Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Making Our Own Stage

We in our current society as a whole seem to be obsessed with reality television. I will admit that there are a number of the reality competitions such as Hell's Kitchen and Master Chef that I enjoy. I did at one point watch Dancing With The Stars and once I checked out a season of So You Think You Can Dance. The one that I was watching tonight though got me thinking. I put on an episode of America's Got Talent observing the performers as they attempted to wow the judges with talents both spectacular and questionable. 

As I listened to singer after singer, watched dancers and daredevils it struck me that while some of the true talents such as singing are an ability that they were most likely born with, many of them are practiced or learned like the strength acts or the variety shows. They are fun to watch but it made me think what about the more artistic talents? Occasionally I have seen spray paint artists on the show or once there was a man that created designs in sand but what about the paint and brush painters? Where are the graphic designers or the poets? Why are writers not standing on that stage with an audience riveted by the words they have written?

We are talents in our own right and it is difficult to know that we are not recognized with the same respect as a man that smashes watermelons with his head to break a world record. Not everyone out there has the ability to weave an intriguing story nor take you on a journey with nothing but the written word to guide you. While there are a number of us writers and artists it is far more difficult to find someone that can look at a blank canvas and then take the simple brush combined with colorful paints using them to produce a work that just mere hours before didn't even exist. 

Our talents live in our heads. We do not train in the gym. We aren't measuring the size of our muscles. Our stage presence rarely if ever crosses our mind. We are the creators of the previously nonexistent. Our designs make something out of nothing while transporting our audiences to places they never knew they could go. It makes me sad to know that we do not have a stage and auditorium full of screaming fans like other talents but it just makes it that much more satisfying when we are finally recognized for what we do.

Monday, June 29, 2015

When Is Dark Too Dark?

This past weekend I had a conversation with one of my beta readers about my most recent book Breathe. She told me she loved it but she hadn't been expecting the ending. which led to a discussion about the majority of my stories having at least somewhat happy endings. I suppose because it is the type of book I generally read it would be natural that I would opt to write books like that as well. I do have several stories that have much darker endings but I find I am scared to finish them or share the ones that are complete. 

It is such a different side to my writing that it feels out of place for me. I have attempted to read more outside my usual genres which I believe is contributing to my branching out in writing as well. While I am significantly behind I trust that that reading challenge I took on earlier this year is broadening my horizons with each and every page read. I am pushing hard to complete two additional stories as well as planning my next Nano novel. While the so-called "happy ending" can be seen in a way for both the current stories there is so much darkness that it seems more like the wrapping up of evil as opposed to happiness sunshine and flowers. 

Exposing the darker side of my imagination as well as tapping into the depths of my past can be surprisingly therapeutic yet wildly uncomfortable so I struggle with writing any of these stories. Horror may be a genre I enjoy reading along with thrillers and suspense but it never occurred to be to try writing any of them until I was hit with two very specific ideas for suspense thrillers, one of which will be my nano novel this November. The two based in part on my past of emotionally dark looking into an area of the conscious as well as subconscious that I have worked very hard for years to escape but now I find myself not only facing them but putting a spotlight on them.

My dreams tend to be a huge part of my inspiration. I have nightmares about the things I went through but they become part of what makes characters like Jasmine and Rachel more real. I travel paths of love, adventure and revenge which lead to books like Breathe, Welcome to Syn and Annora. Sometimes though I have found that these dreams must be analyzed and put through a filter before being committed to the files of the "To Be Written". For example I had a dream last night that disturbed me to my very core and while I think the storyline was captivating, the imagery was intense and the suspense of the characters was intriguing it was so dark I would never be able to let it out into the light of day. Annora is one that walks the line but I believe even with the tragedy of life that befalls numerous characters it is still acceptable. It got me wondering though, what level of darkness in a book is too dark?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Determination and Creativity

Back when I was in high school the nation's attention was captured by one of the worst school shooting ever to happen, Columbine. Like so many other students across the country my school was effected doing everything we could to make sense of the tragedy as well as find some way to reach out and let the victims know our hearts were with them. My wonderful Japanese instructor came up with an idea. She told us the legend of Sudako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.

