Finding the Spark

Writing is an amazing activity, as a few thoughts or concepts can spiral into a story that is grander and more beautiful than the writer ever intended.  Editing is crucial to the process because it cleans up mistakes and smooths out the instances when the writer got carried away.  Lately I’ve been doing much more editing than writing.  Important work, no doubt, but much more on the analytical side of things.  Not much in the way of free-flowing creativity.  Getting back into the groove of writing can be surprisingly difficult.

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Self-doubt creeps into the corners of the mind, whispering that your ideas are weak.  How did I even write this story in the first place?

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Distraction is everywhere.  For me that means the NBA and NHL are starting up.  Wooo sports!

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But I did it—I cranked out some new chapters.  And it felt great.  Momentum is a crazy thing, it wants to move.

Every writer knows about “the spark,” that lightbulb moment of inspiration that seems to provide limitless motivation.  The instance when those fingers dropped whatever they were doing in order to spin straw into gold and create a work of art.  The spark—initially bright as a beacon—dwindles, then goes out completely.  How to attain another spark?  Most people don’t know what they did to get the previous one in the first place.  Sitting around waiting for another spark simply doesn’t work because inspiration is a dynamic phenomenon.  Chances are that you actively found that other spark, perhaps unknowingly, so now it’s time to find the next one.  What sparks your imagination?

Everyone loves a good story, but writers may be guilty of being borderline obsessive.  Writers dig deep into the material by rooting out underlying themes, savoring nuances, and imparting themselves into the story.  This type of reading is an intimate act, providing the kindling for emotions, and has the ability to light the fuse of inspiration.  The same goes for TV and movies.  All are stories, the only difference is the mode of reception. 

On the intellectual side of things: stories spark questions.  The same stories that are setting fire to your emotions are now starting to activate the grey-matter gears in your brain.  Ask questions.  Questions are a powerful tool for discovery.  Follow these questions down the rabbit hole.  And this part is vital: take notes of what you discover!  Documenting these musings, thoughts, queries, and ideas establishes a stockpile of material for the eventual story.  With enough building blocks, dependent on one’s own particular style, the construction can begin.  Time to write.

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What are some activities, TV shows, movies, books, etc that inspire you?  Please leave a comment.

Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2

Everyone loves a good competition, what with the collective consciousness of the world currently fixated on the Olympics, and everyone loves a winner.  A while back, I entered Daughter of Shadow into the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2, the largest indie fantasy contest in existence (probably).  300 entries were divvied between 10 of the top fantasy blogs, who would be the judges.  I pulled Fantasy-Faction for a judge, biggest dog in the junkyard.  I was thrilled—a real test.  If I could make it with Fantasy-Faction I’d get some real street cred as an author.

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Several rounds of eliminations have gone by.  My hopes kept elevating each time my name wasn’t listed.

Winning is awesome.  The joy, relief, and adrenaline fuelled vindication of besting a worthy opponent is a feeling anyone could get used to.  This post is not about winning.  Losing sucks.  Frustration, self-doubt, and dashed hopes are not fun.  Daughter of Shadow has been eliminated from contention.

Here is the review/justification.

“Like Nightfall GardensDaughter of Shadow is another book that fell not so much because the team found any issues with it, but because it simply didn’t grab us as much as some of the other books did. These are always the hardest books to say goodbye to, because we’ve moved beyond the more tangible reasons for letting a book go and into the purely subjective.

Perhaps it’s not much consolation, but another team of reviewers might well have preferred this book to some of our final seven. It has a decent prologue (which we found to be a rarity!) and introduces an interesting protagonist in Melea – the team enjoyed the fact that unlike many other fantasy protagonists, she is already powerful when the story begins. We also found the initial battle scene to be well written. In the end, we had to go by our subjective opinion that the writing wasn’t quite as smooth and didn’t have quite as much ‘voice’ as some of the other books – but Daughter of Shadow is certainly worth checking out for anyone who likes the sound of the blurb.”

My first reaction was denial (the initial stage in grieving).  It couldn’t be my book, but that cover did look familiar, maybe the title was Daughter in Shadow.  But nope.  Then came an expletive filled outburst—anger, the next stage.  Bargaining soon followed as I mentally schemed some way to get back into the contest.  Depression hit in next, a dour moment of “what’s the point in writing?”  I needed to get away from the computer.

I took the dog around the block for a walk.  The combination of cool night air with the stars peaking through departing rainclouds, and the joy elicited in my dog from a random stick she found on the ground helped to put things back into perspective.  I was firmly in the final stage—acceptance.  I’d lost.  But, the review had actually been mostly positive.  The reviewer had even admitted that a different reader may have put DoS into the next round.  So close.  Thwarted by subjectivity.  But everything is subjective!

So how to get more subjective individuals to choose my novel?  How to sway the people on the fence, decisions that could go either way, onto the side of recommending DoS?  This, my friends, was a new cache of motivation.

