempting to convey when I created this character or that plotline. Like a George Orwell, was I hoping to issue an edict on this social disorder or warn of the corruption of some establishment? People were looking for some message or another, and I would have loved nothing better than to grin at how clever or brilliant I was compared with other writers. The truth of the matter, however, is I am just a guy who has been blessed not only to see movies playing in my head, but to also be able to write them down in a fairly descent manner, hopefully before they dissipate like pardoned ghosts.

For those of you who struggle, I wish you well. Keep writing, and keep thinking about writing. Perhaps this will help.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Writers Block: Please Pass the Laxative

Writer's Block?

Sure it happens. But I have this nifty little list of tried and true remedies.

If I anticipate writer's block as one does an oncoming cold, the "wicked wordless wench" can easily be snubbed out within a few days, or, at most, a few weeks. Before long, my fingers would be tap dancing across the keyboard, the writer's block dissolving like the tickle of effervescent bubbles from an Alka Selzer.

Besides, only losers believe in a 'real' Writer's Block, right?

Yeah. Right. Can you say, "time for an attitude adjustment?" In the form of The National Novel Writing Month 2007.

It was the first NaNoWriMo I participated in. I successfully wrote a 54,000 word fan fiction (based on Luke and Noah from 'As The World Turns') which was well received by my legion of readers.

Psyched over my success, I took a well deserved break, deciding after the holidays I’d ‘go for the gold' and get serious about becoming a writer. I remember pausing for a moment. It must have been a jingle bell and not the sound of fate laughing...

January 2008 turned the corner, shining down it's promise of a great new year. I brushed the dust off my keyboard, knowing full well I was taking a giant leap toward my destiny…

And fell flat on my face.

But, hey! No worries. Remember, I have this nifty little list of tried and true remedies.

You see, how to handle writers block depends on certain factors. What day it is, what season of the year, the temperature outside, the time the block takes place, the alignment of the stars, whether it’s a bad hair day.

Also, I go to my pill-by-the-day box, making sure I’ve been taking my medication on a regular bases.

Other weapons at my disposal include exercise, regular scheduled daily 'consitutionals', vitamins/herbs, doing a mindless task like scrubbing the toilet, motivation by listening to uber-cool music, scarfing down comfort food, chain smoke while going over every writing file I had saved on the computer, basking in a week-end long Star Trek/X-files/Queer As Folk marathon, devouring websites on government conspiracies, going on a date with a couple bottles of Captain Morgan, or going over notes on another WIP (which gets the right side of the brain to switch gears, leaving the left side in a stupor for a while.)

Yet, in this instance, my inner Gomer Plye chanted, "Surprise-surprise-surprise." None of the old stand-bys seemed to work.

I redoubled my effort. I endeavored to clear my mind by exercising, faithfully running through a monotonous routine of water aerobics. I listened to multiple motivational CDs, persuading me to breathe deep, center myself and approach this problem with a positive, open mind. I aimed for a goal of writing at least 15 minutes every morning. When that didn’t work, I made an afternoon effort. Failing in that, I struggle for a nighttime attempt.

Realization sank in. Writer's block? Hell, I was in the dark abyss of writer's doom!

The 'thing' dug deep into my psyche, refusing to budge. What had normally worked in the past failed miserably. My muse, held hostage inside an invisible force field, screamed at me in Klingonese for weeks.

Was NaNoWriMo to blame? Was this diabolical organization some kind of sick writer vampire? Did NaNo suck out all my creative juice that used to flow - oh so freely - through my veins?

Would I ever make it back to the world of the aspiring authors? Would I ever reach my nirvana of published authorship? Would Luke and Noah on 'As the World Turns' ever be allowed to kiss on national television without my help?

Time passed. For the next eight months, the writer's block mutated into something my normal 'B movie' life had never experienced. I was lost in a no man's land of deflated plot ideas with no ruby red slippers at my disposal.

Books? I bought the used How To's in bulk orders off Amazon.

Reading fiction in my chosen genre? I devoured m/m e-books by the hundreds.

Workshops? I attended six or seven of them. Some were simple one day events taught over the Internet, allowing me the pleasure of sitting comfortably naked in front of the computer as I learned from the pros. Other weekend seminars required me to drive a distance. With eyes unaccustomed to daylight (or my body to clothing,) I sat on my travel aching derrière, properly attired for attendance, scribbling notes like an extremist author extraordinaire. Later, while surviving on boxed macaroni and cheese, I would reassure myself it was money well spent. I would beat the block and live to tell about it!

By August, I was a basket case. I was desperate to write. Desired to write. Craved, with every fiber in my being, to write.

Yet, the specter of inspiration eluded me at every turn, leaving me in a frigid atmosphere of discouragement. I became inconsolable in my misery, convinced my gallant fight against the dreaded writer's disease was all for naught.

What was the problem? When would it end? And, most importantly, why did this happen to me?

One day, I despondently turned on the computer, wanting to at least live vicariously through other authors who seemed to have no problems. Soon, I began to associate again with GLBT authors and other m/m fan groups (thus cutting down my self-imposed isolation) Not long after, I found victory in the moment I wrote a 500 word response to a blog.

Over the course of four weeks, the familiarity of purpose, perception and perseverance crept back to my parched psyche. My confidence increased. Whatever demon possessed my creative essence and ensnared my muse exploded, liberating my imagination. With a heavy sigh of relief, my writing sphere drew together, healing my mind and my soul.

In retrospect,I still don’t understand the mechanics of what happened. However, during the time of burnout, a combination of these approaches became the wisest thing to do. To let go of the pressure to write, yet continue to stock my brain with healthy, self affirming beatitudes while feasting on the things that would eventually help me find my way back to the path of story telling.

And that nifty little list of tried and true remedies? Taped to the inside of my medicine cabinet door, with a few more items added.

{comic from Photos are public domain. Alka Selzer (c)}

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I Think, Therefore I am Not Blocked...

Ok. Now let me see… it’s, what? 22:30? (…so the little digital time piece in the corner of my Windows 7 task-bar tells me). That is… precisely… one hour and thirty minutes within which I have this target to complete a post on writer’s block!

Any ideas, anyone? ANYONE! Please… PLEASE! ANYONE! PLEASE…

I look to my fellow authors hereabouts…

C.J. – our darling of no little acerbic wit…  (no digs! Respect!) – has never experienced writer’s block and is not so sure it exists… Mmmm… Can I build on this?

[caption id="attachment_3051" align="alignright" width="150" caption="I say, Descartes?"][/caption]

Philosophically speaking, and maybe I can blame Descartes here (at least I shall try to), if I can think, therefore I exist. If one can talk of the concept of writer’s block then surely, at least as a concept, it must also exist? (Ooops! I can feel the knife entering between 5th and 6th ribs, angled sharply upwards, twisting… (Ouch! Thriller writers… don’t you just love their attention to detail… sometimes!)

C.J., may you forever hold your beliefs… they are part of what makes you who you are! As I say… Respect!

And what of Greg? Me thinks he knocketh a nail on the proverbial head… (And don’t apologise, Greg… late night stints on writing to deadlines have become a part of my own life and MO!) An interesting concept, too… the blah! But forgive me, here, for I knoweth not what a blah is, and cannot, therefore, dispute it! Q.E.D. (Funny how philosophy works!)

But clearly blahs do appear to work… even if going to clubs and spending three hours nursing half a bottle of Smirnoff Ice gets “real old real fast”. Truth is, Greg, you do write, your blog posts are great and people enjoy reading your words. Your views on time management may not make a seminar at Harvard, but (again) they make you who you are! Respect!

[caption id="attachment_3052" align="alignleft" width="120" caption="Einstein... on writer's block?"][/caption]

Anastasia? Of mythical proportions! Such passion grounded in reality… harnessed, how could such passion fail to break through even the cloudiest of days? But, as Einstein (I did science at school, too!) would no doubt suggest, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; for every force, a counterpart. The very tone of Anatasia’s frank analysis is suggestive of personal beliefs that are borne of opposites; that could not exist without them. The words say as much. Indeed, such a strong a belief that there is no such thing as writer’s block suggests that there is… (oops, sorry, Anastasia – I feel your sudden urge to aim a slap!)

Beliefs are what we use, create, or otherwise rely upon to make sense of the world we live in. However, no one person can quite see the world in the same way as another person. But, in knowing this, lies the greatest of freedoms… that we are entitled to our own perspective, as much the other is entitled to theirs! So, again, I say: Respect, Anastasia! (And kudos to you for the delivery of your words about your beliefs with your passion.)