According to the legend if you make one thousand origami cranes and make a wish then the wish will come true. Shortly after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima Sudako became very ill. Radiation poisoning was taking her young life so she decided to make the cranes to wish for a cure. Sadly Sudako died before she was able to make even four hundred of the cranes. Her devastated classmates finished the task for her and created a memorial to her. 

The story about making the cranes and being granted a wish may be just legend but Sudako was real and so is her memorial. My school created the thousand paper cranes three times over sending a video along with the story and one thousand of the cranes to Columbine as a symbol that we were with them. The second thousand were hung in my school in Michigan as a reminder. We spoke with the local news about what we were doing and why giving more people a chance to step up and help us as we produced the cranes. 

The final thousand travelled that summer to Japan as part of a school trip I was fortunate enough to be a part of. I stood by as my teacher, or sensei as we called her, placed the cranes among the piles from around the world brought by those wishing to pay their respects. It was an awe inspiring moment in my life and has gone on to lead me to do more along the same lines. Such as take the understanding from a friend that started a book series that donated money to charity. Her books were about the healing power of music but it made me think that I could do the same thing for animals.

I work part time and therefore live paycheck to paycheck but I wanted to show that with determination and creativity we can all make a difference. Just like taking the time to make the cranes to let the students of Columbine know they were in our hearts and minds I am now working to create an event that would benefit a wonderful organization here in Vegas. I do not have the money to book a ballroom or the funds for a gourmet feast but I am going to find donations and volunteers to prove that we can do anything we put our minds to as long as we are willing to think outside the box. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

In The News

As with most writers I know, I get inspiration from a number of sources. Whether it is a snippet of conversation passing by me or an outfit I never have seen before, there are thousands of things that happen around me daily with several of them working their way into my mental files to be used at some point. It has always been a part of my process to put these things in the files pulling them out when I needed an injection of inspiration.

What about things we cannot escape from though and do not want to be a part of our mental resources? What about the violence that reigns on the evening news or the catastrophic information spewed at us by the media? For most of my life I have managed to allow the information to enter my brain only as far as a passing "Oh that was interesting" or a sadly realized "How terrible I should find a way to help if I can". Last night however I realized just how much it can effect me.

Even though dreams are often more theory that actuality it is amazing how accurate they can be to their true meaning. Often times when we dream what we see is just a representation of our fears an desires. But what happens when it isn't just representative? What if the fear from the dream is caused by something you are genuinely afraid of?

Right now there are two major stories happening in the news. Two convicted killers escaped from prison and are on the loose in New York with a massive manhunt on to catch them. There was also a shooting in a church bible study in South Carolina taking the lives of nine people in a cold and calculated attack of hatred. Both terrible happenings and with hem being talked about day in and day out it is impossible to escape.

Last night as I lay exhausted searching for sleep my mind found this information sitting in the back corner of my brain and showed me in vivid color and detail how afraid of these stories and the men that are being talked about I truly am. I dreamt that I was a victim of a random act of violence put forth by a man that awoke one morning, went on a shooting rampage then was able to shoot me before police finally caught him. It was so real from the fear to the burning pain of the bullets ripping through my skin that When I woke in a puddle of cold sweat the first thing I did was check the spots I had been shot.

From this heart racing emotional nightmare though came my first poem in over a year. I have calmed down quite a bit now but I wrote this post as well as the poem in order to share my feelings in the subject. I am happy I have this outlet for sharing my emotions and makes me believe further that if more people had access to such outlets much of the experienced violence could be avoided.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Preparing For October

Next Monday afternoon I will be sitting down with representatives from my chosen charity. Even though it is only the end of June there is a great deal to do for an event happening in October. The first and most important aspect is to get the charity on board. Once I have accomplished that it will be a matter of finding a location date and time that will work for everyone. These are the four biggest hurdles to my hope of successfully pulling off my book release charity event.

