Telepathy is Hard [#AuthorToolboxBlogHop]

There’s been a sense of dissonance with my author groups that I’m part of lately. So many of my friends used to be pushing toward that next book, that next project, the next book festival, and getting excited about what was coming next. Now though so many of them are despondent when they look at their author career, and it really isn’t surprising why.

Some of us have been in quarantine for over three months even while others are able to go freely where they want. Many authors I’ve spoken with are in the same boat, either due to their own health issues or for loves ones. Then the protests began and the excessive use of force from police departments kept me glued to live feeds every evening near curfew to see what would happen, to keep an eye out for people on the ground. I had friends get involved in protests who had to run away from tear gas and rubber bullets. Still the violence hasn’t stopped. Just the other day a police officer killed a black man for falling asleep in his car here in Atlanta. There’s a constant sense of outrage and desperation right now that’s impossible to miss.

It’s difficult to write when your heart is bleeding for the world around you. It’s difficult to put aside your fears and worries when you see all the people risking their lives daily to be heard.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Stephen King called writing telepathy. After describing a scene, he writes the following in his book, On Writing.

This is what we’re looking at, and we all see it. I didn’t tell you. You didn’t ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room… except we are together. We are close. We’re having a meeting of the minds. […] We’ve engaged in an act of telepathy.

I think back to this concept regularly when I’m struggling with my writing. Creating a scene or a character for readers to identify and care for is an act of telepathy, and if an author has a hard time expressing the image they have in their head, or worse yet, if they have a hard time even picturing the scene they want to convey, then static comes across the line. Readers pick up on that static, whether they realize it or not. They feel the loss of focus or a character doing something that doesn’t make sense. They feel that discontinuity.

When the world feels like it’s on fire, authors can have a hard time channeling their minds into words. It’s understandable that there’s static. It’s understandable to get frustrated because it’s too hard to focus and the words won’t come out. It’s okay to feel like the characters aren’t behaving properly. It’s impossible to extract writing from the time and place that it was written. As creators of worlds, people, and locations, authors need to be aware of the static that gets in the way and allow it to exist. Sometimes the static is there for a reason.

Somehow over the past couple of months I found the mindset to write a book, Chosen, the last book in the Stolen series. I finished writing it a month into quarantine and finished editing it after the police violence at protests began dying down last week. I focused my outrage and pain into my novel, into my characters, and into scenes which ended up being eerily similar to the scenes I read about online. I had characters house protagonists despite risking their lives to do it. I had enemies hide behind their military troops. I had powerful characters admit that they were in too much pain to carry on in battle.

Basically I allowed the real world to infiltrate my book world in a way that expanded the world. I allowed some crossover, but only if it made sense. I channeled the emotions I felt from hearing these stories and from watching these horrors. Sometimes I realized the crossover was happening as I wrote the book, but other times I didn’t realize it until I was editing.

I know that the writing process is very different for everyone, and that we all have different ways of coping with the stress going on in the world, but I hope that hearing how I have come to terms with it helped. Chosen was meant to be written during this time and it is truly reflected in the storyline.

My advice is to listen to that static and see if it can push you in the right direction. See if it’s trying to encourage a change of direction or a change in a character. I hope you find a way to continue your craft despite the difficulties we are dealing with now and on the long road ahead.

Being an Author in Quarantine [#AuthorToolboxBlogHop]

Lately it’s been difficult for me to focus on writing sometimes. I had my short story, “La Femme en Rouge” released in Masks on March 31st, and my novel, Broken, was released on April 7th. My mind has felt like it’s been in a million places lately trying to keep up with all of my deadlines, needs, and coping with the “current situation”, as it’s been politely referred to in work meetings I’ve attended.

I recently read Morbid Smile’s article on Bujo and the Art of Staying Sane Through Quarantine, and I thought about how much having a bullet journal has helped me during this perilous and unprecedented time. I wanted to share a few other things that have helped me since I know other authors are struggling with this right now.