[caption id="attachment_3053" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Block? ...Pah! A temporary lack of direction!"][/caption]

Writer’s block! It must exist! Mustn’t it? Surely? If it didn’t exist, why have I taken this path? What forced me on this discursive ramble through the week’s collection of Wicked Writers musings?

I can’t say I was looking for an excuse not to write… I did not seek a label to explain my situation: not knowing where to start – and it hasn’t been the first time in this space, dear reader(s), I can assure you.

I had a purpose, a goal; but I lacked a direction.

Let me, for a moment, court controversy here on the Wicked Writers blog! Let me suggest that there is such a thing as Writer’s Block… (though I’ve never knowingly experienced it, I must admit)

How do we go about getting over it? As the topic for the week suggests… Writer's Block - how do you cope? Getting past this issue can be crippling for some writers and a non-issue for others. For this, I am going to assume that there may be some writers there to whom overcoming a mental block can be an issue, however imaginary, temporary or constraining that blockage might be.

How would I “get over it”?

I am a writer! I want to write… but I know not what to write… But, as an artist first, I am also an explorer… What drives me to explore is some idea that there is something out there to be seen, to be discovered, to be described. But such “somethings” can only ever (generally) be a result of something else. Such “somethings” are built on the ideas of others who have gone before. In truth, consider how many ideas are truly original? How many plots are there, from which countless stories have been built.

[caption id="attachment_3056" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Damn wood... where is it?"][/caption]

Sometimes, just possibly, the cause of a mental blockage could simply be a failure (or refusal) to accept that there is no big, new, virgin idea! A struggle to find the new, when the new does not exist. When an explorer looses his or her way, the action to take is to retrace ones steps to a place of familiarity. And then, build slowly, incrementally, upon that familiarity through mapping the terrain ahead.

So, when I was unsure of where I was going, (OK, let’s call it a block then) I took a look around and grounded myself in what was familiar to me. I built on the work of others who had gone before, adding my own interpretation and creating my own path through the subject!

Is it a response to writers block? It could be for someone out there; and if it is, then I’ll sleep easy tonight… noticing it is now, precisely 12 midnight! And I have finished my draft post at around 960 words!

Bon chance, mon braves! :)

Writer's Block is a Myth!

I just had to jump in on this topic, so I'm posting on Wednesday this week. This week we're discussing Writer's Block. Both Greg and CJ had some great posts about it already, so make sure you read their point of view also.

Like the title of this post says Writer's Block is a myth! I truly believe that. I hear so many people say that they suffer from this ailment, only to discover later that it wasn't a true diagnosis. In truth, Writer's Block really turns out to be the following:

"I don't feel like writing today/this week/this month."

"I'm bored with my current WIP."

"I'm disappointed from the reviews my MS has received."

That's just a few. There are so many other excuses. Yes, I said excuses. You see, to me, writing is life. It's everything to me. The only thing that should ever stop me from doing it is, death or serious illness. Anything else I come up with to not write, is an excuse. I seriously have the urge to slap some people when they give excuses to not write.

"My muse went on vacation." No it didn't. You just aren't listening hard enough.

"I'm just so busy." No. Bad time manager, perhaps. And for me, I have no problem getting 1 hour less of sleep in order to work a little more on my MS - but maybe that's just me.

"Everything I write lately is crap." This is the worst one and bugs the ever living daylights out of me. So, let me get this straight. You want to quit trying because you think you write badly? Wouldn't it better if you kept at it - so that you can improve? Right?

Now, I have used all of these excuses and more myself. I do have ADD, chronic depression, and I'm dyslexic. There are just some days where it's too hard for me to write. But does that mean I still don't have ideas? Of course not. I muscle through the issues as best I can.

For the sake of honesty, there was a time in my life where that happened. I'm a recovering Alcoholic. During the years of my drinking, I had no ideas, no urge to write, nothing. I didn't even have the urge to live much less do anything else. It was the emptiest and most horrifying time of my life and I refuse to go back to that. So, for me, anything that prevents a writer from writing, is something they are dealing with outside of writing.  

Give you an example. I was trying to write a scene about one of my characters who had been physically abused by her boyfriend. I avoided it for days and told people I had "Writer's Block". In truth, the scene was just so close to my own personal experience that I couldn't write it. It was the hardest thing for me to do, to relive that same moment inside my head. In the end I wrote the scene - and goodness did I feel so much better afterwards! Not because I finally wrote the scene, but because it made me face a problem that I had been avoiding. I had lost relationships because I hadn't dealt with the feelings of that experience. Writing that scene helped me do it.

But - it wasn't Writer's Block. I was blocking myself, my own work. I was doing it to myself. Making an excuse to cover up the real issue. And I think that is what a lot of writers do at times. "Writer's Block" is the scape goat for all of us not to admit the truth. Maybe that scene is emotional for us, or perhaps a review really hurt our feelings. "Writer's Block" gives us the excuse we need to continue to hide the truth, even from ourselves. It's the umbrella to all the real problems that prevents a serious writer from writing.

Am I saying writers need to start professing all their problems to the world? No. Some things are better left private. But if we don't at least admit the real issue to ourselves, everything else suffers.

So, I have a challenge for you this week. Sit down and find out the real reason why you haven't been writing lately. BE HONEST! You don't have to tell anyone - but at least admit it to yourself.

Here, I'll even share my recent experience. My recent excuse is "I'm burned out." I participated in a Writing Boot Camp in June then jumped right into JulNoWriMo. I've had some wonderful writers crit my MS this month too. So what's the real reason that I've quit writing entirely these last few weeks? Was I really burned out? No. Not even close. I have been working on this particular MS for YEARS and when the reviews came back and said I still had SO much to fix, I was devastated. And I quit working on it. So the real reason here for me, was once again, me getting in the way of myself. I started thinking "What's the point?" and "I might as well quit writing all together if I suck that bad." Bunch of hogwash! What I really needed was a break from the MS. I had tried to edit too soon after rewriting. I wasn't ready for the crits and so reacted in a negative way.

How do I get out of this funk? Well, I could work on another WIP. But I'd feel like I'm quitting. I need to just sit down and do it. I know that once I get started, I'll be right back into the thick of it! Sure, the crits hurt. But if they make my story better, why would I feel bad about that?

Be honest with yourself about what is really blocking you from writing - then knock that wall down! Nothing can stop you unless you allow it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Writer's Block? Try Writer's Blah

First of all, I want to give my prayers and respects to C.J. for persevering through crap that most of us will, hopefully, never have to deal with until after we retire.

As for writer’s block, I have suffered from a form of it for decades.

It’s called “Writer’s blah.”

I wish I could be serious about all this like C.J., but that’s not my style. I really wish I could, but those of us who know what “C.J. Ellisson” translates into (SWMBO) will understand.

When I sit back and think about why I have the blahs with my writing, I know there are several possible reasons.

Ray: You know what it could be? Past-life experience intruding in on present time.

Egon: Could be erased memories stored in the collective unconscious. I wouldn’t rule out clairvoyance or telepathic contact either.  

Greg: I’m sorry. I don’t believe in any of those things.

Peter: Well, that’s all right. I don’t either.

Okay, let me cut this off before I get sued by Harold Ramis. And apologies to Sigourney Weaver for taking her part in Ghostbusters.

Actually, my blahs come from letting life get in the way and from what is probably an undiagnosed case of ADD (must thank George for the July 19 "Writers & Mental Illness" blog  for stirring that up). Case in point, as I type this, I am listening to Insane Clown Posse on my iTunes, while watching a Road Runner/Coyote marathon on my DVD player. I’ve also thumbed through two old issues of Justice League Europe and Justice League America.

Of course (or off course), the symptoms of the blahs are striking. I feel lethargic at times (probably from all the junk food). I would rather go out to Goodwill and shop for nothing than do anything constructive. I’ll get down on myself for not having a social life and then go out to night clubs and more adult clubs, while not hanging out with co-workers at happy hour.

I’ll get into these funks and doldrums that can last for weeks. I can be the best guy at work and the worst guy at home (which is sad because I'm a lifelong bachelor yearning for Michelle Rodriguez, Lucy Liu, Rachel McLish, Kerry Ellis or, gasp, Kristy McNichol to walk through the front door). I’ll dwell so much on one thing – like the U.S. Census clerk job – that I’ll ignore everything else. Then, I’ll try to compensate by going out more and doing something de-constructive.

Since I started working for the Census back in March, I have written exactly two chapters (prologue and chapter one of Red Herring) and exactly three articles for my blog. I’ll even be honest and say that I often wrote my weekly blogs for Wicked Writers late on Sunday night and I apologize to David and C.J. for that.