While I am confident in my desire to have a great day raising money and awareness for the organization I have severe doubts about my ability to sell my ideas. Mainly because I simultaneously have dozens of ideas swarming my mind as well as no ideas whatsoever. I am greta with details but it is the large aspects of any project I seem to struggle with. It is the same many times when I am working on a book.

I can come up with characters, scenes and I usually know the beginnings and endings right away. It is the story, the overall picture that eludes me. I am currently working on Survivor - Jasmine's Story which is the book I will be releasing at the event. There are also two other books that will be released during an online event happening at the same time. The other two however are being taken care of by my friend and fellow author Kate Robbins.

She is the founder of Rock & Roll Saved My Soul a charity series and publisher that is donates their own proceeds to different organizations while also helping out series like Authors Against Bullying and my own Rescue Me. She is also the sole author for a novel called Behind Closed Doors. It is an incredible look into how an innocent victim can be manipulated and controlled by someone they care about giving them the impression there is no other option.

I am very proud to be presenting these releases with her. She is also my nonstop companion and sounding board as I prepare to meet with my charity. She is the spearhead of the online event and my constant cheerleader pushing me to do everything I want to do. She believes in the success of our event even when my nerves and self doubt threaten to overtake me. I hope everyone out there has a friend like her.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Jasmine Byers - My Survivor

Over a year ago I introduced those that read my blog to a character named Jasmine. She is a 20 year old survivor of domestic violence and one of the women suffering from PTSD in my novel Sharing Strength. As I have closed in on the end of Sharing Strength I also started a novella that focuses on Jasmine, Survivor.

It began as a short story for Fighting Chance, an anthology dedicated to raising awareness of domestic violence and donating proceeds to a cause related charity. As I looked closer at the quick story I had sent in I realized just how much more it could be expanded into a real story. It is an important message for me to share that we can fight back and be our own heroes if we are willing to stand up and demand the true love and respect we deserve.

Jasmine's story is my story in almost every way. My relationship lasted a shorter amount of time and the ending is somewhat different but the psychological effects that were imprinted upon my psyche are just as real as what leads Jasmine from struggling to make it out alive in Survivor to fighting the diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder in Sharing Strength. She hears the voice of her abuser everyday telling her she isn't good enough, smart enough, attractive enough for anyone to care about her. She can't shut it out so she has to fight to be stronger than it.

It was half my life ago when my relationship ended and to this day I hear that voice. I have endured years of torture from inside my own mind. With the help of family, friends and therapy I am overcoming the doubt and fear that stifled me for years but it is a struggle each and everyday. It was my initial hope with Sharing Strength to show people not only that PTSD effects people beyond the military but also that there are resources for people like us and if they are willing to use the help that is there they also can learn to deal with this disorder and not become a statistic like I almost did.

Now as I put more and more details into Survivor I am also hoping to show that no matter how hopeless it seems and how much an abuser has done to make someone feel like they don't matter they actually do, they are stronger than they think and that they are capable of rescuing themselves. The voices in our heads never totally go away but there are ways to make them quiet down and things we can do to cope with the anxiety. Jasmine may represent me in many ways but she is stronger than I was at the time and I have found inspiration while writing her. I hope she can reach others out there fighting their own battles giving the the strength I have found as well.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Finding Your Voice

I was scrolling through posts in the Nanowrimo group on Facebook earlier when I noticed several people all sharing a very common concern though communicated in various ways. Everyone there is either searching for a way to stand out from the crowd, or for a lucky few, they have discovered it. Even those that write fan fiction still have the desire to put their own signature on what they create. We are inspired by so many things depending on who we are and what triggers our imagination that it can be certain we include aspects of all our inspiration as well as our own views.

