Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Dream Is An Action Verb

For so many of us, writing novels and seeing them published is a dream, whether through traditional means or independent release. It's a dream I've been holding onto for, well, a few decades.

There's a steep learning curve for some dreams, though. Twenty-five years ago (and probably even longer) I knew I wanted to write novels. For my first I decided to write a thriller! A murder mystery with undercover cops and intrigue and drama and…it was terrible. Couldn't even figure out how to get past thirty pages.

The desire to write was there, but the skill was lacking. I didn't understand story structure, or character development, or any elements of craft beyond creating that initial inciting incident, ending with some sort of climax, and a bunch of dialogue in between. All I knew was I wanted to write stories like the ones I was reading.

Fast forward a few years and I still wanted to write and publish a novel. I had all these things I wanted to say, all this pent up creativity I needed to pour onto the page. I'd taken a creative writing class, but I still didn't know how to shape a story properly. In fact, I didn't even know enough to know I didn't know what I was doing. Made it about fifty pages on a historical fiction book and ran out of gas.

Then, well, Harry Potter came along, and I did what many mothers who write do: I decided to write a children's story. How hard could it be to write a middle grade novel, right? Yeah. Thing is, I actually finished that novel…five years later.

By then I had picked up some books on craft and at least knew enough to structure the thing in three acts. And the internet had arrived! I was online talking to other writers in forums and learning from them how to elevate the writing quality. I also attended several writing conferences and sat in on workshops taught by successful agents and bestselling novelists. I finally understood how much I didn't know.

I gave up querying that first novel, knowing it wasn't the ONE, but the dream wasn't about to die. I began a few other dud novels after that, but set those aside when they proved not good enough. Then I hit on my current project. Decades after my first attempt to write novel-length fiction, I've now got two novels in my trilogy completed, stories I'm very proud of. I'm not finished learning, but I think I'm in a good place right now in relation to my dream.

But that isn't necessarily the point of this post.

I had reason to reflect on my journey recently when I nearly opened my mouth to tell someone that maybe it was time for them to give up on their dream. I've watched this person struggle, losing job after job, always putting their dream of being a musician first when they ought to have been focused more on carving out some security in life. But…who am I to tell anyone to give up?

I will say, however, there is a difference between hoping and wishing a dream will come true and actually working toward a goal. I'll hold the door open on a dream for as long as it takes, if someone is actively working to learn their craft and improve. We've all seen those people who walk around sour on life like they gave up caring about anything a long time ago. I don't ever want to be responsible for putting that look on somebody's face. Even unrealized dreams can keep us going if we continue to nurture them. But, like love, dream is an action verb.

Ever wanted to give up on your dream? Or tempted to tell someone to grow up and face reality already?

For some great advice about motivation and working toward a goal from the ground up, check out this letter Eugene O'Neill wrote to his struggling son. Tough love.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Insecure Writers: Time to Bloom

Today I'm pleased to share with you a guest post by M.J. Fifield, author of the new fantasy novel Effigy. Those of you already familiar with M. J. through her blog are likely aware of the, um, gnashing of teeth, flailing of limbs, and pulling of hair that went on prior to this novel being released into the world. While observing M. J. grapple with the stresses of the publishing process, I was often reminded of this Anais Nin quote:

"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."

It was a long, arduous process at times, but she overcame her insecurities and went for it. And isn't the end result beautiful and totally worth it? 

Take it away, M. J. 

A Strong Female Character

I grew up in the 80’s in a household where the television was never off, so one of my first role models (apart from my tough-as-nails mother) was Teela from the 1983 animated series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. She was the captain of the palace guard, good with a sword, and responsible for the protection of the prince. She kicked ass, and did so all while wearing a leotard and high-heeled boots.


Teela led to She-Ra, the Princess of Power. She-Ra was a freedom fighter armed with a magical sword, high-heeled boots, the ultimate mini skirt, and a talking unicorn-pegasus hybrid. Oh, how I wanted to be She-Ra, Princess of Power. I spent a lot of time that decade running around the neighborhood with a stick as my sword pretending to be her. My neighbors now will tell you that I still do that, but it’s not true. Unless they have video. Then it might be true.

She-Ra…noticing a pattern yet with that hair?