So, what gets me out of my blahs? I haven’t been able to pinpoint anything specific. Usually, I get tired of the rut and shut it down for a while. Going to clubs and spending three hours nursing half a bottle of Smirnoff Ice does get real old real fast.

Ah, if only it could be as easy as planting an idea in one's brain like in that fantastic Leonardo DiCaprio movie Inception that I saw  Sunday (I highly recommend it even for non-science  fiction buffs). It doesn't appear that Christopher Nolan  has writer's block.

Currently, no one's implanting any ideas in my head  (though I've got way too much free space and someone should at least try).

But, on a different note, I’m free.

My four-month stint with the U.S. Census Bureau ended last Friday (lack of work) so now I have plenty of free time to do the blogs, writing and sports articles. As soon as I get over the doldrums of being let go. I mean, we all knew the census was a temp job, but I was in a set routine for four months.

As for advice for others, sorry, ain’t got any, except maybe getting yourself into a set routine. I might also suggest doubling down and maintaining some discipline. I plan to devote an hour in the morning and an hour or two in the evening to writing. The middle of the day will be for job hunting and early evening for

Whoa, wait a minute!

I actually think I just solved this round of the blahs. I was writing my stuff late at night (like 1 a.m. late, not 11 p.m.), but I had been going to bed at 11 to prepare for work.

Hey, I guess that means time management is the way to beat writer’s blahs.


After all this dribble, I accidentally stumbled over the answer.

Thanks, guys. If I hadn’t sat down to write this blog on writer’s block, I wouldn’t have figured it out.

I’ll get right on it.


Writer's What?

Writer's Block

Does it exist? Or is it what we say when we don't feel like working?

This week we'll be sharing our thoughts and opinions on the controversial topic of writer's block and sharing how we get past it. I know some people who've been writing since childhood. I know writers who have taken up the craft within the last decade after dreaming about pursuing a career in writing their whole lives. Still more, there are the people who write in secret - a few in journals, others penning stories they share with no one, or still more who jump from one project to another while never actually finishing anything they've started.

I'm going to be brutally honest here. Anyone can write. Not everyone can write well (and I haven't been at it very long, so I'm pretty sure I'm one of those folks who almost writes well). It's a craft so highly complex, that even after years of honing, you can always find something else to improve upon. There are so many variables to writing a worthy tale it can boggle the mind.

I have never actually experienced writer's block. I'm not so sure it exists. I can vouch that there are days I don't feel like writing. Days were my body aches from the arthritis-like symptoms of Lyme Disease, which last month went on for three weeks. There are days when I can't remember things from my first book and I stare at the screen trying to remember details I only penned last year. I have trouble concentrating, can't sleep some nights, get bad headaches, and my mood swings are a bitch (literally).

I've had times where I sit at the computer and the words come slowly -- and badly. Dialogue that reads stilted and fake. Action scenes that confuse and meander. The second book has seven POVs, so you can add "slipping out of character and making them all sound alike" in there too.

There was a section in book two, chapter seven, where I was supposed to describe the character I'm basing on my recently deceased nephew, Eric. I still haven't been able to go back and flesh it out and I'm on chapter fourteen now. For very obvious reasons, it's too painful to do. Does that mean I won't?

Hell no.

I'm not going to lie and say I've never quit at anything. I've quit at lots of stuff, and usually with very good reasons (or so I like to tell myself). But I can tell you this-- I've never quit when it really mattered. Like my relationship with my husband or parenting our children. Sure, there are days I want to kill him or moments I want to run screaming from the house to get away from my offspring. But I don't. I stay and we work things out.

Writing isn't something you do for someone else. It isn't something you do with the hopes you'll hit the lottery and your book will be insanely popular. You do it for yourself first and foremost, for everyone and everything else second.

I write to escape. Originally, it was to help me cope while I underwent a ton of medical procedures to find out why I had "issues" (and since we're talking a G.I. doc, let's leave it at that). Next came allergy tests to determine why my throat was collecting white blood cells and scarring up, making it difficult to swallow, in a condition called Eosinophilic Esophagitis. Writing helped me deal with the next diagnosis of Celiac Disease in June of '09, and it helped keep me sane when my world caved in with a third diagnosis of late stage Lyme Disease came only three months after that.

Writer's block? How about writing as a salvation? I'm not driven to write by characters that hold conversations in my head. I'm not ridden by a story and consumed in a mad helter-skelter dash to get the words out and onto paper. Nor am I possessed with a grand gift meant to be shared with the masses.

I write because I want to. Simple as that.

I sit my ever-widening butt in a chair and I write to think about something other than myself and the medications I must take to beat some stupid bacteria crippling my body and mind. I write to burn off the mental energy and frustrations that sear into me as I watch my life go by.

Sure, there are days I don't write. Lots of them in fact. But like everything in life -- writing is a choice.

I don't believe in writer's block. Just like loving my husband is a choice I will make every damn day as long as I live, for me, so is writing.

I choose to write. How about you?

Friday, July 23, 2010


Where to begin? This is the part of the movie where one has to wait for the flashback, or the narrator to fill in the back-story. You know: the boring stuff.

“In the beginning, good always overpowered the evils of all man’s sins…” Oops! That’s Mötley Crüe.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God…” Oops! That’s the Bible.


I’m just kidding around; however, in doing so, I wanted to illustrate what one can expect from me: a sprinkle of God, a large measure of music and a ton of humor. Why? Because it’s who I am.

1) Ultimately, I’m a church guy.

2) I think laughter is a fantastic medicine for what ails people.

3) I would curl up into a ball and die if I didn’t have my music. No food; dead in a couple of weeks. No water; a couple of days. No music; hours. You should see me. I used to take ten minutes looking for a cd to listen to for a five-minute drive to work. My wife knows this: there will be no doing the dishes, no vacuuming, no dusting, and no yard work until I have that iPod firmly strapped to my ears.

That’s me.

What else? Well, I can write a little bit. I know, you’re saying to yourself, “you call this writing?” This cocktail napkin is only so big, you know? I don’t know how you figured that I could give you Pat Conroy on something so small. Lol!

I first discovered the writing bug about the same time I discovered I loved to read. I didn’t know I loved to read until I stumbled upon Jay Anson’s The Amityville Horror, Peter Benchley’s Jaws and Michael Slade’s Headhunter to name a few. Originally, I thought my first attempt at writing was a good one until the summer I pulled it out, dusted it off and began to read a few paragraphs. “Who in the hell wrote this?”, I exclaimed to no one. Naturally, the first read turned into the first re-write! The following summer, the events of the previous summer were repeated. “Who in the hell…?”

Isn’t that pretty much how everyone begins? Or was it just me?

Fast forward a few years through high school and some junior college. I wrote a couple of novellas and a few short stories, and soon thereafter, I began to write Dance on Fire. I always thought I would end up changing the title, but never did come up with anything better. Eventually, it grew on me. Unfortunately, the title did not end up being the largest obstacle. That was reserved for the fact the book ended up taking twenty years to complete.

Why twenty years? Well, I met my wife in college. We started a life together, children, careers, etc. Over the years, I attempted to dust off the manuscript, but something always ended up derailing me. Not too many actually realize their dreams, right? Why should I be any different? Yet, the dream would not die. About the time that I hit my 38th birthday, I began to feel that fire in the belly to not only kick-start the project, but also to see it to the end as well. When I did finish, I spent a year and a half looking for representation. Then came the realization that I had not attempted to write anything new in two decades, followed by a concern as to whether I actually could. Thankfully, the sequel to Dance on Fire took only eight months, from blank page to the end of the second draft (author wiping forehead in mock relief).

I came to understand it was not an easy thing to sell someone the idea of a Horror/Christian vampire crossover novel. The secular folks tended not to be so interested in anything Biblical, while the church folks tended to cringe anytime there was profanity or someone being butchered and used as food. I’m not sure why?

Eventually, call it fate or divine intervention, the good people over at Vamplit Publishing saw something in my writing and wrote back. I’m glad they did. The novel was published as an e-book this past February with the paperback version slated for sometime this fall. At the same time I will be handing over Dance on Fire: Flash Point to Vamplit Publishing once again for a winter 2010/spring 2011 release in both physical and e-book formats.

There. I told you it was dull…unless you were living it, of course.

And live it, I have. I have joined the blogosphere where I have met so many wonderful people and hope to continue the trend. I am also writing for a local on-line magazine in my area where I am penning non-fiction now, too. My experiences have brought me to this cool new place: Wicked Writers.

