Monday, July 20, 2015

DAWN OF THE LIGHTKEEPERS: Short Fiction Prelude to The Awakening of David Rose

A decade ago were kindled the first embers of what would become my first novel, The Awakening of David Rose, to be published soon by Booktrope. Millennia before 15-year-old David Rose finds himself at the heart of a centuries-old battle between forces of darkness and light, another war was being waged, one of this world, and beyond. Its outcome will alter the course of heaven and earth for all eternity...

I hope you enjoy this short prelude to the David Rose series, DAWN OF THE LIGHTKEEPERS.

And stay tuned to this post for updates on the release of the novel!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Facing West: Author Interview with the Incomparable Jessica West~

Their home world is gone, their planet cut from existence. They traveled eons searching for a new home. But their new home, Earth, was already taken. From quiet stories of longing and love to tales of tragic nuclear war and brutal inter-species conflict, these narratives portray sometimes startling snapshots of a new universe with the intensity and delicacy that only flash fiction can convey. Each author's unique stories enrich the shared, singular vision of a science fiction saga that is just beginning….

From the highly-anticipated and newly-released collection,  These Broken Worlds, born of the stirring imaginations of four talented authors, including my esteemed guest today, Jessica West. The early response has been so enthusiastic that the authors have decided to make it available to everyone. These Broken Worlds is currently on sale via Amazon, but you can sign up for a free copy here. It is my great honor to share this interview with you. It is a glimpse into the mind and heart of an amazing writer, and better friend.

*Thanks for chatting with me Jessica, and welcome! Many writers struggle a bit knowing if/how to try to navigate social media, connect with other writers, and build relationships. I have seen and experienced first-hand how people are drawn to you and how encouraging and supportive you are to them—be they fellow writers, readers, fans, whomever. My sense is a big part of this is simply part of who Jessica West is, but how important would you say building a literary community has been for you, and what guidance would you offer those who are struggling in this area?

JessI kinda just fell into the literary social media scene. That might sound really lame and not helpful at all, but I already had Facebook and Twitter when I took a beginning writer's course a couple years ago, although I rarely used the Twitter account until I started writing. When I did, though, I was so excited about this new journey I was taking that I talked about it. A lot. And I found other people who were talking about writing, too. I made friends.

That literary community has been absolutely vital to my growth as a person, a writer, and-most recently-an editor. As supportive and encouraging as I may have been, I've gotten that and then some from others in the community. Compassion is contagious amongst writers, and sometimes we bond over the craziest things. Just be yourself and find folks who make you smile. Follow them and interact with them. If they aren't responsive, don't take it personally. Not everyone plays by the same set of rules. Just move on until you find "your people". Or tweople, as the case may be.

*You are part of some pretty rockin’ projects and sites: Prose Before Ho Hos, Whiskey and Wheelguns, Kosa Press, a monthly blog for the terrific Kate Tilton. You are also one of the chief facilitators for the Write/Draft/Critique Virtual Writer’s Workshop, in which I have participated and found terrific, and you are an editor for Booktrope. Folks can check them out through the links here but what has compelled you to engage this diverse range of endeavors, and do you have a system for keeping up with it all?

Jess: I have a new system every day to keep up with it all. My calendars change from one week to the next. I'm a Pisces, everything about me is flexible including how I track projects. I like lists, that's the one thing I do consistenly-ish. It sounds really simple, but when I'm feeling overwhelmed, I take out my journal and make a list of current projects. Then I rewrite that list arranging each task by categories that emerge naturally. Then I go down the list and mark top priority items that need my immediate attention. I make one more list (did I mention I like lists?) separated by priority (immediate tasks, short term tasks, and long term tasks) and then by category. It's basically the same list, but by the third draft it's organized and cemented in my memory. Making these lists by hand goes a long way toward helping me remember my priorities.

Now, what compelled me to stir all these pots? People. In every instance, the answer is people. When you say Prose Before Ho Hos, I think of Ryan Williamson, Alex Nader, J. Edward Paul, and Christopher Smith. Prose would not exist without them. Same goes for Whiskey and Wheelguns. When you say Kosa Press, I think of M.J. Kelley, Woelf Dietrich, Dana Liepold, and Pavarti K. Tyler. Same with WriteDraftCritique. These people are my family, in a way. Kate Tilton, Rachel Thompson, and Will Van Stone are like another part of my family. That's how I think of them. Booktrope was built on and runs on teamwork. As an editor, I've joined the "book family" of several authors. What drew me to Booktrope? A few of my writing buddies were already there (including you). I can't do it all (hard as I may try), but I like to be where my friends are. When our interests align, magic happens.  That magic is what I crave, what I seek in every endeavor. And that magic doesn't happen without people.

*You write terrific fiction and also provide astute writing, editing, social media and publishing guidance. I have been fortunate enough to meet you at this stage of our respective paths—what I know of you and yours is inspiring. I know you are still early in what will be an epic and adventurous journey: what would you like your legacy to be when all’s said and done?

Jess: Thanks, D! My legacy? Wow, that's a big question. I don't necessarily want something attributed to me. I don't want or need recognition. I'm rewarded daily by the people I've surrounded myself with. What I do want is to spread the compassion so many people have shown me. Taking a page from Terry Goodkind's book, I want to be a pebble in a pond. I want my every kind act to inspire kindness in others. That's totally within reason, right?

*Finding you out there in the literary universe has been one of the biggest blessings of my life, personally and professionally. As we’ve discussed here you are involved with several terrific projects and sites so for all those people who want to find you too (believe me, folks, YOU DO), what is the best way?

Jess: The feeling is mutual, my friend. The best way to find me is to google West1Jess. I'm everywhere! ;)

*I ask this as much for myself—as a devoted fan—as for our readers: what can we expect next from Jessica West?

Jess: I couldn't ask for a more loyal or devoted friend (or fan). <3

I have a few projects coming out soon. Pavarti K. Tyler and I will be releasing Season One of the Sin Eater serial this fall, to be published by Hot Ink Press. Kosa Press is putting together what we call a kosalogy, our first as a publisher. Basically it's a shared world anthology, but it doesn't end there. I'm also working on a Fantasy collaboration, but I can't talk about that just yet. I have several other projects I'm outlining, but these three are my main focus at present. These and my editing projects keep me pretty busy. If I can work my way around to meeting some influential folks in the industry, I'd like to give other authors a leg up if I can. Let's not say "literary agent" just yet, but it's something I think I would enjoy. If that does happen, it's still a long way off.

Jessica West is an editor with the heart of a writer. She keeps it in a jar on a shelf above her desk. Jess is currently pursuing a state of self-induced psychosis.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Book It: Reflections on a First Novel Nearly Ten Years in the Making

I saw a photo of me and the kids--well, 'twas just David and baby Rachel at the time--circa 2006 or 07, I think it was. My hair was darker than it is now, at any rate.

Around the time I took David to one of the Harry Potter movies and when we emerged and I observed his sense of wonder at the magical world into which he had for the past two hours traveled, I determined that I would write a story for him, something also magical, with none other than David himself at the center of whatever world(s) I might conjure. I told him about it, made a promise that it would be written.

Soon thereafter a storyline fell into my head--it would be a YA Fantasy, and have some pretty damn cool elements. But I remembered hearing Michael Crichton talk about how Jurassic Park--though the dinos naturally provided the hook and stole the show--was more than anything about Chaos Theory, and, of course, the people whose lives were profoundly impacted.

So I knew there needed to be  more than magic and fantastical elements at the heart of my story, and it was immediately evident to me what that would be. From the moment she'd arrived, David had been protective of his little sister. Once at a birthday party at a park I was with the kids and Rachel--not yet two--was playing in a field. I may have been distracted by my phone or whatever else but I recall a look of concern spreading over David's face and he gave me that split-second "you're the father aren't you going to do something" look before realizing I was clueless and rushing over to his sister. An enormous, buzzing bee--unbeknownst to her--was circling just above her. David had always had a pretty healthy fear of them, probably accentuated by his cognizance that his grandmother and therefore possibly he, was extremely allergic to their stings. But seeing that not only had his father not yet pieced together what was unfolding but that even if in that moment I had, it would now be too late, he shot in, scooped Rachel up in his arms just as the angry insect prepared to alight upon her,  and backpedaled quickly out of harm's way.

A small thing, perhaps, but it moved my heart. He understood that his actions could be injurious to himself; so too did he understand that inaction could prove catastrophic for the little sister he'd already come to watch over with such vigilance and care.

And there it was, the heartbeat of my tale. The Awakening of David Rose.

I wrote in dribs and drabs and fits and starts but never really got any traction until about three years ago. I finally finished a draft and then a few more until last night I finished what I hope were final  revisions(significant ones, anyway). I took about nine months to do so, partly because the whole working full-time, three kids thing, you know--but also because I was trying to get this right, really improve it. I hope I did. Whatever is better owes in large part to my editor, the amazing Ally Bishop, and my dear friend, freakishly-talented scribe and amazing beta-reader Amira Makansi. Whatever is not, is my fault alone. I am grateful to Booktrope for being my publisher and giving me and this story a chance.

A few quick observations, as I look back. Most books on writing that I read said that it is typical to end up paring around 20% of your manuscript's original length. Those who know me know becoming 20% less wordy is no small feat for me--alas, when I clicked save last night I'd indeed gone from 100,000(too long for YA) words, to just fewer than 80,000. I found things to pare and improve every single time I went through it. Commas and adverbs suffered the greatest annihilation, and rightly so.

One of the biggest things I wrestled with(was one of the key aspects of Ally and Amira's sage feedback) was the need to have my protag take at least a little bit of the lead in all that is happening. That sounds simple and obvious enough, but the fact is I knew this story was the first in a series and deals largely with a young man trying desperately to cope with the crazy things unfolding around him and the unseen, sinister forces which have pursued him through the centuries to this day. A story of a good kid whose family has endured a trauma and it’s all he can do to try to look after his little sister and deal with normal teen angst, much less deal with this ethereal, mysterious stuff beginning to effervesce around him. Of course, the problem is, it is becoming less and less ethereal and more and more real and that indeed becomes a key source of tension: we must always present what our characters most want, as well as what stands in the way. David wants more than anything to take care of his sister and to find the truth about what really happened to their mom—but all these crazy,  dark, fantastical things are proving one hell of a distraction.

But of course Ally and Amira were right---a protag is not much of  a protag—even a kid—if he is little more than an always- reacting milquetoast. So I endeavored to transform that aspect at least in part. Not radically, because one of the most important aspects to me in all this was that I wanted David to be a “normal” teen—albeit one confronting some pretty heavy and now increasingly strange, things—and it wouldn’t be terribly normal for him to just readily accept and take in stride, all these extraordinary things that until now would have struck him and most rational beings as impossible(Amira in fact stressed this point to me in her inimitable way as well, telling me I needed more of that “holy shit” element for David when the shit, so to speak, really goes down. She will be pleased to know that I not only worked to improve this but also at the 11th hour in fact inserted that very phrase). So, given all David is dealing with and given typical human reaction to the seemingly impossible, it made more sense to me that he would indeed be on his heels a bit. That said, it was of course necessary to the development of his character and the arc of the story to have him gradually take the reins a bit as he comes to understand and accept a bit of what’s happening, and its implications. That necessity was also a golden opportunity to mine the character more deeply than I had—whether that translated effectively to the page others shall decide but I enjoyed the process. Part of this process included injecting a bit more of a sense of mystery, and some scenes where David and his friends set about trying to do a little investigation concerning his mother’s purported death a year ago. David increasingly suspects  whatever happened to her is linked to these other mysterious developments but whether it is or not he is determined to discover the truth about her either way—a resolve which in itself tells us he will no longer accept just being acted upon. Their sleuthing must occur in rather clandestine fashion, owing not only to the topic, but also to the fact that David’s father remains adamantly opposed to what he believes are his son’s(understandable, given the trauma) conspiracy theories. So this afforded me an additional layer of conflict to mine.

Each time through I had to really assess voice. Mine leans heavily toward the literary and of course this was YA. I remain, however stubbornly, convinced that we needn’t patronize or dumb things down for young readers—but there is of course a difference between doing that and being too florid and stuffy in one’s prose. So, I made some inroads there—whether sufficiently, we’ll have to see. I have a few  pretty aristocratic kinda British characters in there, and even one of David’s friends who upon first glance may speak “above” the typical fifteen year old is in fact based loosely on a friend of mine who spoke a bit that way. Part of the fun of it, I think, is seeking that elusive balance of an overall voice which resonates with most readers, yet also sprinkling in some quirky touches, even if that includes a kid in a wheelchair with who thinks and speaks like a young Sherlock Holmes (and yes, those who know me shall be unsurprised to know I have that character articulate a preference for Poe’s Dupin).

I like both. In any case, this journey for me has been anything but “elementary.” My hair is a lot grayer than on that evening I made a promise to my son. We have been blessed with another son in the time since the story was conceived (Rachel reminds me frequently that I MUST include Daniel somehow in the sequels. She also reminds me I must give her a bow and arrows in one of the stories too). David has likely forgotten that night, and Rachel has become much more interested in the story, and has become a budding and extraordinary literary soul herself. But I hope both will read it, and like it. They are its heartbeat, after all.  I hope you might read it and like it too. If nothing else, nearly a decade later but what the hell, it is a promise fulfilled, and that feels pretty good.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Guest Post: 3 Reasons to Stop Relying on How-To Lists for information(and What to Do Instead)!

Grateful to the amazing folks over at PROBLOGGER for publishing my guest post about lists. “List posts” are wildly popular across many domains but in particular within the literary milieu and—as I point out in the article—do in fact harbor some utility. It is simply within the context of how over-reliant folks can become on lists that my post takes aim, and it is a piece ultimately somewhat tongue-in-cheek: a list of reasons to forsake lists.


I hope you enjoy (if not then perhaps dispatch me your list of reasons whyJ), and as always, feedback is welcomed.



Friday, April 3, 2015

On Giddiness, Nerdom, Truth & Fiction

Giddy like a schoolboy(are they giddy?—I don’t really recall) at prospect of seeing one of my favorite scribes, Erik Larson, discuss his latest book Dead Wake, here in St. Louis April 9th. Last year I was privileged to publish a piece on CS Lakin’s wonderful website about how great nonfiction can really impact fiction writing, and I used examples from one of Larson’s other works in the article.

It may be just another manifestation of my nerdom, but I think about these things a lot…how different genres, writing styles interplay…about the different elements of and approaches to writing. How much or how little detail to use. I’ve even drafted a fiction novel from the viewpoint of a fictitious narrator as though he had researched a mysterious story and recreated it nonfiction style for the reader(hope sooner than later to share more about that one).

Anyway, what are your thoughts, as writers and/or readers: do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Favorite authors for each? Do you agree the genres may positively influence one another, or not so much? I’d really welcome your thoughts.

As always, be well and happy reading and writing!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

SW2C: On Writing, Editing and A Dose of Humility...

“If it sounds like writing,” Elmore Leonard once said, “I rewrite it.”

Just as great acting should transport you away as if you were there watching the moment unfold—rather than having you think, “this is great acting”—so too does the best writing allow for full immersion and escape into the story. Most folks don’t sit there thinking: this is a really great sentence. Well, okay, sometimes I do, but I’m nerdy like that, and many times can’t help but think simultaneously from a reader and writer’s perspective.

But as a writer I support a good deal of respect and regard for the reader, and if I find myself lapsing into the typically self-indulgent exercise of trying to write “a really great sentence,” I stop.  Let us clarify: of course we all want to write really great sentences but the point is, we must understand what constitutes such, and this consideration must always be rendered with the reader foremost in mind. The writing must be authentic and good grief I realize that can look a gazillion different ways but I tend to believe most times it has a lot to do with understanding your audience and your characters and your story and being as true to them as you can.

I am nearing the finish line in my latest revisions of my YA/Fantasy novel and nary a day goes by without a humbling reminder of this. I find it an often tough balance, seeking the right language and approach which will challenge but not lose young readers, and which will also appeal to adults. So often my language tends toward floridity—to wit—and it never ceases to amaze me how in the moment it had seemed so damn good, but which upon further review is revealed as yet another manifestation of writerly insecurity. See how well I can write? Notice the big words, and riveting description?  Bloody hell.

Look, sometimes big words and many times riveting description can be a good thing—just, not for their own sake, or the sake of your ego, or at the expense of the reader’s trust. Do whatever fits. Don’t over-explain. Most times but certainly not all (I’m not about to ask Cormac McCarthy if he could please tamp things down a bit), editing will entail finding a simpler word, or even eliminating a word or sentence or section entirely. Erik Larson, one of my favorite scribes, extols on his Twitter profile his love of “clear and spare prose.” Most writers don’t tend to be math people but there is an equation which helps me re-anchor when I list off-course:  SW2C.  So what, and who cares? Is the word you are employing—or the sentence or section or plot for that matter—fundamental to advancing the story and characters? We’ve all been cautioned about the perils of adverbs, and in most instances, rightfully so. But it’s more than that, I think. Once more I believe it all circles back to honesty and authenticity and an abiding respect for and faith in your readers.

Hopefully your readers will love your work.  And while they may go back through and parse and deconstruct and think, “that was a really great sentence,” the primary reason will be that you were not preoccupied with the notion that they do.

So let us all be thankful for editors and editing and that invaluable opportunity to get over ourselves and in the process let our best work shine through.

Happy writing, happy editing and happy reading to all!