This post is part of the Author Toolbox Blog Hop, a monthly hop hosted by authors with helpful information for authors. This can be anything from writing advice to publishing recommendations or even to hosting author booths at conventions. Take a look at some of my previous posts, and make sure you also check out the other author posts this month! I’m always amazed at the breadth of knowledge and the amount of tools and information I didn’t know before.

BuJo

Morbid Smile was absolutely right on the benefit of keeping a bullet journal. Usually I would only lists tasks that I’m trying to get done, like work on edits that have a deadline or writing a blog post, but lately I’ve been adding items to that list like working remotely for my day job, or doing the dishes, or cooking. Even if I don’t get as much done in my writing world as I want, I still feel accomplished because I have done things that need to be done.

Although my event schedule for the year has now been mostly scrapped, I also have trackers for books I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, and words I’ve written. Sure, I won’t get to be a vendor at a number of conventions I was hoping for this year, but I can see what new movies I’ve watched.

Virtual Author Events

You’re not the only author who is dealing with isolation right now, and therefore there is a ton of free material out there to help authors. From free writer conventions you can attend–Smashwords is holding a free Author Day as a virtual convention, for example.

Also this month Camp NaNoWriMo has started up! This is a wonderful way to get thrown into a cabin with other authors and you can all help encourage each other to reach your goals. Also you can set your own wordcount goals, so if you’re aiming for 50k or just 10k, this is a great way to motivate yourself.

I’ve seen authors streaming their word sprints live on places like Youtube, so you can participate along with other people and feel like you’re at your local cafe. I’ve seen authors reading from their own work to help provide options for all the parents teaching from home. The possibilities are really only limited to your imagination and creativity. We’re authors–we can do that.

Reading

Speaking of books, I’ve gotten so much reading done while I’ve been isolated. We just hit day 30 here in our household, and I find myself binge reading more than I used to. I simply have more time and a less pressing social calendar with folks outside of the home. This is great during those quiet times either late in the evening or early in the morning when most people are still asleep. Diving into some good books has tremendously helped my mood especially when I’ve felt really down or frustrated. Many publishing houses, including mine, are having sales on ebooks to help readers deal with the struggle of isolation right now, and I personally really appreciate it!

Talking with Fellow Authors/Artists

Pull up Zoom and open a chat group with a few author friends you know. Schedule a happy hour with them. Bring your current work in progress and read a few paragraphs aloud, or just talk out a snag in your manuscript. Just because you’re not in a physical space together doesn’t mean your meetings have to end.

Our first virtual meeting with our local Horror Writers Association group is this weekend, and we’re doing it over Zoom. It’s great cause now I don’t have to drive an hour to make it to the meeting, and I get to pet my cats while we talk about books. It’s a win-win situation, especially for my cats!

I hope all these ideas have inspired you on ways to help deal with being an author during this time. And if you don’t feel like writing or socializing or even reading, and just want to binge another series on Netflix right now, that’s fine too! There’s no pressure to be productive during this time because we’re dealing with a pandemic that is affecting the entire world. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to just exist at times. Zone out, look at the trees, pet a cat. Sometimes that’s the best way to help ourselves.

We don’t have to define ourselves by our productivity. Let that sink in sometimes, authors!

I Started a Ko-fi

I’ve been writing professionally for ten years now. It’s crazy to think that.

I’ve seen so many small presses come and go. I’ve encountered incredible editors (and frightful ones), I’ve seen glowing rejection letters (and decimating ones), and I’ve slowly learned the ropes. It’s taken a lot of time and a lot of dedication. It requires becoming an expert or at least gaining competency in a variety of areas.

Here are just a few that I came up with off the top of my head. These are all skillsets I didn’t really have ten years ago, but now definitely do.

  • Legal consultant
  • Contract negotiator
  • Social media representative
  • Therapist
  • Software specialist
  • Website engineer
  • Business entrepreneur
  • Tax agent
  • Festival representative
  • Graphic designer
  • Videographer
  • Book tour planner
  • Public speaker
  • And so many more…

About three years back, as my sister and I started to break down the parts and pieces of turning this work into a small business, it quickly became a no-brainer. The amount of time/money/effort that goes into being an author easily makes up a small business. It takes up my evenings, my weekends, my family time, and especially time with my friends. (Love y’all!)