I want to thank C.J. and the team for welcoming me here. I want to thank you, dear faithful readers for enduring the back-story. I will endeavor not to bore you with those details again. For anyone among you who has a dream, I want to encourage you to see it through. Something inside me simply did not want me to grow old with regrets. I hope you won’t either.

Now that I have gotten these beginnings out of the way, we can move on to more interesting and engaging conversations. I am uncertain just what those might be, but I am eager to the challenge and looking forward to meeting more interesting people and having a lot of fun while doing it. Thanks for your time.

And as I like to say over on my blog:

We’ll talk soon.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Authors Bio: Where am I and Why am I in this Handbasket?

For the purposes of this blog, we authors are introducing ourselves this week.

I found it quite odd to think someone may be remotely interested in my fledgling pedigree. But alas! I do have a vain side, so read further - if you dare - and peek into the zany world of George Allwynn, a simple, gender queer person who amuses some, annoys others, and in the end, remains refreshingly genuine to a fault.

I have been caught eavesdropping. Purely for research purposes, I assure you. Yet, there have been times I have over heard people describe me as being eccentric, elective and effusive.

Of course, other colorful, yet less desirable attributes have been attached to my personality, but I am trying really hard to keep this blog rated PG.

Overall, I have an 'indie' spirit, and devote my time and money in support to the indie industry (films, art, music.) The delight of discovering life outside the box, the uniqueness of individuality it embraces and the expressions of the human spirit leave me in awe.

With that in mind, my bohemian spirit loves independent writers, e-publishing and all small presses that support the Indie thought. Indie (or e-publishing) won't leave me rich or famous, but it doesn't matter. Staying true to my self purpose, writing the prose that best expresses my author's spirit, and experiencing the journey with humility and grace is what I hope to accomplish during this mid-life wake up call.

I was born and bred in Northern Michigan - and have basically lived here all my life with the exception of a military stint down in Fort Bragg, NC during Desert Storm.

I am the only one left in my family, save for my two adult children, my son, Kelley (pictured with me above at a hooka bar in Royal Oak) who is 27 and lives with his girlfriend of 3 years in the metro area of Detroit, and daughter Kerri 26 years old who married her child hood sweet heart Randal Lee, giving me two grandsons, Trenton Lee (6 years) and Devon (9 months). They live in Dalton Georgia. I am fortunate to have my ambitions supported and encouraged by such wonderful offspring. (Even though they roll their eyes when they explain me to their friends. At least they do it with pride in their voices and a smile on their lips!)

This past June, I starting my life over, by moving cross state to Western Michigan, in a small town where there is no cell tower and dial-up is considered high-tech. I live in a small, studio apartment like place with my dog Holly (a yellow lab/golden retriever/beagle mix) and a fat, snowshoe looking Siamese named Mrs. Jones. It's been a cultural shock - not only to me, but to the residents here. Not too many out-spoken, genderqueer writer folks walk the streets of this one horse town and live to tell about it.

My passions include: writing, reading, cats, tattoos, ANYTHING British, research, and green living. I'm an advocate for GLBT rights and have been 'blessed with bi-polarism with manic tendencies. Unfortunately, I've also been blessed with panic attacks and can become quite the recluse. Thank the gods I have friends ( both real, in my head and on the internet) that do not hesitate to kick me in my fat, hairy arse when I need it.

As for writing, I am a GLBT writer. I love to read (and write) M/M or F2M romance stories, with elements of suspense, paranormal, or some kind of odd twist. All penned with humor. Or what I hope readers consider as humor. Well, at least I laugh at what I write.

I've been writing M/M romance [i]before I knew what it was[/i] -- since 1975 (much to the chagrin of Mrs Vanderveer - my first critique.) To this present day, there are moments of self-doubt, I’m haunted by her words.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Under my nose, my fifth grade teacher shook my original, handwritten, 125 loose leaf page story, bound together with scraps of scarlet yarn. “Children your age don’t possess the ability to understand adult ideas.” Her acidic glare through dark framed glasses pinned me against a cabinet. “Where did you learn this?”

Before I could defend myself, the woman pinched her lips tight and examined me as an exterminator does a cockroach. “You’re an impertinent student and a deviant freak of nature. You’ll never possess the discipline to be successful author.”

Although I felt stung by the sharpness of her words, the tears came after hearing the hollow echo of my beautiful first book, tossed in to the old metal wastebasket.

So went my first experience as a writer.

But I continued to write. When I turned 13, I had my own column in the weekly county newspaper, gathering social news in my neighborhood. That job lasted for six years. I was High school editor of our newspaper for two years, year book editor for one. I was voted best story-teller in my senior year in high school and had a scholarship for journalism.

In the 80's I was heavily into Star Trek Slash fan fic (though during that decade - they were published in what was called 'fanzines' and sold at conventions under the tables!) I was 'published' under the name of D.Isaacs, and had like 10 or 12 stories that were novella length.

It was during this time, the 'don’t ask, don't tell' policy was not in effect, so I started an underground newsletter for the gay soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force base. It flourished for three years, until the onslaught of Desert Storm.

As adulthood led to larger responsibilities, my writing took a backseat. Time to devote to my passion seemed fruitless, in light of the life stresses and employment issues I faced. As each day passed, I continued the pattern of choosing reality over my fantasy stories, berating myself with guilt over stolen moments of writing pleasure.

The 90's brought in a radical change. Caught by the snare of religion, I felt condemned for using my writing talent in ways that wouldn’t glorify God (as the modern church perceives through man-made rules.) I was convinced to give up my writing and drawing as a sacrifice to God. I had to learn to control my desires and appreciate the gifts He had given me.

So, I traded my typewriter for a chance to have a real family and a clerical license. I became a chaplain, a devoted, faithful partner and later, the foster parent of 7 special need boys (10 years and down.)

In 2006, after a devastating fall out from a government court battle over adoption, I woke up in the ashes of destroyed dreams and once again pick up my sword..., errr, pen and started my healing process by writing. What a difference 20 years make when you add computers over ditto machines! My pen name became Sage Harrison.

In 2007, my successful slash serial on caught the eye of the two actors (and several of their friends and castmates.) so when I when I did an annual trek to NYC with some friends/internet fans, I met the two actors I wrote about. In a bizarre twist of fate, the actors picked apart my brain, asked for my autograph, swore up and down my writing was better than currently on the show, and encouraged me to stop hiding my talent and embrace my destiny - get serious about the writing and go for it...

In late 2008, I plunged into the choppy waters of the unforgiving world of professional publishing. There, I discovered E-pubs, M/M romance, and the fact I didn't know beans about 'professional' writing, all the rules and unforgiving grammar snafus'.

I went almost a year of doing nothing but taking various writing classes, to the point where I couldn't recognize my own writing voice. It was a sad wake up call. I no longer wanted to write, because I sounded like some kind of cookie-cutter writer being pushed out by New York Publishers. I hated writing, and hated me for being so anal retentive to every writer rule out there.

In 2010, a warm, wonderful publisher reminded me of something very important. Now that I 'know' what the 'rules' are, I can pick and choose which ones to beef up on, and which ones to ignore, thus, improving my voice even more.

So, that's me in a nut shell. A novice of sorts, trying to get it all straight in my head before my manuscripts decimate the desk of an unsuspecting, slightly neurotic editor on the verge of going totally daft if she sees one more submission sporting Pratchett Purple Prose...

And when I become published, I plan on laying my first book on the gravesite of Mrs. Vanderveer, my fifth grade teacher. God rest her soul

Labotomy of a Writer

My name is Anastasia Pergakis. I currently live in Columbus, Georgia with my husband and two year old son. I’m a stay at home mom while my husband enjoys his career in restaurant management. He hopes to open his own restaurant in the next year or two.

 I’m an aspiring novelist with hopes to be published by the end of this year. I write mostly in the Fantasy genre but I do write Sci-Fi also. Until recently, I was a freelance writer, writing informative and technical articles on request.

 I run an online writing workshop for novel writers, "The Writer's Academy". It’s currently being ‘renovated’ and will re-open no later than January 2011. It started as a small group on a writing site I’m a member of, but part of the renovation will be to move it to its own home in the web! The name has changed to "Inkwell University", and even my husband loves the name.

 The move of my workshop really spurred me to get back into school. I needed a business degree so that I could run it professionally and efficiently. With my husband starting his own business soon, this degree will be doubly beneficial to my family. So far, school has been tough as I adjust to the new schedule, but it is well worth it.

 My other passions are reading, reviewing, web design, and cover art design. I am a self taught designer, learning through experimentation and reading endless articles. I am currently trying to start a group on to help authors build their own websites to get their name out there. I am thinking of putting it on the web as it's own site also. Over the course of this week, that is my side project, so I'll have a link for you soon.