I saw a post asking advice about whether the person should stop reading all together so that their writing would not be "inspired" by the books in order to keep their story unique. I can understand where it could be a concern that our writing may reflect what we are reading or watching on television. I was once told though that five writers could read the same books, watch the same shows and then be instructed to create a story based on their inspiration. They would come up with stories across the spectrum with a range in genres as well as subject matter.

We all have our own backgrounds, points of view and futures that we are working towards. The paths we walk play into our writing far more than what we watch or read. The biggest concern would be watching marathons of the same shows or reading only one author or genre. It may not cause the writer to incorporate a character or theme from the shows or books but it can narrow the writer's view. I read while I write but I do my best to read a number of genres while watching several different styles of shows if I watch much at all while writing.

We as writers want to put our own spin on what we witness in the world. We create stories that reflect ourselves. That in and of itself makes it unique. No one else is you therefore no one else can write your story. While I agree that using fan fiction or similar styles can be great practice, if examined closely we can begin to see our own patterns emerge. It is a difficult thing to find your voice but sometimes it speaks louder than we realize. Because it is our own we simply do not recognize it. Hiding in plain sight we have a way of communicating that is our's and our's alone. So fear not my fellow writers. Our voices are heard and developing all the time it is just a matter of locating it among the white noise and giving it the distinct megaphone to be heard clearly.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Bad Reviews

Normally I write about my own experiences or the emotions behind what I am working on but I saw a post yesterday that addresses a topic all artists should be familiar with and prepared for, negative reviews. We all have gotten them or we will. It is basically impossible to please everyone all of the time. For writers like myself we can try but the best advice I ever got was to write for me and if others liked it then great. I should never write to sell just to make myself happy and proud of what I produced.

There was a post on Facebook that I saw where a reviewer had given an indie author a one star review on their book and he went crazy insulting the reviewer and taking everything extremely personally. He flew off the handle insulting the reviewer and insisting she take down her review. He accused her of trying to ruin his life's work while simultaneously telling her that she wasn't intelligent enough to understand the book and that it was written to better society.

He claims that while he was writing his response that he made a few more sales so clearly she didn't know what she was talking about. When she calmly responded offering to expand her review to be more specific and telling him that she had the right to state her opinion it started the storm all over again. Several other people took to their keyboards in order to defend the original reviewer bringing a hailstorm of insults to anyone that dared enter the conversation. He attempted to intimidate anyone that tried to comment even from a neutral position alienating a number of potential readers but claiming that if they were put off it was because they were not of the caliber that deserved to read his work.

Later on in the comments came a very important piece of advice which prompted this blog post as well as a great deal of support for the commenter. We all get negative reviews and are unable to make everyone happy but the cardinal rule is that you should never engage with reviewers positive or negative. People have their own thoughts and the right to share them. We as artists of any style are very personally connected with our work. It is difficult to not want to jump online and defend our creations but it reflects a level of immaturity and unprofessionalism that will make it difficult to be taken seriously later on if you do.

I, like every other author I know, have gotten bad reviews. I have people that do not support my work for one reason or another. I have even had someone bad mouth my charity series because of something that had nothing to do with me at all but they tied the two things together. It hurts and rejection is never easy to stomach. But if you allow yourself some time and distance then it is possible to use the negative comments to bring about more positive reviews in the future. There will be those that are negative for the sake of just being negative. Most though will offer constructive criticism.

If you get a number of reviews that are mostly positive but all mention something like the development of a character or, my personal struggle, unrealistic dialogue, then use that information and learn from it. Go back and take a look at the character. Did you leave things out thinking they could be inferred? Is there just a basic description or perhaps is the character overly developed but only a minor player in the story? My dialogue has always walked the line between news reporter and robotic. It is too proper. Because of that I took a class. I sat in coffeeshops and listened as people talked. I even recorded myself talking out loud doing both sides of a conversation for my book to make it sound more like a real person.

