Marie Sinadjan Interview

Many thanks to singer, songwriter, and fellow fantasy author Marie Sinadjan for the opportunity to be interviewed on her blog:

Author Spotlight: Andrew McDowell

P.S. I’ll be giving my Importance of Names presentation once more, at the Cumberland Chapter of the Maryland Writers’ Association on the 20th at 7:00 PM EST via Zoom. If you haven’t seen it yet and still want to, register online! It’s on Facebook, too! It will also be a hybrid meeting for those who want to be at the chapter in person (my Events page has the address). Though I will be on Zoom, I hope to see you all there either way!

Young People Reading

Once when I was at the gym, a gym buddy told me how he felt young children these days aren’t as engrossed with reading as they used to be, that nowadays they are in essence glued to technological escapes rather than literary ones. In many respects I think he isn’t wrong. Technology is constantly changing, and certainly isn’t what it once was. In many ways it has improved our lives, but in others it seems to have taken over our lives as well.

Reading is a great way to escape all that, just as walking or exercising is, because it’s good to unplug and recharge, if you take my meaning. For young children, studies have said it’s important for them to not get glued to technology, because what they really need is that connection and interaction with their parents.

Certainly one of the best ways, if not the best, to get a child to love reading is for parents to read to them from an early age, and it establishes that necessary connection. I remember my own parents reading to me many books when I was little, especially before bed. It’s a great way not only to get children to love reading and spark their imagination, but to forge a bond between parent and child.

Once I was a volunteer for a library that had a special annex. The books there—all children’s books—couldn’t be checked out, just read, and I had to watch over the annex for a few hours. Once in a while, I would offer to read to a child, and even though it didn’t happen often, I loved it.

Some of the best children’s stories began with people telling stories and/or playing with children. A. A. Milne was inspired to create Winnie-the-Pooh by watching his son Christopher play with his stuffed toys. When Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s son (coincidentally also named Christopher) was sick, he told him a story about a sad little steam engine named Edward, which was the beginning of his Railway Series (yes, Edward came before Thomas, as did Gordon and Henry). Lewis Carroll and J. M. Barrie also interacted with children, through which they were inspired to write their respective masterpieces, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan.

I have no children of my own (yet), but I do hope to be a father someday. I definitely would read to them my favorite books and series from when I was a child, but I would also encourage them to find their own favorites. Parents have tried to keep children from reading certain titles, even going so far as to ask for books to be banned. While parents seek to protect, I feel they need to let their children make their own decisions too, and teach them to approach reading with an open mind.

The important thing is whether a book entices a child to keep reading. I remember how on an Amazon Prime documentary about Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, a single father raising a daughter said that he knew little about R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, which his daughter read, but knew if they were banned, his daughter might lose the drive to keep reading because those books specifically were what motivated her to keep reading.

Further Reading
  1. Cheadle, Robbie. Teaching your child to read.
  2. French, Charles F. Benefits of Reading Revisited.

The Hero’s Journey: Departure

Anyone who’s an ardent Star Wars fan will know of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and how it influenced George Lucas. He outlines similar steps within what is known as the hero’s journey, which has been found in ancient myths, folktales, and modern fantasy/science-fiction stories. I received my copy one Christmas and poured over it, understanding these points. It’s among my recommended reads for writers! Whilst editing Mystical Greenwood, I tried thinking of the plot I was forming in terms of what Campbell outlined. In the end, I came to see the book as the Departure Phase, which consists of the Call to Adventure, Rejecting the Call, the Threshold Crossing, and the Belly of the Whale.

In my own observations of other fantasy works, I’ve seen two kinds of heroes who receive the Call to Adventure. The first is the protagonist dissatisfied with life and yearning for something more. The other is essentially the opposite, perfectly content. When creating the two brothers at the heart of this story I tried envisioning them as such. But in the end, I had to pick one to be the central hero, and that was Dermot, the one who was dissatisfied with life.

Often the mentor in fantasy is an old wizard with a long beard. Early on, I felt such a mentor at the beginning giving them the Call might be too much of a cliché, so I had that character appearing not until three quarters of the way into the book. The teenage characters instead traveled on their own and chose to do so, though there was a character who did in a way give them the Call to Adventure. But later on, I realized that scenario was not going to work. A mentor figure was needed in order for the hero and his allies to survive and be properly introduced to their world’s magic and their abilities. So that original herald was vastly reworked, evolving into the true initial mentor figure instead of my wizard.