My friends will tell you that I'm a bit crazy - and it's completey true. My characters talk to me, and I talk back as if they were real. Well, they are real, but they only talk to me!

I am a busy body, always something going on, or a new project, or something to do. I like the busy life but yes sometimes it catches up to me and I need a break. But, my life is definitely not boring. My two year old keeps me pretty busy on his own! He's very active, always wanting to play, so he at least keeps me in shape and laughing.

I'm not sure what else to say about myself so I'll end this post here. Of course, I am always open to questions so feel free to stop by my author page here and drop me a line or two! I am honored to be a part of the Wicked team and I look forward to working along side the great authors we have here.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Writers and Mental Illness: Is There a Relation?

What is it about authors and mental health issues?

Is it a prerequisite?

A social trend?

A way to draw attention to their work?

This is a subject I have a serious interest in. I have been diagnosed as being bi-polar, with manic tendencies. That means some days, I swing better than Tarzan!

Looking back, this is something I have had most of my life (and with the current knowledge of today, can see it in past generations of family.) What was passed off as me being a 'brat' as a child, to a 'moody' teenager, on to an intelligent adult with anger issues, was later still mis-diagnosed as 'depression', 'manic depression', bi-polar type 2, leading up to my current diagnosis.

After much studying, three things bout this subject struck me as being profound.

1. In these enlightened times, people are STILL ignorant of mental health issues.

2. Many great authors, past and present, have either shown signs of, or have been attributed with some form of mental illness.

3. People - including many writers of today, are ashamed of their diagnosis, and live in fear of their peers or publishers finding out. They suffer alone, in silence, with no support.


Why is there a such a strong bond between writers and mental illness?

And just what is the connection that binds mental health and writing?

Scientists believe it's apart of the creative process, how artistic, creative people (including writers, artist, dancers, singers, musicians, actors) think 'outside the box', thus making them different from others.

Imagine, if you will, that the left and the right side hemispheres of your brain are like two trains, traveling side by side. They have these little 'connectors' between them that not only communicate, but feed each other as well. If certain neurons have not developed properly to stimulate both sides of the brain, odd things can occur. One of the 'trains' jumps track, throwing everything off. Neurons mis-fire' or go into a state of under production and over production of the brain's chemicals. This results in our mood swings and left unchecked, can result in chaos.

In each person, this activity is on a different production level, releasing or ceasing at different time intervals. It all depends on DNA, outside stress factors and the personal health of the individual.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Did you know famous writers throughout the ages have always had issues with what is now classified as "chemical imbalances within the brain?" They just didn't know what to call it, other than 'odd', 'peculiar behavior' or were misdiagnosed with other illnesses.

Such symptoms as long bouts of insomnia, mood swings of anger, depression, or euphoria, crying lags, extreme eating habits or money management problems (over spending, gambling), unnatural amounts of sex and even issues such as the now labeled 'OCD' or 'ADHD' were a problem then, as they are today.

Not knowing what to do, authors in the past (especially men) would "self-medicate" their manic behaviors with alcohol and some drug use (in the higher classes) or perusing their sexual/spending appetites at an alarming rate. Then, either in guilt or despair, lock themselves away to write.

However, that was then. What about the professional pens of our modern society?

Unfortunately, because of our isolation as writers (though it is better in this day and age of the internet) we are still susceptible to depression and its many forms. And, as in the past, this problem continues to be misunderstood.

Pride gets in the way of taking the diagnosis seriously (if one chooses or can afford - on a writers salary - to see a doctor at all.) Finding the right medication to fit your affliction can take years -- with constant tweaking. Even on medication, there is no guarantee that "everyday" will be free from melancholy. Or swinging. Or the chronic, repetitive behavior.

So we writers sit, day in and day out, alone in our worlds, dealing with these behaviors the best we can and hope it doesn't interfere with our works in progress.But it does. Look at our reactions to writers block. Deadlines. Conferences. The way we treat our family members. The way we react to rejection letters or submission acceptance.

As for my own story, I've been diagnosed since 1989 (24 years old) - and although it was a relief to know it was a legitimate medical condition bearing no fault of my own, it still took me years to take it seriously. I was ashamed (fortunately, the more educated we are as a society, the better we are. However, old habits die hard, and Joe Q Public will take any mental illness out of context and frown upon.) Family members didn't help, as they truly didn't understand what I was going through.

I wasn't faithful staying on my medicine, either. At one point, I was convinced my doctor got his medical degree from a Cracker Jacks Box. After being on the medicine for six months and flourishing in a euphoria of well-being, I would convince myself I was 'cured', therefore, I'd trash the pills. Six months later, I would find myself worse off than before as I continued to spiral down deeper into the dark abyss. I repeated this cycle of self-abuse several times. (I never claimed to be the brightest Skittle in the rainbow!)

Then, a concerned friend told me: "You know what the definition of insanity is? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

Ouch! That hit home. All those years of denying I was 'crazy' - and here I was traveling in a vicious circle doing the same damn thing over and over. I was still ashamed. I mean, I may be wild and crazy, but to be classified as mentally ill? That label carries huge amounts of stigma. (Up until 1973 - homosexuality was classified as a mental health disease.) I didn't want people to know.

An other friend pointed me in this direction. "If you have a heart attack, you go to the heart doctor. If you have lung cancer, you go to a specialist. If you need surgery on your knee, you go to a knee surgeon. Heart, eyes, knees...they're all an important part of the human body - and if these parts get sick or injured, you're expected to take care of them with medication and what ever.

"...So, what about your brain? The most important, complex organ in your body. If it gets sick or hurt, you need to take the medication and see a psychologist. It only makes sense."

After that, I refused to be ashamed of my Bi-polar and manic depression. I openly talk about it, hoping to educate a few minds along the way. I even make jokes about my medication - which rattles some folks, but we gotta do what we gotta do, to be at ease with our bodies. I finally learned to accept my cross in this life. I have bi-polar. It is also complicated with manic tendencies. It's not going away, and I need to be on medication in order to live a productive life. So far, I've been on my medication for 3 years straight (the longest ever.) It's a good thing, but still, even on medications, I have my 'days' where 'impending doom' looms over my head, and I just want to crawl into a hole and disappear forever.

And as I have been more open about this malady - many other writers (aspiring and professional) have contacted me, admitting they too, have been diagnosed with some form of mental health issue. And they are bewildered. Ashamed. And afraid of what it will do to their careers if their publishers or their readers found out.

I believe with all my heart, this has gotta stop!

Writers with depression symptoms - or any mental health issues, need to support each other. In fact, I would love to see a workshop on it someday - or even a website/yahoo group. You know, a place for writers who suffer from the many forms of depression (from the PMS, postpartum, going through a grieving process down to the Manic to the full-blown Bi Polar) would benefit from having a place to share with others in the same boat.

I mean, nobody understands better than somebody who has been there, done that, and still has bouts. Double therapeutic if the persons they talk with are also writers, going through the same thing. Mental Health issues touch us all, whether we are writers, have family members who are diagnosed, or suffer ourselves.

Are you (or do you know of) a writer who has mental health issues? It could be just depression, or it could be bi-polar, or a number of other oddities. How do you (they) handle it? Do you think the time has come for writers to face this demon? Do you think a writers group for mental health would be a good thing, or would it harm the authors career?

I'm curious to see some answers on this topic.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Very Public Encounter

Dylan Who? Not Bob, surely? A good friend suggested, when I mentioned that I was about to attend my first literary luncheon as a published author, that I should do a “Dylan Thomas” –

[caption id="attachment_2945" align="alignright" width="129" caption="No, not Bob!"][/caption]

“Just wear a scarf, drink a lot of alcohol, and you’ll be OK,” she said. Except that I don’t have a Welsh accent. Good advice, I thought. (And thank you, Kate :) )

I did also think about a donning a black felt fedora… I do wear a hat, on a regular basis… and it is black, felt and fedora-like. But, despite my love of hats, I couldn’t help thinking that, as a relatively unknown author (so far – but I do have appropriate aspirations, I assure you) then I could easily be wrongly labelled as trying to copy that great British author – Sir Terry Pratchett.

[caption id="attachment_2946" align="alignleft" width="149" caption="Love the hat, Sir Terry!"][/caption]

So, before I go further, I will take this opportunity to state that I will, at an appropriate time in my authorial career, let my love of wearing hats resurface! I will come-out of the hat closet and reveal all… (But, as readers of my posts will know by now, I am prone to digression… so back to the post in hand!)