 Anyway, I digress. I watched Teela, She-Ra, Wonder Woman, the Bionic Woman, Emma Peel, and probably other women I can’t even recall at this time. In the 90’s, I became aware of Buffy Summers and the women of the Whedonverse. Talk about strong, female characters.

How much did I love Emma Peel?! LOVE.

Meanwhile, Haleine Coileáin came into existence. When Effigy begins, she’s sharp and tough-talking, but she can’t kill you with her pinky. She knows which end of a sword to hold, but she can’t do much damage with it. Mixed martial arts are beyond her, and she couldn’t draw a bow to save her life.

She’s not a warrior. Not in any traditional sense. Her weapons aren’t forged from steel, but rather intellect and fortitude. She’s armed with an overwhelming urge to do right. To be good.

Haleine’s strength isn’t in having the skill to throw someone across a room or shoot the wings off a fly at 1,000 yards, but in her own ability to be able to get back up after being knocked down, to keep fighting when it feels as though all hope is lost.

It’s not easy for her. She struggles. There are enemies determined to tear her down, and she falters. Mistakes are made. She gets lost. By the time the story ends, Haleine is in a much different place than from which she began—and it’s not a particularly strong place.

It’s for this reason that I worry that perhaps she isn’t as tough a female character as she should be, as readers might expect her to be. That said, readers thus far have considered Haleine a strong female character (one called her a kick-ass lady), so perhaps I should stop worrying and take their word for it.

Besides, if there’s one thing I know about the Coileáin women, it’s that no one—and I mean no one—can keep them down for long. Haleine may be lost for a time, but she’ll find her way back.

Because that’s what strong female characters do. With or without a sword.

Author Bio:
Armed with a deep and lasting love of chocolate, purple pens, and medieval weaponry, M.J. Fifield is nothing if not a uniquely supplied insomniac. When she isn’t writing, she’s on the hunt for oversized baked goods or shiny new daggers. M.J. lives with a variety of furry creatures—mostly pets—in New Hampshire.


The survival of a once-mighty kingdom rests in the hands of its young queen, Haleine Coileáin, as it slowly succumbs to an ancient evil fueled by her husband’s cruelty.

Buy the novel at:      Amazon US   Amazon UK  CreateSpace

Did it feel like a scary risk when you published your novels? And what do you think of the ever evolving strong female characters and the way modern authors are reinterpreting the female heroine? If we can just get them out of high-heeled boots and bosom-enhancing corsets I'd be happy -- the characters, that is, not the authors. They can wear what they like. :) 

This post is part of the Insecure Writer's Support Group hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Warning: May contain strong female characters. 

AND just a heads up I'll be taking a break from the blog for awhile. Got some things to work on that require me to put my head down and just get them done.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I Reject Your Reality And Substitute My Own

This tweet by Mindy Kaling (The Office and The Mindy Project) has been making the rounds the past few weeks. As of this writing, it has been shared nearly eight thousand times and favorited by over ten thousand people. There's obviously a potent truth in these short little words:

How many times do we discount ourselves because we worry we're not smart enough,

or talented enough,

or pretty enough,

or young enough,

or old enough,

or thin enough,

or rich enough,

or funny enough,

or tall enough,

or short enough,

or fast enough,

or hip enough,

or white enough,

or ethnic enough,

or interesting enough to deserve a yes?

Obviously rejection sucks.* No one likes to be told "no" when they're hoping for a "yes". Rejection is inevitable in all facets of life, and especially so in the writing business, but it shouldn't have the power to make us believe we lack enough of something to someday deserve an enthusiastic yes.

Such a simple shift in the paradigm -- Why not me?

Heh. I say they're lucky to get us.

How do you deal with rejection? Accept it and move on? Get angry? Cry in your beer? Shake your head knowing someone just missed out on a great opportunity by telling you no? 

*This post brought to you as I begin girding my loins in preparation to query my latest project. 

**Title of post is a saying most often attributed to Adam Savage. .

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

I was talking to a friend the other day about premonitions and how sometimes I'll dream about someone I haven't seen in years, and the next day I'll run into them or hear news about them out of the blue. Not sure what's at work there, but our subconscious mind swims in a strange pool of the unknown. Always working, always processing. And sometimes, when it's not preparing us to meet up with that old high school friend we haven't seen in twenty years, it'll kick out a really great story idea.