The immediate reaction will most likely be to think 'how dare they say that about me?' but the truth is that it is not meant as a reflection on you. Your work just may not have been their cup of tea. You may have sold the book as a contemporary romance because of the incidental love story but it is actually a young adult suspense book overall and so the person that bought it got a story they were not expecting. There are so many reasons why someone may like or not like our work but we have to have our heads about us and be able to handle the negative when it comes with grace. Something I am still definitely learning but I am getting better.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Pitch Madness

For anyone that has ever created something such as art, music or written a book you know that in order to make your dream come true the creation is only step one. You have to be able to promote your work once it is created. I have written about using social media and speaking with friends and family in the past. I have even covered doing a live event such as a craft fair or book signing. But today I am attempting to be a part of a very specific event on Twitter. It is called Pitch Madness.

In this event you tweet pitches for your completed manuscript to agents and publishers in one hundred and forty characters or less including the hashtag PitMad. These tweets are tracked over the course of the twelve hour event being favorited and retweeted by fellow writers, followers and with any luck agents and publishers wanting to see your work. Today is my first attempt at this event.

I know the likelihood of grabbing someone's attention but I am doing my best and hoping for a little luck that I can even just get a few favorites and retweets from my followers and friends. It is a nerve racking event when you are new, though I can imagine it can be unsettling even for those seasoned to the event. We all want to believe in our work but if you don't get any notice it can cause doubts to creep in.

You wonder if your work isn't good enough or if perhaps you simply aren't selling it correctly. For those die hard people that refuse to believe it could be either their writing or sales pitch there is always the possibility that their tweets simply got lost among the thousands of tweets sent in. We are all hoping to be discovered so we can share our craft and grow as artists. The concerns inside us are perfectly normally but still difficult to handle.

I am doing my best to look at this as a learning experience so if I am unable to get any favorites, retweets or requests for my work then I can possibly learn something that may help get me noticed for the next time the event comes around. For anyone out there still learning to promote I urge you to swallow your fears and jump in feet first to any event that works for your craft. For those veterans out there please assist those of us still gaining experience so we can all share in the enjoyment of success.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Favorite Genres

What is your favorite genre? If you are a writer yourself then do you write in your favorite genre or genres? Do you read one thing and write another? How did your favorite become your favorite? For me it is all based on my mood for the most part. I have my favorite authors, Terry Pratchett and Stephen King though I read dozens of others as well. It isn't the categories the books fall into however but simply the ability to weave a story that is captivating that keeps me coming back.

I have been doing my best to branch out not only in my reading but also in my own writing. As I looked over the list of the books I have files for I noticed that I have a wide range of genres yet there is one thing that is a constant in all of them. They are all still realistic fiction. Even the two thrillers that have small paranormal elements or my historical fantasy (more for lack of a better title) books are still almost completely realistic fiction.

There are no vampires or zombies in the stories. All of the books take place on planet Earth, in fact many of them are even set in real cities. Those that are set in fiction towns like Breathe, Sharing Strength, Survivor and Welcome to Syn are still based on real towns I have been to or lived in. I am writing stories that come completely from my imagination now which was a goal I was unsure I could attain when I began writing more seriously yet there are also elements of me that seem to creep in no matter what I do.

I knew my debut novel was in a way my story to tell because being my first book it had a strong sense of my life built into it. Sharing Strength and Survivor are intensely personal which make them not only important for me to share but also terrifying to release to the general public. Breathe, Welcome to Syn and all of the books I have in the works are stories I have found inspiration for and cannot wait to write. Perhaps it is the lack of personal connection that makes them interesting to me. They will be journeys for me to take with the characters just as they will for those that read the books.

I have tried to get into the "popular" genres but they just do not hold my attention the way my favorites do. I know I get a little geeked and act like a major fan girl if I ever am in the presence or have the ability to be with any of the writers I read and admire. I hope someday to create something the gets that type of reaction even from one person. My genres may not be the trendy ones right now but that won't stop be from creating and sharing my work for all those that enjoy reading realistic fiction or may like something a little different.