Change, Perfection, Positivity

Change happens all the time. As someone who suffers from Asperger syndrome, I can tell you that change to routines and patterns, stepping outside of my comfort zone, has never been easy. Change, especially when it occurs outside of my control, sends my mind spiraling, and I feel trepidation.

But change can lead to benefits. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been making efforts to cut back on social media time, but I’m also seeking to change my online habits, too. During the COVID shutdown I spent more time online, especially Twitter. I did get the word out about my work more and made some new connections, but now the hashtags I followed haven’t helped with book sales. The same’s been happening with tweets asking for book recommendations. These habits and the time spent on them and other sites feel more like a hindrance. To counter them, I’ve tried walking more, and for that, I’m glad.

With most sites, I’ve gotten down to generally 1-2 logins per day. Nevertheless, that is also something that could change in the future. Sometimes, I’ve found myself going up again if I need to do something specific, like website maintenance. I’ve felt if I can limit myself with those moments, I’m fine.

Nevertheless, the temptation is still there, and it can eat time. Plus, I’m aware these efforts could turn into new patterns that could become just as constrictive and worrisome. I need to curb the scrolling, searching, and that addictive, time-eating cycle that can result, but simultaneously, I also shouldn’t try to control everything, because anxiety always comes from not being perfect. It’s been said that with reviews, quantity over quality. With online time and content, it’s the opposite. Now I need to put it into practice.

Likewise, I’ve tried getting back into the writing routine I’ve mentioned before. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, and other times I do not get the word count I’d like, but I need to remind myself that progress is progress, no matter how small. I need to see the fun in writing again, as author Nour Zikra put it. This year, I hope to be more positive about my writing, my online/social media time, my habits, and, most of all, myself.

I realized through prayer that I need to think more positively. Then, at the beginning of Advent, when I was feeling low and anxious again, after an earnest prayer to God, I opened my copy of the Bible without any specific section in mind. It opened to Psalm 77, and as I read it, I knew my prayer had been answered. Even if you’re not Christian or religious, I hope you too will remember all the good that’s been in your life when distressed. If I need to make changes to meet new circumstances, I will have to do so.

P.S. Enjoy these videos of my readings from last year’s open mics!

Reading Fantasy and Science Fiction

Many thanks to author Jamie Adams for this opportunity to discuss the appeal of reading fantasy and science fiction stories. I enjoyed his work The Fathers, The Sons, and The Anxious Ghost.

Reading Fantasy and Science Fiction – Guest Post

Happy Holidays, everyone! Don’t forget that books make great gifts!

Spotlight

When a writer’s work is published, it not only goes out into the spotlight, but so does the writer. People who read books are pretty much guaranteed to be interested in learning more about the people who wrote the words, to find out more about the mind behind the stories they become devoted fans of. But the spotlight can be a double-edged sword.

Writers need to use public appearances and speaking in order to help spread the word about their work and build a network with other writers. It’s part of the marketing process. The nice thing about these events and conferences is that a writer can plan ahead to prepare for these events.

On the other hand, sometimes the spotlight can bring about negative feelings. The simple fact is not all people crave or seek the spotlight, especially introverted people like me. It’s especially negative when one hasn’t had the time to prepare, and it feels that everyone’s converging on them. That’s why I haven’t liked it when people unexpectedly start singing on my birthday.

There have certainly been a number of famous writers who haven’t craved the spotlight, such as Harper Lee and Emily Brontë. With the latter, it was her sister Charlotte who got herself, Emily, and Anne on their publishing ventures; had Emily been left to herself, she may not have published anything in her lifetime. J. D. Salinger went so far as to become a recluse and gradually cease publishing (though in his case, it may have also been due to unresolved PTSD from his service in World War II as well as fans of his magnum opus).

And, of course, the spotlight can have negative effects in another way. If people start scrutinizing your life, it can lead to mental trauma and even scandal. Throughout the news there have been numerous headlines about rough patches and downward spirals that many celebrities have gotten into, with gossip about what they are doing, especially in their personal lives. I definitely don’t want that.

It’s good to get away from the spotlight and the Internet sometimes. That’s why I’m taking my efforts to balance scales further by cutting back more on the number of logins per social media site per day, with reassessments of my social media activity.

When publishing, especially these days, it’s no longer possible to avoid the spotlight, but privacy is still something worth guarding. Therefore, it’s a good idea to prepare for public events such as reading, and it may be possible to satisfy the public’s curiosity without giving away too much, regulating what can be shared and what isn’t. They don’t need to know everything. One’s privacy is one’s own and no others.

To my fellow Americans, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. Be thankful for home, family, and privacy.

Great Ideas: Search and Find

It is a question every writer is asked at some point in their careers: “Where do you get your ideas from?” It’s become a cliché, really. Still, there are others out there suffering from writer’s block who feel their well has gone dry, so to speak. Or perhaps you’re in the middle of an ocean of ideas and don’t know which fish to bait for. Well, I’ll elaborate on some familiar answers, which in my opinion aren’t always suited for every situation.

Write about what you know.