I’d temporarily fallen into a trap of unreasonable expectations and the only way to get untangled was to keep moving.  Yes, I’d entered the contest to win (why else?), participation is nice and all but the SPFBLO2 is a competition.  The reality of beating 299 entries seemed to become more possible as I eagerly watched the cuts happen over these past few months.  My expectations ballooned from hopefully sensible to borderline entitled.  This phenomena is visible in the actions of parents with children in minor league sports throughout the world.  Winning becomes an obsession.  Perspective narrows into tunnel-vision.

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I’ve witnessed incensed fans/parents attempt to fight the referee in the middle of a hockey game being played by children!  I’ve had teammates break equipment and damage property after a loss.  I’ve known feuds between friends and family to begin because of a seemingly innocuous sports rivalry.  All instances of negative emotions being transitioned into blame directed at others.  No acceptance of one’s own actions.  Maybe the other team actually was better.  Maybe you should practice more.  Maybe, just maybe, punching that guy from the other team won’t change the score of the game.  Just sayin’.

Maybe the novels chosen to advance by Fantasy-Faction are superior to my own.  That’s a tough pill to swallow.  But it’s not the end of the story.  I’m a self-published author and that means I can alter DoS whenever I want.  The sequel to DoS is ready for a date with the editor, but first, I will go back improve.  I will make the story better.

To use a baseball analogy: I stepped up to the plate and swung, trying to smack a home run.  Well, I didn’t quite knock it out of the park but I got a hit.  I’m on base.  The game isn’t over and I can still score.

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The review and competition has provided motivation to improve the story even more.  I’m hopeful that a copy edit will help to smooth out any remaining rough patches.  No shortcuts.  No excuses.  No blame.  Just be better.

 

 

In Stores Now!

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Daughter of Shadow is now available in stores. Two stores to be exact. Two small stores in Camrose, Alberta, Canada. But hey, that’s two more than last week. Have to start somewhere.

Since I was a kid I’ve dreamed about having a novel of mine on a shelf beside the best writers in the genre. Actually accomplishing this endeavour is quite surreal, being both harder and easier than I expected. I have to admit that I did feel a sense of satisfaction as the proprietor’s praised the cover art and flipped through the pages before deeming the product to be acceptable.  Daughter of Shadow, and me by association, have made the “big leagues.”

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(Thanks Leo)

Readability

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In the world of novels readability is king (or queen if you prefer matrilineal monarchy).

How to make a story smooth as 30 year old scotch? In my experience the secret ingredient is editing. Going back to the same words time and time again until they and the story are of the same shape.  Make the readability undeniable. So. Damn. Readable.

I’ve come to enjoy the editing process, finding satisfaction in improving my writing skills while smoothing out the story. A long way since my student days when I detested editing. Who wants to re-read something they didn’t want to write in the first place? Formatting a manuscript for e-book and print is now my most despised writing task. But part of being a self-published author requires that one (initially) become a one man band. Self-motivation is an elusive but powerful tool.

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Daughter of Shadow underwent another (and final) edit in preparation for the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off orchestrated by Mark Lawrence. I knew the story could use another edit to take it to the next level and the potential publicity afforded by the contest necessitated that I submit a quality entry. No excuses. On the readability scale of “What Language is This?” to “Can’t Put it Down” I’m hopeful that Daughter of Shadow is now closer to “Smooth as Fuck.”

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After the December 2015 release of Daughter of Shadow I entered the book in an open submission headed by Gollancz, just to see what they said. Several months later a rejection letter arrived stating, “The ideas seem solid but the prose needs work.”  This my friends, is motivation.

I’m a basketball player—I want to make every shot I put up—the Gollancz submission was a missed shot. But a shot worth taking. I wasn’t about to hold back the next shot because to stop shooting means the game is lost, or soon will be. So I went to the gym/manuscript, spending time and effort to make my shooting form/prose as efficient as possible so that the shot/story has a chance next time I let it fly.  It’s airborne.

Daughter of Shadow on Amazon

The Next Book

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You’ve written a book but now what?  Where to go next?

The thought of beginning the process again can be a daunting task, particularly if the first book has yet to become a commercial success.  Marketing the finished product can be a grind on the creative spirit.  Then there’s the nagging voice of self-doubt whispering that maybe you only had one book in you.  But writer’s write.  If there’s one story in you then there will be more.  I’ve yet to meet a writer who was capable of putting the pen & paper/keyboard away indefinitely.

People need stories and stories need people.  A form of symbiosis where the writer and the story itself are capable of evolving.  By the time book two rolls around the writer should be more evolved, more skilled, and more prepared for what the writing process entails.  This personal and professional experience should hopefully lead to a better story.

I’ve been diligently chipping away at the sequel to Daughter of Shadow and recently completed the first draft.  This initial incarnation is now in the hands of some trusted beta readers.  I cannot overstate how important quality testers are to churning out the best possible story  (at least for me).  The different opinions allow me to see the material with new eyes, which stimulates new ideas about something I supposedly knew intimately.  A fresh burst of energy to go back and fix what needs fixin’.  The hope is that this book will require significantly less edits than the first.  My gut tells me this will be the case.