The truth is: I create because I love doing this, not because it pays. (Maybe some day.)

I thought it would be a good idea to give you all, my readers and fans, the opportunity to buy me a coffee (or tea in my case). Imagine sitting down beside me at a local Starbucks and just sliding the cup over while I’m deep in a scene. Know that it’ll help fuel a good afternoon of content creation, whether that’s thinking up some horrific scenes or writing some dialogue that pulls at the heartstrings — or it might help me celebrate my birthday today. 🙂

It’s small, but it helps. It adds up. Thank you for supporting me!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

A Tribute to Middle Earth

Today I learned that Christopher Tolkien died.

He was the son of the renowned author J.R.R. Tolkien who many consider the father of modern fantasy. It’s strange because I feel like the world that both father and son built is such an epic legacy, both on the pages and outside of it, that his death feels like the end of an era.

So I thought it would be fitting to talk a little bit about one of my favorite places, and I think one of theirs: Middle Earth.

Map of Middle Earth

I think my first introduction to the world was when I watched Rankin and Bass’ The Hobbit when I was very young. I loved the animation style, the warmth of the characters, and I adored the songs. It’s still a film that I can go back and watch again and again. Of course I had to hunt down the book too and I read that front to back, loving Mirkwood, Thranduil, and Smaug the most.

Fast forward to high school in 9th grade where we were assigned The Hobbit to read for class. I was thrilled! Not only did we cover the book but we also touched on The Lord of the Rings series. It sounded fun, but it didn’t have a dragon in it, and that made me less likely to try it. I was really into dragons as a kid. And every time I tried to read it, the bickering of the hobbits in Hobbiton and the general air of elitism made me reluctant to continue. I knew the series was supposed to be good, but was it worth it?

It wasn’t until I sat down and watched the teaser trailer for The Fellowship of the Ring that I was hooked.

The original 2001 teaser trailer for The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

It had adventure, fantasy, romance, and incredible monsters too. I remember the whole theater going silent when it came on. Then they announced in the teaser when each of the films would be releasing – unheard of then, and still is now.

As a freshman college student, I was hooked. I ended up reading The Fellowship of the Ring after being blown away by the movie, and read The Two Towers and Return of the King before each of their films came out. This became my favorite fandom for the better part of a decade, and my house is still filled with statues and memorabilia from the series.

Life size cardboard cutout of Legolas from The Lord of the Rings.
Although this isn’t my photo, I do have this cardboard cut-out of Legolas staring over me in the study as I type this.

At bookstores, whole bookcases were dedicated to different collections of the trilogy, movie books, symbolism from the film, toys, etc. I remember seeing books by Christopher Tolkien mixed in too, and naively dismissed the books as him trying to capitalize on his father’s works. What I didn’t know was that he had taken all of the careful research and notes that his father had made and continued the stories where his father could not. I didn’t realize that he strove to match his father’s style in each additional release, and that these books were written specifically for the fans to help get his father’s work out there for them. The series and the fandom originally came out in 1954-1955, and I was a newcomer who didn’t have all the information. Of course, there were no cell phones back then or even reliable internet. Information like that was buried deep in forums or probably in one of the many magazines that featured the series.

J.R.R. Tolkien sparked a love of fantasy in me that today I try to share with others through my books. His son tried to honor his father’s legacy and continue the world as best he could. He protected the integrity of Middle Earth and the Tolkien Estate that he managed was known for having high standards for any adaptations of the books. In fact, it was well known that after The Hobbit trilogy, they famously determined that no more film adaptations were to be made. Now a brand new series is set to film soon for Amazon.

I just wanted to take a moment to thank both father and son for helping to keep this beautiful tapestry of a world alive, and for sharing it with the rest of us. Middle Earth will always be an inspiration to many, and will have a special place in my heart.