What made me go ahead without risking cliché was that this mentor was going to be a woman. I sought to have her be an embodiment of Mother Nature, who is associated with three stages of womanhood, each of which I gave her attributes: maiden (her face), mother (her personality) and crone (her age/hair). This deviation, if you really want to call it that, shows a story doesn’t need to follow the Hero’s Journey to the letter, such as when Frodo fails the final temptation at the end of The Lord of the Rings. Changes from tradition can make the story stand out and give readers a nice twist.

I hope to continue with the Hero’s Journey in the rest of the One with Nature series, with the next book being the Initiation Phase. This month marks four years since the paperback first came out (April will be the Kindle anniversary). Please read and rate/review if you haven’t yet!

Amazon | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Amazon.com.au
Goodreads | B&N | BAM! | Foyles | Waterstones | Deviant Art

Follow me on social media, too!

Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Tumblr | LinkedIn | Goodreads | Amazon
Further Reading
  1. Winkle, Chris. The Eight Character Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey.

Looking toward the Future

Once again, it’s that time of year to reflect on the past and look toward the future. For me, I still feel like I’m in a state of limbo. I’ve talked about moving on to the next step, and posted about resolutions and updates, but I’m still not at the regular writing output that I want. I didn’t have the creative output that some other writers I know had had when everything was shut down. True, as I’ve said before, I spent more time online, and that didn’t do me good. Ever since Mystical Greenwood came out, everyone’s been asking when the sequel is coming out. Believe me when I say I don’t like having to keep telling them I don’t know.

So, I do have some goals/dreams for where to go next in my writing. The main objective, of course, is to be more consistent when it comes to writing. I’ve heard many writers talk about how they have a daily writing routine. Well, a few months after I first sought to balance the scales, I set about reducing the number of daily logins per social site, especially with the Big Five, from three to two, of which I’ve been successful and happy to do. So far, I haven’t been able to set about a daily routine as I’d like (aiming for the morning), but I know I must persevere. I’m going to try and see if I can do writing first thing when I turn on the computer in the morning.

Another thing I’m going to have to remind myself again is that first drafts/early words don’t have to be perfect. They just need to be done. After all, Mystical Greenwood wasn’t as it was when its first draft was completed. It’ll take time to get into the habit of working on writing every day, but I need to remember to believe in myself and my writing.

I also need to be more mindful of when on my sites of what I’m doing. As a result of the situation that had occurred with last month’s post, I duplicated it and deleted the original, so now in my stats I’ve got an “(unknown or deleted)”. A little annoying in its way, but still, I guess it’ll be a reminder that I need to be careful.

Another thing I would like to do in future is go on a writer’s retreat, once the COVID threat diminishes. It’d be nice to go somewhere unfamiliar and spend time on writing. I’ll need to save money and eventually set aside time for that. Like so many things when it comes to the world of writers, sometimes opportunities present themselves they’re not expected or being searched for.

And it would be nice to come up with a new writing presentation. I’ve done my importance of names one 3–4 times now, and I even expanded it to include pen names—for writers and for real people in memoir. It is time for something different.

Further Discussion

  1. Zikra, Nour. How To Find Time For Your Writing.

Readers’ Wants

Back when I did my first blog post, I talked about what I called the “Misery Complex” (in reference to Stephen King’s famous novel), and how writers’ and readers’ wants can clash. Granted, not all fans are crazy and obsessive about authors and fictional characters, like Annie Wilkes, but there is no denying that once a story is out there, it can touch so many people in individual ways in that they feel a special connection. And as they become attached to fictional characters, it’s still important to consider their feelings. Or isn’t it?

I’ve noticed this especially in drama and TV shows, like Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones, with fans theorizing and predicting where the story and subplots will go or could’ve gone, along with characters, and expressing their upset when things don’t happen in a certain way. The latter is especially true when characters die, don’t end up together, or character growth just vanishes. To be fair, with killing characters, writers cannot always be hated and blamed the way they have been, especially in drama, when actors decide they want to leave and pursue other projects. It’s not always easy to explain a character’s absence once the actor leaves. There may not be actors in books, but still, it’s easier to put unwarranted blame on writers.