I felt more comfortable in the driver’s seat when writing the sequel—the ride was much smoother, the speed bumps smaller and the stalling moments less frequent.  This car analogy doing anything for you?  Traversing the mountain was more of an enjoyable hike rather than a climbing expedition.  How about one more?  Less work and more work.

The experience of writing the first book has been invaluable to establishing and improving my “voice.”  The style and delivery that is crucial to catching a reader’s attention.  I’m going to return to the first book with this awareness to give it another edit and really get the voice consistent.  The fact that I’m already excited about starting book three has to be a good sign (or an unconscious obsessive tendency).

What are your thoughts about writing the next book?  I’d love to hear from experienced writers as well as newbies.

 

Goodreads Giveaway Winners

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The month-long contest has ended! A total of 2014 people entered and 850 added Daughter of Shadow to their reading lists.

Word of mouth is a crucial influencer of book sales so I enrolled in the process to spread the word and now it’s up to the mouths to do the rest. Goodreads is a top-notch site/community and I may have to spend more time there. The contest was open to the world and the random generator took that detail to heart, with the five winners hailing from Canada, India, Germany, Great Britain, and Romania.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Giveaway! Time for me to go mail some books.

Radio Interview

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By way of a serendipitous encounter I will be speaking with Gail Vaz-Oxlade on her podcast which airs on NewsTalk 1010.

Gail has written 13 books on personal finance, numerous financial articles, and hosts the television shows Princess and Til Debt Do Us Part.  She recently finished a lengthy Canadian promotional tour for her new book, Debt-Free Forever. Suffice to say, she is a powerful personality and I look forward to the interview.

I will be discussing my novel, Daughter of Shadow, as well as the self-publishing process and writing in general. The interview takes place Monday February 15 @ 11:10PM EST.

NEWSTALK1010 LINK

 

Writer vs. Author

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You are a writer. Words are your friends. Stories move through you like the wind amongst the leaves of a trembling aspen.

You are an author. A high quality finished product is the culmination of your writing. Readers purchase your books (at least in theory).

A writer has their own style. An author has their own brand. Different hats worn by the same person.

A writer dabbles in creation. An author dabbles in marketing.

An author is, and always will be, a writer, but with the achievement of publication comes greater responsibility. The job title carries more weight. When I was on the college basketball team I was a basketball player, but now, I play basketball.  A slight shift in connotation drastically influences the mindset.

Historically, the realm of authordom was carefully guarded by the moats, walls, and soldiers. Only writers invited by inhabitants within the realm could enter. Self-publishing has changed all of that. An individual with a tenuous grasp on the written language and a rubbish story can upload to Amazon and let the novel sink into the e-book abyss. The walls are breached and the outsider is strolling through the palace gardens, claiming to be an author. But is the claim justified? I suppose this hypothetical individual would technically be an author but I would argue that they have missed the point on what an author truly is.

I think an author is a writer who has decided to go professional. The exact same decision made by an athlete who has signed a professional contract. Yes, you play basketball but now the how and the why have much more meaning. Yes, you are a writer, but now…

And this is where the schism occurs. Traditional publishing is outraged by the ever increasing amount of people who have taken it upon themselves to become “pros.” How can they be professionals? They aren’t even playing in the same league! But self-published authors are drawing from the same pool of readers so they are most definitely a threat to industry earnings.

A similar event occurred in the 1960‘s & 70‘s when the ABA arrived to rival the NBA (another basketball reference, I know). The ABA was flashy and free-flowing, instituting the 3-point line as well as the Slam Dunk Competition. Tickets were inexpensive compared to that of the NBA. The ABA was a game for the people. A lack of big money television deals eventually sealed the fate of the ABA but it had been successful enough to force a merger between leagues. The longstanding NBA was forever altered by the upstart. Traditional publishing, like the NBA, never thought it could be challenged, but the rise of a legitimate rival is changing the game.

This thought brings me around once again to the concept an author being a professional. The successful self-published authors wear this responsibility, expanding on their skills and knowledge, putting in the work to be regarded as equals by the established regime. For many writers, myself included, it is a steep learning curve filled with trial and error, of how to be an “author” once the novel is finally finished. Completing the story was the goal for such a long time and then all of a sudden it’s there in your hands. Now what?

Numerous resources advise that an individual build an author platform by blogging/tweets/Facebook/etc, utilize online marketing, accumulate reviews, produce more stories, attend conferences, stay up to date with the state of the industry, and many other tricks of the trade. It’s a lot to cover. This is after you’ve done the grunt work of sending the novel to beta readers, having it professionally edited, having a professional cover made, and formatting for e-book & print. What does any of this have to do with writing? Well, you’ve graduated into authorship and there’s work to be done.

Do you want to be a professional? Do you have what it takes?

Fellow writers, I’d love hear your thoughts on this subject. Please leave a comment about how you approach being an author. If you have yet to publish, why not? What’s holding you back?