Given the free nature of this week’s subject matter, I suggested to C.J. (rather requested, and she – who is the font of all schedule wisdom – kindly agreed) that I post on Friday this week, so that I could write on the experience of my first literary lunch. So, here goes…

The week my book was published, a local paper carried news of an excellent Delicatessen and Tea-room’s launch of a monthly literary lunch. Lunch guests could sit and enjoy an aperitif and three-course lunch, while listening to author’s talk about their work.

“Wow!” thinks I. “What a great way to get some exposure for my newly published book!”

So I called, before the organisers had time to realise I wasn’t well known! What a coup – they booked me in for July 15th, 2010. That was around four month’s ago! Plenty of time to prepare, I thought!

[caption id="attachment_2952" align="alignright" width="93" caption="Much ado..."][/caption]

Then my ‘redundant’ employment situation came to a welcome, but unexpected end… and, lo and behold, I found myself with little time to do much ado about anything! (The slight hint of Shakespeare is purely intentional, dear readers.)

In the public eye?

I’ve now experienced radio on quite a few occasions. This time, though, I was to appear in front of people who had actually paid real money to come and listen to me! The pressure was on!

I then realised, a while ago, that there was little advertising of the event. “Strange,” I thought, “maybe I have been found out!” Until the publicity consultant contacted me to tell me the event was a sell-out. They had reigned back on publicity, in order not to disappoint any further potential guests.

[caption id="attachment_2947" align="alignright" width="132" caption="Who goes there?"][/caption]

More pressure! Not only were there going to be real people, but the room was going to be full! But who were these mystery guests going to be?

This is problematic, how can you prepare something, if you don’t know your audience? So, under pressure, the night before the talk came this week, faster than I had thought possible. (And in entirely indecent haste, in my humble opinion.) Nothing prepared. What to do!

I have never believed in re-inventing wheels. Interviews work well… I have been interviewed on radio, and in print... Why not take an interview format?

A Brilliant idea!

I don’t ad-lib… I have never ad-libbed… But, I reckon, if you ask any author a question about their book, then they will wax lyrical! Indeed, I have done so. The trick, then, was to come up with a set of one-word questions which would provide the catalyst to 30 to 45 minutes of un-rehearsed monologue! Add a couple of readings, and, hey-presto, a format for my talk.

[caption id="attachment_2948" align="alignleft" width="114" caption="Oops! Did I do that?"][/caption]

Well, here is something for you to think about if you find yourself in the same position… FLASH FICTION! (And thank you, the person who suggested the theme a few weeks ago… despite my having never tried it.)

A 500 word short story is an ideal ice-breaker in a public reading. It is a show-case of writing skill – a chance for an audience, who may never have actually read your work, to see how you handle a beginning, a middle, and an end! A normal reading just does not allow that, and can easily act as a spoiler.

OK, so the tea-room was small – at around 16 guests, the room was fully packed – but the audience was a gem! Quality, not quantity! They listened to ‘Just a thought’ intently. And a strange thing happened…

[caption id="attachment_2949" align="alignright" width="100" caption="I said "spontaneous"!"][/caption]

Within two minutes of me being introduced… the audience had broken out into spontaneous applause!  That has not happened to me before, ever! I can tell you!

The ice broken, the rest was a pure pleasure: a bit about me (needed no one word question as a prompt), and I introduced the book. (I had ascertained that only one guest had actually read it prior to the lunch.) Here, I made good use of a review, rather than my own words, and then I read the short opening scene from ‘River of Judgement’.

One more time?

By this time, the audience were engaged with me. And, although they did not applause after the second reading (I was not disappointed) my set of questions went out of the metaphoric window as I checked that I now only had ten minutes left! Where had the time gone?

The audience seemed attentive, interested and waiting for more! Do they want more? Really?

I asked them… “I have another reading, if you would like?”

Affirmative nods, and some murmurs of ascent! Even an audible ‘yes’ or two! (I had, fortunately, printed off the opening scene from the sequel, freshly written.)

“Will it spoil our reading of the first book,” came a very interested, if slightly concerned voice.

(Note: if you are in business, selling, this would be considered a very strong “buy” signal… time to close the deal!)

“No,” says I. “There were a bunch of obvious crooks in the first book; I am only giving the name of one in the reading.”

More murmurs of approval. So I delivered the opening scene of the unnamed sequel. I did warn my audience that it would be twice as long to read – 1000 words! But they were not shaken!

“Thank you,” I finally announce.

And a lovely lunch was served, during which I spoke to some lovely guests who were really interesting to talk to, and who were really interested in what I had had to say.

“Do you think it went well?” asked one lady who, together with her partner, had been there because their tickets had been booked by a family member in Australia.

“Yes,” I said, with a smile.

“…because it has persuaded me to buy three copies of your book for our friends,” she said.

That one sentence, from that one lady, made the whole thing worthwhile! And I think around half the audience left with at least one signed copy of the book.

[caption id="attachment_2950" align="alignleft" width="133" caption="You can't get enough!"][/caption]

As writers, both self-published, and those with publishers, we need to be able to get out there and engage with those we want to buy our books! We cannot be complacent. Every opportunity for publicity must be grabbed with both hands and pursued. We must take every opportunity and maximise its impact. And, if this little story helps show how a previously unknown situation can resolve itself, then I am happy to have had the opportunity to relate it!

Happy writing! (And speaking!)  :)

Sense and Sensibility, Intimacy and Romance

Today at Wicked we welcome author Matt Leo! I met Matt over on the other group blog I post at, Write in the Shadows. He made some insightful comments on our topics and revealed in his prose what an eloquent writer he is. Having just read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a 80-85% rip-off of the original, I was keenly interested in reading what Matt had to say about another Austen favorite.

Recently, I watched Ang Lee's 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility again.  I'd forgotten that Alan Rickman played Colonel Brandon.  A young, handsome, romantic Alan Rickman is a shock after imprinting on his performance in the Harry Potter movies. It is hard not to see the sinister Professor Snape as gallant yet proper Colonel Brandon's desire smolders beneath his cool civility. But it still works. Both Snape and Brandon are men with hidden depths.

This prompted me to re-read the Jane Austen novel to see if Emma Thompson's script punched up the romance in Brandon's part. The script is remarkably faithful as it condenses the book's fifty chapters into three acts.  Naturally some characters are deleted or combined.  Austen gives us two Miss Steeles, the inept Nancy and conniving Lucy.  The Steele sisters are somewhat redundant; they are insipid shadows of our heroines, impetuous Marianne and austere Elinor.   Thompson gives us only one Miss Steele, who performs Lucy's essential plot functions with instinctive rather than diabolical cruelty.

One thing that strikes me about the book is that the difference between Marianne and Elinor is not so much romantic sensibility as strength of will.  Elinor feels all that Marianne does, but Elinor has the grit and determination to master her feelings.  When Marianne is prostrated by grief and disappointment, Elinor nurses her through it:
"Exert yourself, dear Marianne," she cried, "if you would not kill yourself and all who love you. Think of your mother; think of her misery while YOU suffer: for her sake you must exert yourself."

"I cannot, I cannot," cried Marianne; "leave me, leave me, if I distress you; leave me, hate me, forget me! but do not torture me so. Oh! how easy for those, who have no sorrow of their own to talk of exertion! Happy, happy Elinor, YOU cannot have an idea of what I suffer."

"Do you call ME happy, Marianne? Ah! if you knew!—And can you believe me to be so, while I see you so wretched!"

Here Elinor practices what she preaches. Marianne can't imagine that Elinor feels as deeply as herself. Elinor could easily refute it with her own grief, which has been fiendishly inflamed by her sadistic rival Lucy.  Elinor keeps this to herself, although she is wounded by her sister's insensitivity. Marianne isn't strong enough to bear her own pain, much less Elinor's.  Throughout the book, shrewd Elinor takes the measure of those around her, carefully titrating the truth so as to administer just so much as is kind and useful.  Such behavior is abhorrent to Marianne, whose stubborn frankness makes her a burden to the good people around her and a target for the wicked.  Elinor accepts social façades for their utility, and therefore doesn't read too much into them.

Marianne, for all her supposed depth of sentiment, can't get past Colonel Brandon's wearing flannel waistcoats to ward off colds.  As far as she is concerned this convicts him of irredeemable banality.  Elinor sees more deeply and is rewarded with confidences from Brandon that would amply satisfy the most demanding sentimentalist.  You simply couldn't go around displaying such depth of feeling as Colonel Brandon has upon your sleeve. A man likes to be able to order a pint without everyone in the bar weeping for his dignified forbearance.