It’s true not everyone has a happy ending, and sometimes one bad turn can in the end lead to a good one, but is there a line that ought not to be crossed? I certainly cannot argue how upsetting it is when a story seems to building something or someone up only to not lead there at the end. When there’s an anticlimax to anything from a story line to a character arc to a romance, it is usually disappointing. I sometimes find myself imagining (not always in great detail) where things could’ve gone in a story where I felt writing was lazy. That’s what’s lead to a number of fans writing fanfiction.

But at least there’s one point on which writers and readers can agree: stories and characters matter, as does what happens to them. Nevertheless, they originate with the writers. I said in my importance of names presentation characters are the children of an author’s imagination. Well, the same can be said of stories as a whole: an author sires them, and then they venture out into the world. That’s why I firmly feel the author should have the final say in what happens in his or her work, and I’d hope readers would respect that.

But I’m not unfeeling towards readers. After all, writers seek out the opinions of others in beta readers and critique groups while they are developing the story. So yes, readers can have input, and sometimes fans’ suggestions can ignite a spark in the writer’s imagination when they can’t figure out where to take the story next (even if it isn’t what readers specifically want), especially within a series. So, in conclusion, they both matter. Readers’ opinions should be considered, but the final decision belongs to the writer alone.

P.S. I want to apologize for the inconvenience for those who saw this post in advance a few days ago. I meant to schedule it at a different time and clicked the wrong button. This was not intentional, but given the post’s subject matter, I can’t help but feel the irony. Happy Holidays!

Dusting Off Stories From History

Many thanks to historical novelist Anne Clare for this opportunity to discuss my feelings on using historical fiction to shed light on lesser known events in history!

Guest Post By Andrew McDowell: Dusting Off Stories From History

These are feelings I hope to follow when I venture into historical fiction someday!

Brain to Bookshelf Conference 2021

The Maryland Writers’ Association hosts a writers’ conference every year, except, of course, last year’s conference was cancelled due to the COVID shutdown. Normally held in March, they were able to host this one this past weekend. The main takeaway for me was being able to see a number of friends I hadn’t seen in so long, including authors A. L. Kaplan, Meg Eden, and Michele Chynoweth, and be in a familiar setting in person again, not unlike how it was when my critique group started to meet in person again a few months ago in our familiar haunt (no pun intended).

There were a number of interesting presentations from authors, including Jane Friedman, Mary Tilghman, Andrea Johnson, Edward McSweegan, Susan Moger, and Harrison Demchick, and I learned more about Balticon. I met a number of new people, and I was able to sell a few books! But there were some hard lessons I had to re-learn. When it comes to attending events such as this, pre-planning is vital. This was something I didn’t fully take into account that morning. I didn’t manage my time and drive well, and I made it there just in time to hear the first talk. What’s more, even though I signed up for both days, I didn’t realize until too late (shortly before the conference) that I had doubled-booked Sunday and couldn’t attend the second day. Still, I had a good time for the day I was there.

We’ll see what happens next year. I know now to remember to plan better in a number of ways. I guess I just had to get back into the rhythm of things. Maybe next time, if I can think of a new writing-related presentation, I can give it then. It is time to think up some new topics for presentation.

Speaking of presentations, I’ll discussing the importance of names for the third time next month on the 13th at 2pm Eastern Time. I hope to see you there! See my events page for the registration link.

Writing vs. Marketing—Balancing the Scales

It seems that there are two sides to the coin of being a writer. The first side is writing process and everything related to the it, such as conducting research, sharing drafts with beta readers and critique groups, and editing. The second side is marketing. Writers need to build a network and an online presence so that potential readers will know of the writer and their creative output.

When I started writing as a kid, I didn’t give much thought to marketing. Perhaps I thought the publishers would do all of that, or it would magically take off. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had to learn that without marketing, people outside of my family and friends would never hear of my work. If the general public isn’t aware of a book’s existence and if they don’t leave reviews, there will be no sales. Fortunately, I was able to get started on building a network once I joined the Maryland Writers’ Association and attended their conferences. I also began to build my digital platform.

I started to do a lot more online marketing as a result of the pandemic, especially by following certain hashtags on Twitter, eager to create as much exposure for my blog and books as possible. I’ve referred to WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter as the Big Three, with LinkedIn and Tumblr coming in next. Now, I am glad for the learning experience as well as for the genuine connections that I have made within my network, with people who’ve been kind and supportive. But at the same time, I feel as if I hit a roadblock—I’m not writing as much as I used to. Some writers I know had a massive creative output during the shutdown. I didn’t. Lately I’ve come to realize a simple truth: I’ve been spending too much time online, and not necessarily in a good way.