Writing a Trilogy: The Lessons I Have Learned [#AuthorToolboxBlogHop]

It’s a new year, a new decade, and here I am starting on book three of my Stolen trilogy, the first series of books I’ve written. As I ease back into the world and the characters that give this series so much life, I realize how very different it has been for me to write each book. I thought it might be helpful to share what I’ve learned in this month’s Author Toolbox Blog Hop.

AuthorToolboxBlogHop Title Image

This hop is made up of a bunch of authors all sharing advice and experiences to help out other authors. I’m always thrilled to be part of this, and I hope you’ll take the time to go check out some of the other author blogs!

Cover for Stolen, Book 1 of the Stolen series
Stolen, Book 1 of the Stolen series

Book one (Stolen – now available) had its own challenges, as I explained way back in 2013 when I struggled with drafting it. It sometimes baffles me when I look back on that post at how much I’ve learned since then, and how much more refined my writing has become. Somehow it was easy for me then to talk about how books ought to end, how stories ought to progress, and how characters ought to evolve. It’s really different when the blank page is staring at you and you realize that you’re the only one who can create those things and finish the story. When the stakes are higher you suddenly understand why writing series is so difficult.

Cover for Broken, Book 2 of the Stolen series
Broken, Book 2 of the Stolen series

Book two (Broken – coming April 7th) had its own set of problems. I thought I had handled all the loose ends in book one quite well. I thought the sequel would just continue the story, but then details came up during writing like they do, and I couldn’t remember a character’s eye color or the color of their hair. Where was that scar again? What was that background? I have the utmost respect for people who have written ten and twenty books in a series because I think I might need to write a reference book just for myself to keep track of all the details. Needless to say, it was a learning experience–though the end product was so very worth it.

Now here I am, finally on book three (Chosen – coming soon), and I have once again a whole new challenge. All those parts and pieces I dripped in those early books now have their calling. All those last minute scenes I want to include need to be written. And this is the last call for character development. It’s honestly daunting but also thrilling at the same time. As a pantser, I too want to see how these characters get to where I want them to be. I’m looking forward to wrapping up this series and preparing for new projects, but I’m also worried about the finality of this tale coming to a close. Of course I can write spin-offs and extended universes, but this will be the end of the main story for these characters that I’ve molded and directed for eight years. I want to do the right thing for them.

This will certainly not be the last series I write, I’ve already started gathering inspiration for the next one, but I’ve learned a lot during this time and wanted to share some of my takeaways with other authors who are starting their first series. Hopefully my experiences help you!

Lessons Learned from Writing 2/3 Books in my Trilogy

  • Use a comprehensive writing system like Scrivener if you can, or make really organized folders.
    • I know, I talk about Scrivener a lot, but being able to keep all of my writing in a single file has been so helpful to keep things straight.
  • Take the time to make those character sheets.
    • You’ll miss them so much if you forget to make one for your background character in book 2. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…
  • Know generally where each book should start and end.
    • I know, it’s hard to do for us pantsers, but having a general cut-off point will help in pacing. Especially for the middle child if you’re writing a trilogy.
  • When in doubt, make a map.
    • I’ve made maps for the inside of buildings so I can make sure I can describe it properly. Just draw it out and take a picture of it to put it into your writing system so you can reference it later.
  • If possible, take breaks in between books.
    • I know for a fact this just isn’t possible for so many authors. Taking time off from a project or a world or series means it’ll take longer to get back into it again. However getting away from the world (if you can) will help enrich it. Remember to replenish that creative well!

Experimentation is of course the best teacher with these things. I’ll have to report back in a few years on whether it got easier with the next series. I would love to write very long series, but I can’t quite do it yet. I think I need to “level up” my author skills a bit more first.

I’ll probably come back and add onto this list at some point. I’m sure I’m missing some things, but I hope this helps. There’s a seemingly endless supply of advice on how to write books out there, but not so much is focused specifically on series. Hopefully this helps bridge that gap.

Have you considered writing a series? Why or why not? Any advice for those who have completed one?

Happy writing, everyone!