The intended irony of this novel is that practical, sensible Elinor is at last united with her true love after numerous obstacles and torments. Sentimental Marianne on the other hand marries not for passionate love, but for a good match that makes her family happy.  But if this is Austen's point, I'm not sure she carries it.  What kind of woman could love the handsome but shallow Willoughby yet not in time love the noble, exquisitely sensitive Brandon far more?   Could any reader not feel Elinor's achieving her heart's desire all the more keenly for her having the will to deny it to herself? That is a remarkably cathartic scene, both in the book and the move.

If a world such as sentimentalists like Willoughby and Marianne desire, everyone would be frank about his feelings and immediately act on them.  There are many pragmatic advantages to such a world, but it would lack romance.   Erotic love is more complex than physical desire; few desires are easier to satisfy than straightforward lust. Erotic love is literally insatiable. It seeks an intimacy so close that it obliterates all separation.  Romance is simply erotic love working through narrative obstacles. In a world of undifferentiated, compulsory intimacy, romance serves no function.   Aristotle said that a friend is like a second self. If so, a lover is more like a missing part of yourself.  Any separation from a lover is a wound.  The pain of that wound is the mainspring of romance.

I think one reason men are suspicious of romances written by women is that we don't always trust women to do justice to our feelings and motivations.   Even Jane Austen's male characters sometimes lack the plausibility of her female characters.  Was any real man ever so wonderful as Colonel Brandon, or Emma's Mr. Knightley?   But for the most part Austen wisely makes her male characters much the same as her female characters.    They seek love, respect, and financial security.  They have private agendas, public personas and personal obligations that all conflict.   This tension between the public and private self is not only a source of romantic complication, it is a source of credibility. It is a mistake to pander to male distrust by making male characters too “manly”.  Men don't even agree on what that means.  Had Austen made Elinor Dashwood a man, most male readers would easily accept that character as credible. If a character is believable as a person, he'll be believable as a man and creditable as a lover.

Terrific insights, Matt! Thanks so much for sharing them with us today.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Guest Blogger Carole Gill

The writing bug bit when Carole was 8 years old and she penned her first story about Martians taking all of earth’s children back with them to Mars. It was a promising start but then life got in the way.

There were after all two universities, nursing school and acting school to drop out of.

Former executive secretary and frustrated writer, Carole Gill is a New Yorker who lives in Yorkshire. In 2000 she was selected by North West Playwrights of England for further development. It was an enriching experience, but she found she preferred short story and novel-writing.

When her angelic husband suggested she try her hand at writing full-time, she did. Within a year she was published in a few sci-fi and horror anthologies.

She has penned a crime novel and a romance novel—but nothing in the horror genre which she prefers. Currently, she is finishing up her work in progress: a dark gothic novel she describes as ‘Jane Eyre with vampires.’

She writes monthly stories for Vamplit’s free online horror magazine, Blood Read, most of which are based on one of her characters, fallen angel spawn and vampire, Monsieur Louis Darton.


Hello! What follows is the conversation I had with one of the characters, Darton, in my novel, The House on Blackstone Moor.

It happened suddenly at the end of a writing day. I had just finished a chapter and was about to take a break when I heard a voice say:

“I’m sorry I’m taking over the narrative now.”

“What? You can’t. I didn’t intend for it to be that way. It’s told in the heroine’s voice and it’s going to be like that all the way through!”

“Oh come on now, Carole! You’re a ‘seat of the pantser,’ you don’t plan anything!”

“True, but this is different!”

“Really how?

“I don’t know. It just is!”

“Sorry, I am firm about this! I take over the narrative now and that’s the end of the discussion!”


Now, this somewhat schizoid scene is based on a real incident. Yes, ladies and gentlemen! Here I was, writing my novel. It’s in the first person, told by the young lady of the tale, Rose Baines, a damaged young woman, the only survivor of her family’s carnage who finds a position as governess at a mysterious and accursed house on the desolate Yorkshire Moors.

Now the narrative was going great. Really humming along, until another character, Monsieur Louis Darton began to make himself understood. After he saw how thoroughly thrown I was by what he said about taking over the narrative, he had me sit down and we discussed the matter calmly over coffee.

“It isn’t that I wish to be domineering, Carole,” he said. “But by writing monthly stories for Blood Read you have gotten to know me so well that you have to show my point of view! I think also the readers of those stories would demand, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, that I have some chapters to narrate myself, in my own voice. I mean I can’t just stay in the back ground and be described only by Rose. Do you see what I mean?”

“Yes,” I answered as I did. “Let me think about it.”

Louis, ever the gentleman, was kind enough to let me mull this one over. As I began to think about switching narratives, I realized that there was a perfect point wherein Louis might take control.

It comes at a crucial time in the novel when Rose has received one horrific shock after another about her employers and her two charges. And if that isn’t enough, there is a hideous discovery she makes in the cellar which quite throws her into a state.

As I was thinking this, Louis began once again:

“Pardon me for just interjecting here. But the thing you have to avoid is paralyzing the action, stopping it dead in its tracks so to speak when the narrative is changed.”

“I know that!” I snapped rather defensively. “You’re a character in my novel. I’m the writer, you know!”

“I do apologize. Of course. But truly, you have created me, I am like your child, surely you should listen to your child.”

He did have a point. I urged him to continue because it was a very good one.

“Think of various crises that may occur, awful things going on that I can describe while still giving constant updates on the condition of the heroine, that’s how I would do it if I were you!”

“Yes! Yes,” I cried! “That’s it! That’s how I will do it!”

“There’s just one thing, what about the ten chapters that lead to the rather surprising climax?”

“I have that already figured out! Rose will take over those last ten chapters to wind it all up!”

“That is excellent! Carole, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!”

“Thank you, Louis! I’m sure you’re right!”

You know what? We often have coffee and discuss the novel and I find that I am open to any reasonable suggestion.

There is a moral here: always listen to your characters because, they know a lot, after all—they take after you, don’t they?

Thanks so much for blogging with us today, Carole! I usually write the intro and say how I met the person and mention their works - but yours was so clever and well done I left it in. Great advice on listening to the inner voices - and I wish you much success penning the rest of the story.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Zombies Are Back

This week is a free topic week here at Wicked Writers. Originally, I was going to do a thinly-veiled parody of Vampire Vacation. But, common sense finally prevailed so decided to welcome aboard the newcomers to Wicked Writers. Especially, Anna Pergakis (aka Harley Palmer), who will co-blog with me on Tuesdays (meaning I will only have to write blogs at 11:59 p.m. on Mondays 2-3 times a month.

Actually, I decided to write about a subject I’ve generally shunned in my horror writing career – zombies.

When I was growing up and watching Creature Double Feature, zombies were slow-moving black guys who had either been drugged or had been forcefully brought back from the dead to be slave labor (can’t a brother catch a break?).

The zombies weren’t all that menacing. Mantan Moreland’s “Step-n-Fetchit” acting in King of the Zombies was far more horrifying. The real horror, though, came in trying to avoid being turned into one like Madge Bellamy in White Zombie. The zombies of the 30s and 40s didn’t eat human flesh. They seemed to eat soup and, if someone was careless enough to put salt in it, they would return to the grave.

Excitement finally hit the genre in the 50s, first with Robert A. Heinlein’s 1951 classic Puppet Masters, followed by Jack Finney’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1954) and the 1958 B-movie staple The Brain Eaters (look fast for a young Leonard Nimoy), Roger Corman’s unauthorized adaption of Heinlein’s classic. Readers also need to check out Richard Matheson’s 1954 classic I Am Legend in print and not from the four movie adaptions, all of which deviated substantially from the novella.

Zombie-dom was forever changed in 1968 when a young filmmaker named George Romero created Night of the Living Dead. These zombies moved a lot quicker and they ate flesh. A black guy was the hero and the white girl was neither pure as snow nor did she get saved. The only similarity between Romero’s smash hit and the old zombie flicks was that the brother still got the short end of the stick at the end of the film. At least he wasn’t the comic relief.

Zombies survived the 70s, the god-awful 80s era of the walking dead, the revivalist 90s and into the 21st century. On the downside, however, they’re all still apocalyptic. They give no hope. Loved ones die and the survivors somehow walk away at the end with little sign of loss. They just have people killing each other with as much blood as possible.

[caption id="attachment_2904" align="alignleft" width="101" caption="They Came from Within aka Shivers"][/caption]

Apparently, freshness went out with David Cronenberg’s Shivers and Larry Cohen’s The Stuff.

(Well, okay, I will admit Shaun of the Dead was fun).