It’s easy to be tempted to check various social media accounts to the point where it becomes a habit, just like how I was creating exposure on Twitter but often scarcely interacting with other people. There’s that famous quote of how being a good writer is 3% talent and 97% not being distracted by the internet. That has never been clearer to me than now. In the past, long before I’d had all these social media accounts, I got distracted from writing by a number of things. I had schoolwork that took precedence, and once I entered the workforce, that too has taken up a lot of my time. Free time, it seems, has been taken up by the Internet and social media. In other words, the balance scales were tipped too far in one direction.

So how to find a balance? Well, I’ve started off by limiting how many times I login to each social media account to three or fewer a day, with each at different intervals (morning, afternoon, evening). It’s a start, to keep me from desiring to checking all the time but not checking enough. But I know I need to do more. I need to mind the time and online activity, and make it more meaningful. And I need to train my mind more to focus on writing when I do have time that isn’t devoted to work, social media, etc.

Now, I need to work on trying to have some output each day, whether in my journal (which I haven’t been diligent with) or editing or story work. I cannot just write when I’m in the mood, but at the same time I feel if I’m not enthusiastic, it won’t be good. Many successful writers became so from diligent, constant effort. I’m on a quest, you could say, to find that balance again and beat this writer’s block. Hopefully soon, the words will start flowing again.

Yes, Networking is Crucial

Years ago, I talked about using social media for promoting one’s work and oneself as a writer, which has become even more important because of COVID. But promotion and marketing are but a part of something more important for life as a writer: networking. The more connections you make, the better your chances are at improving your odds. And something else I’ve learned is that networking consists of so much more than social media. While technology has been playing an increasing role in life even before COVID, face-to-face interaction is still a vital part of networking, and one I think all writers crave and have missed during this pandemic.

I still have vague memories of the first time I went to a meeting of the Maryland Writers’ Association years ago. I was nervous at first, but I quickly realized I needed to return. And I have had no regrets since then. I’ve become friends with many writers, and I realized I am not alone. It was at a meeting of the Annapolis Chapter of the MWA where I learned of Mockingbird Lane Press from another author, and that’s how I came to submit Mystical Greenwood to them and was subsequently offered a contract.

Events like meetings and writers’ conferences are great ways to meet new people, pitch your work, and if your work is already published, to promote and even sell copies. There are also critique groups too. One can join one or start a group and have beta readers who can offer a fresh pair of eyes. I’ve always enjoyed those offered by the Maryland Writers’ Association, and I hope to go back to them when it’s safe to do so again. While it is certainly possible do all of these things online, it isn’t the same as actually meeting fellow writers and shaking their hands.

Returning to my point about technology vs. face-to-face, with the former, which has increased due to COVID, there is, I have learned in years past, the chance that words and messages can be misinterpreted, and one cannot be sure as to what a person’s tone is. As a result, through my own personal mistakes, connections, related to writing and not, have been broken. Promotion via social media has also at times backfired. But even then, face-to-face interactions can go wrong too. In all cases, one has to be careful, and take responsibility for one’s mistakes and actions.

But the thing I’ve had to learn the hard way, as stinging as it feels, is that if someone doesn’t want to connect with you, or wants to break it off, you have to let it go. No one can be forced to connect or to stay connected for that matter. That’s another lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way. One can only invite/ask people. They cannot be forced to do what they don’t want to do.

Another lesson I learned the hard way is the importance of having business cards. I didn’t have any when I sold copies of Mystical Greenwood at the 2018 Maryland Writers’ Conference, and I knew afterwards I had to have them. I’ve been glad of it ever since.

So, if you aren’t already, I hope you’ll consider following me on this site, as well as on social media!

Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Tumblr | Goodreads

You can also follow my Amazon page!

Amazon | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Amazon.com.au
Amazon.de | Amazon.fr | Amazon.in | Amazon.co.jp
Amazon.es | Amazon.it | Amazon.com.br | Amazon.com.mx

Perseverance and Faith

This is a guest sermon I gave at Nichols-Bethel United Methodist Church yesterday, discussing the importance of perseverance in writing and in other aspects of my life. Even if you’re not religious, I hope you’ll listen to this message and that it touches a base with and inspires you. Perseverance is vital to life, and for me, praying to God has helped me to keep persevering.