The series I'm working on now didn't exactly come to me in a dream, but it was moments after I woke up, not quite awake, not quite asleep, when I got a vision of my main character squared off against a man. I had no idea who she was, what her background was, what the man meant to her. But I couldn't shake the feeling of tension between them. There was a story there, I just needed to flesh it out. I remember feeling almost possessed as I wrote her backstory out in a notebook that morning, not wanting to lose that connection to the dream-like vision.

Apparently this is a rather common happening among writers and other creative types. Probably the most famous story to start out as a dream is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. And there's Stephanie Meyer's Twilight. But director James Cameron also says the Terminator came to him in a fever dream. His vision was of a metallic skeleton emerging from of a fire, red eyes gleaming.

Robert Louis Stevenson is another famous fever-dreamer. While bedridden after suffering from a hemorrhage, his subconscious delivered him a whopper of a plot that would later become the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Per his wife, Fanny:

"In the small hours of one morning,[...]I was awakened by cries of horror from Louis. Thinking he had a nightmare, I awakened him. He said angrily: 'Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.' I had awakened him at the first transformation scene." (source)

I can't say I've ever dreamed an entire plot, but I wouldn't say "no" if my subconscious suddenly decided to drop one on me. Seems fevers are great for coming up with outlandish tales. The trick is remembering to write it all down in the morning.

Ever come up with a story based on a dream? Do you think dreams are just the random flutterings of an overactive mind? Or are they the doorway to something more?

Artwork by John Waterhouse

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Summer's Day

                  Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
                  Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
                  Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
                  And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
                  Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
                  And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
                  And every fair from fair sometime declines,
                  By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
                  But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
                  Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
                  Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
                  When in eternal lines to time thou growest;
                  So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
                  So long lives this, and this gives life to thee


The opening line to Sonnet 18 is probably one of Shakespeare's most recognizable. Many interpret it as a love poem, as if he is complimenting a woman on her beauty, perhaps wooing her while strolling through a summer garden. But some scholars believe it's actually an ode to Shakespeare's only son, Hamnet, who died at age 11 -- one year before the poem was written. When read in that context, the lines take on the somber tone of a father coming to grips with the loss of a child who died in the summer of his life. Read this famous summer poem again from that angle and see if it doesn't make more sense.

Okay, now that I've snuck in a bit of summer Shakespeare and brought everyone down, it's time for the Songs of Summer! This is a blog hop hosted by The Armchair Squid, Cygnus, and Suze. They (and I) thought it would be fun to share some of our favorite summer songs as everyone kicks back during these lazy days. For anyone not off at the pool or on vacation, here are five of my favorite summer songs for your listening pleasure.

Long Hot Summer by The Style Council (1983)

One of my favs just for the lazy summer tempo, but…oh, dear, another bummer. The song is about screwing up at love. 

Someone, Somewhere, In Summertime by Simple Minds (1982)

This one has been described as "a waltz through a mystical August haze."  Nothing to do with our new smoking laws here in Colorado, I assure you. 

1979 by Smashing Pumpkins (1996)

Not exactly a summer song per se, but it reminds me of my feral teen years, cruising the streets on summer nights with "the headlights pointed at the dawn." 

Summer Breeze by Seals and Croft (1972)

Yes, this is on my list. And, sure, I'm dating myself here, but this was a huge hit when I was a kid. I'll always associate summer with this song. And the harmony has that perfect summer vibe. 

Summertime sung by Ella Fitzgerald (1968)

Finally, I can't think of summer without this Porgy & Bess song running through my mind. For all the American Idol wannabes, this is how you do it. 

Oh, and before I wish you all a great summer weekend, I need to thank Liz Blocker for bestowing upon me the Versatile Blogger award. I'm supposed to come up with seven things about myself that I think you might be interested in. Um…that is difficult to do after more than three years of blogging. Besides, you can tell a lot about a person by the poetry and music they choose to share. That's my theory anyways. :)

What song says summer to you? Any of these songs make your list? Ever heard that theory about sonnet 18? 

Creative Commons photo of flowers by Alice Popkorn