Let’s face it. Zombie stories need some new blood (no pun intended). They need a fresh new look and help might just be on the way, thanks to the writing side. While everyone anxiously awaits the film adaption of World War Z, they might want to read J.L. Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon and its sequel Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile.

Best-selling author Brad Thor (Lions of Lucerne, The Last Patriot) called Day by Day Armageddon the best zombie book he’d ever read. While I still give props to I Am Legend, I do agree that DbDA is an excellent zombie book.

The original book concerns how a naval aviator survives against a disease that turns people into zombies through biting. I liked the book because it took the viewpoint of the man’s attempt at survival which he details through a journal. You can sympathize and empathize with him as he meets new allies and fights zombies, while trying not to fall apart emotionally. The characters experience fear and love and do smart and stupid things. And, yeah, the ending was bleak but provided just enough hope (and was far more believable than Will Smith’s version of I Am Legend).

I might actually stay in the zombie vein a little longer. While I might not copy the apocalyptic view, I want to thank J.L. Bourne (a fellow Navy officer, by the way, out fighting the real-life zombies – aka suicide bombers) for making me want to read more on zombies. He made me remember the flash fiction I’d written, but already forgotten.

Now, if we can only keep Stephenie Meyer out of the zombie genre.

Oh, great. I think I just let the corpse out of the grave.

Why Do We Blog?

We get a free pass to blog about whatever we'd like this week. And we've got two guest bloggers who do exactly that. The first one, Carole Gill, will be sharing a narrative on how a large portion of her book came to be, posts on Wednesday. And the second one, Matt Leo, writes about his take on a classic that was turned into a film, will post on Thursday.

Blogging is an interesting thing. At times, you hit on a topic, sometimes by pure chance, that appeals to people and you get some terrific comments and feedback. At other times, you get crickets. Which doesn't mean people aren't reading and enjoying the blog. It just means they have no desire to comment. Simple as that.

Some readers like to write long responses and share their thoughts, others like to give a kudos or thumbs-up type of rejoinder and that's it. But not everyone has time. Some just have time to read and that's it. Others may start to read, but the damn post goes on too long and they must scurry back to work, or it has lost their interest because the writer meandered in the article.

It's a delicate balance. And at times, we get it right. Others, maybe not.

So why do we do it? What really is the point? Do we reach lots of readers or do we reach mainly writers? Is it to keep our senses sharp with writing something besides our books? Is it to reach out from our dark solitary lives as writers to communicate somehow with humanity? Do we do this because someone told us agents and publishers think it's a good idea?

I can't speak for everyone else. I started a blog mainly to reach readers. How often are readers browsing the Internet for an unknown writer? That's where topic comes into play. Maybe if I post silly pet photos or restaurant food the blog will get lots of attention.

I can tell you this - this blogging gig is work. I hope that someday soon my book will sell and I'll be published. I hope that having this blog, and others in play, will give readers a chance to connect with me as a person and my work will matter more to them for it. I have lots of hopes and dreams and I sincerely think having a blog and making a presence for myself in the blogosphere may help them to come true. But, only time will tell.

On that note, I have some exciting news. Three more writers have decided to throw their hats in with our Wicked Team, all in the pursuit of reaching readers as well. Next week will be an intro week for George Allwyn, who will be sharing a day with me, Anastasia V. Perkagis, who will be co-blogging with Greg on Tuesdays, and James Garcia Jr. will be premiering in the Frightening Fridays spot with hopefully another horror writer joining him in the near future.

I'm pleased and proud to be blogging with such talent. Some are published, some are pre-published (meaning their work will be out soon), others are unpublished but on the path to publication.

I raise my cyber glass in a toast with thanks in my heart:

May your hard work and perseverance pay off. May your writings reach many and touch them on a deeper level. May you soar to the heights you see in your dreams, while your naysayers choke on your dust.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Burden of Prophecy - Opening

Hello! Many of you remember me as a guest blogger a few times under my alter-ego's name, Harley D. Palmer. I am very honored to be a permanent part of the Wicked Writer team! Thank you for CJ for inviting me!

Now, this week everyone has been blogging about their favorite author blogs or current WIPs. So, here is the opening to my current Novel Burden of Prophecy, book one of The Faery's Tale Saga.

I have rewritten this beginning at least ten times from three different POVs. I think I have finally found the right one with this scene here. It does a much better job at introducing the world I have set up. It still needs a bit of work, I'm sure, but I am pretty happy with the result here.

Chapter One: The Cursed One (Excerpt)

Rosyani Celter stormed from her mother's study. Heavy footfalls echoed behind her and she sped toward the stairs. She stopped short of the carpeted steps then hopped over the railing. Her wings slowed her decent and she landed gracefully on the marble floor below.

"Don't you dare run away from me!"

Rosyani glanced up to see her mother descending the curved staircase. Her dress flowed around her, accenting the rage evident on her face. Her gray hair, unusual for a faery, twisted tight into a bun. Rosyani often wondered if that was why her mother was always so cranky.

"You are going to see the Healers whether you want to or not!"

"No, I am not, Mother! Do you care how painful those tests are for me?" She rushed for the door before her mother reached the bottom of the steps.

"I'm trying to do what's best for you."

Rosyani’s hand stilled on the circular handle. Her shoulders twitched with the effort to not hit her mother. She slowly turned to face her.

"You are not!" She snorted. "You are doing what is best for you and your image as Queen! I would never force my daughter to be poked and prodded like a piece of meat. I would care how she felt!" Angry tears rolled down her cheeks.

Her mother put her hands on her hips. "Well, when you have your own faes, you can do what you wish as a mother. You’re my daughter and as along as you live in this castle you’ll do as I say!"

That was an easy fix. The corner of Rosyani’s mouth quirked into a smile. She spun on her heel and pulled the tall door open.

"Rosyani Nidea Celter, if you leave, I’ll send the Guard after you!"

"No, you will not. Alerting the Guard would let everyone know that you cannot control your own daughter. Good-bye, Mother."

Rosyani pulled the door closed behind her. She snatched the metal lantern pole and slid it through the looped handles. It would not hold her mother - or anyone else - but it seemed the right action to take.

She rested her head on the door and sighed. "You can live in your prison, Mother. I refuse to any longer," she whispered.

She stepped backward to gaze at the Celter family crest engraved on the door. Her fingertips traced the vine branches as her father’s voice echoed in her head.
"The vines symbolize growth. You must always keep learning and growing, my little Rosa."


Her palm ran over the griffin in the center. Reared on its hind legs, claws in the air, the creature scared her as a young fae. Her nightmares had the creature coming to life and attacking her. She smirked at the naïve memory.
"Don’t be frightened of it. It means strength and consistency - loyalty. You are strong too. Just like the Griffin."


A banner snaked across the bottom with the family’s motto written in the ancient faery script. Her father made sure she could read the old text but even if she could not, she knew the motto by heart.
"Power grows from purity and strength. Stay true to yourself, Rosa, and you’ll never fail."


If only he were still alive…

Rosyani inhaled a shuddering breath to calm herself. One last glance at the crest and she turned away from her home.

As expected, the Guard was no where in sight. Rosyani traveled down the stone steps to the courtyard with no one disturbing her. Her steps slowed as she crossed the cobbled court-yard. She cast a single reminiscent glance over her shoulder. The flags atop the towers flapped in the breeze. The morning sun shone down between the clouds to highlight the emblem of the country. Most saw them as symbols of pride for Achatar, the strength of the Kingdom. To Rosyani, they meant pain, heart ache, and death.

At one time she gazed on them with awe and fascination. She would beg her Father to tell her more about the Kingdom and her ancestors. Endless patience, he would always take the time to answer her questions or tell her a story about their family. As she grew older, her Father made a quiz game, asking her questions at random points of the day about their history. He gave her a kiss, even when she answered incorrectly.

She climbed the narrow stone steps along the wall to the top. The patrol, used to seeing her up there, merely bowed as they passed her. The wall stood almost twenty feet tall and gave a panoramic view of the countryside around the castle. Rosyani sucked in a deep breath and stepped up to the ledge. She smirked as she remembered the first time she did this. The patrol nearly fainted and rushed to rescue her. Now they merely smiled, knowing what will happen next.

The princess spread her arms wide and looked up at the sky. Her body leaned forward and she fell over the side of the wall. The wind whipped her hair and dress around her and a smile crossed her face. She opened her wings and curved her back at the last-minute, missing the ground by mere inches. She soared into the sky with a laugh and waved to the patrol before flying away.

Let me know what you think! I look forward to getting to know everyone in the following weeks. Next week, I'll introduce myself a little more to all of you, so tune in then to learn more about crazy ol' me!