This has been said a lot of times, and it is logical. You’re pretty much guaranteed to do well with ideas you are knowledgeable about. The situations and experiences from your own life can help provide a far more solid base upon which to build a story. Such examples can include professional experiences (Jeremy Lloyd drew on his experiences working in a department store for Are You Being Served?) or places you have visited or lived (Stephen King’s stories are often set in his home state of Maine or in Colorado, where he went on vacation once he was financially able to do so). Then there are personal hobbies and interests, which leads to the next point.

Write about what interests you.

Writing about what you know won’t be enough if passion isn’t in it. It will show in your writing if passion was absent. Interests and hobbies are a great source of ideas because the writer can share those passions through stories and perhaps spark interest in readers. Plus, your passion can compensate because you will compel yourself to drive and learn more about your passions/interests in order to write a better story. Bram Stoker spent seven years writing and developing Dracula, and he never visited Romania, where a good portion of his book his set. He drew on research and his own imagination.

So perhaps in the end, perhaps you need to draw on a combination in order to make a blend. And in my case, certainly, I need to remind myself to not stress over it, which I admit is still hard to do. I must keep hope that ideas will come, especially when I’m not looking for them.

Further Reading
  1. Adams, Jamie. Where Can You Get Story Ideas From?
  2. Aldridge, Alison. Where to find great story ideas.
  3. Elliott, Anna. Summoning the Muse at Writer Unboxed.
  4. Rodriguez, Asa. Great ideas.
  5. Zikra, Nour. How To Have Fun Writing Again | Writing Advice.
  6. Zikra, Nour. How To Brainstorm Story Ideas + Where To Get Started.

Inscribed #4

The collection continues to grow:

I was able to get my copy of Lewis F. McIntyre‘s The Eagle and the Dragon inscribed at the 2019 Maryland Writers’ Conference. It was at a meeting of the Annapolis chapter of the MWA that I had my copy of Lucia St. Clair Robson‘s Mary’s Land inscribed.

Michele Chynoweth and I exchanged books during the pandemic, which is how I got The Jealous Son. I purchased A. L. Kaplan‘s Star Touched at the 2021 Maryland Writers’ Conference.

I don’t remember where exactly I got Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead, but I think it was a gift from one of my relatives years ago.

Be sure to check out the previous post of books in my inscribed collection:

Second Edition of Mystical Greenwood Pre-Order!

Many thanks to Fae Corps for publishing a second edition of Mystical Greenwood! For those who didn’t see last month’s post, the original publisher had to shut down as a result of COVID. Release date is set for August 26th! They did an excellent job on the new cover art!

The Kindle version is available for preorder!

So are the Nook and other eBook editions via Books2Read!

And you can mark the Kindle edition to-read on Goodreads (or switch over if you’d intended to read the original Kindle and hadn’t bought it)!

Print copies, unfortunately, will have to wait until the release date.

I know there are many of you will be asking when Book II will be available. I’m afraid I still don’t have a definitive answer, as I’ve had a lot going on in my life, and I haven’t been able to get those creative juices going. But I am not giving up. I will let you know when I have updates on it. Believe me, I want to get it done.

Tempus Fugit

Time is a curious thing. I’ve found when we focus on time, it seems to drag on at a snail’s pace. Yet when we do not pay attention to it, it flies right past. When it comes to fiction, time can play an interesting function. Stories and novels can take place from anywhere to the course of a single day (or less) with a few characters, to several years, decades even, covering generations of people. At other times, a story can seem to go by slower or faster than it really does. Simply put, in stories, as in life, time and how much we pay attention to it can affect how things play out.

A story that takes place in a short amount of time by drawing it out, such as chapters and sections being either specified by time (like a subtitle) or within the text (such as a character mentioning the time). The constant mention of time helps to make the shorter time feel longer. With a story set out over a long period of time, I usually have found there isn’t as many references to the time, which can make the time go faster. Interesting paradox, isn’t it?

I also want to talk about time in a different sense. Perhaps all writers think about what shall become of their work as time goes on. This became more apparent to me because I recently learned that my novel’s publisher, Mockingbird Lane Press, has sadly had to close. No doubt writers want their work to outlive them, to still be read and assessed long after they’re gone. It does seem that any work defined as a literary classic these days is one that has withstood the test of time, to still be printed and sold years, centuries, after it was first published. There are many writers who are remembered for a single thing out of their entire literary output.

Sometimes I think writers wish they could see where their work goes in the future, similar to how in an episode of the Spanish TV drama El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time), a cynical and suicidal Miguel de Cervantes was shown by the protagonists the impact Don Quixote would have on Spain and the world in the centuries after his time (their goal was to ensure its publication, as they’d faced a threat it might not be, thus changing the course of history and literature). Their efforts gave Cervantes the courage and drive to finish Don Quixote (specifically the first half, as the book was actually in two parts with more than a decade in between being published), and go on with his life, thus ensuring he and his magnum opus would make history. In the end, I suppose, what matters is hope: hope that something creative will someday reach that level.

Time is indeed a curious thing. But it keeps going on, as must we. And don’t worry, I do intend to republish my novel.

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!

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Further Reading
  1. Winkle, Chris. The Eight Character Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey.