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.

Criticism—Yes, It Can Hurt

Once a writer’s work is published it is out there—and at the mercy of the critics. Reviews are what help spread the word about their writing, but the simple fact is that not everyone is going to like it—or at least be glowing with praise. Of course, one would hope they would, but people have different likes and tastes, and so they will find certain things they like—and don’t like—about a particular work. A writer puts hours—years—of passion and hard work into it, and to have it criticized—yes, it can make a writer feel low.

I know. People have posted reviews of Mystical Greenwood over the past three years. Most, I’m happy to say, have enjoyed it. But there have been aspects about it that weren’t to their taste. For example, some thought the language was still too flowery, or didn’t like the alternating points of view, or had trouble connecting to the characters, or felt I didn’t do enough showing not telling in regard to characters’ emotions, and typos. It has been discouraging for me. But at the same time I’ve noticed some aspects of the story and how it was told were disliked by some but praised by others. While the dislikes certainly have stung, it demonstrates how people have different opinions, and, as a writer, one can’t please everyone.

Criticism should never be deliberately insulting or hurtful. Constructive criticism helps writers become better by encouraging them rather than insulting them. It was one of the founding points I included when I started my own critique group years ago. But there have been reviews of books that were harshly negative. Edgar Allan Poe was nicknamed the “Tomahawk Man” because when he reviewed something (or someone) he didn’t like, he was absolutely brutal and unrepentant towards the author and their work. But it’s also been observed that many critics in his time would be positive no matter what, and some even took bribes in exchange for giving glowing reviews. Poe, on the other hand, was honest, and most of those he heavily criticized aren’t as well known today.

It goes to show if not everyone is glowing with praise, there’s a plus side: your work is being taken seriously. Books that have been heavily criticized have endured, becoming literary classics. Several were banned for one reason or another, but that has become a badge of honor for many books, many of which were revolutionary for their times and for literature. And writers mustn’t forget about constructive criticism: they can see what could have been done better. Writers can take that (gradually, of course) to become better at their craft. So while it is difficult to get over criticism, it is possible. It may initially hurt, but a writer can rise up again and become better. Writers should never stop believing in themselves and their writing. And in my case, with Mystical Greenwood no one has yet to give it two stars or one, so that’s a good sign.

Further Reading
  1. Kayla Ann. Responding to Criticism.
  2. Zikra, Nour. Will Negative Book Reviews Hurt Me? Writing Advice.

Q&A with Elizabeth Holland

Check out this Q&A I did with author Elizabeth Holland:

Author Q&A with Andrew McDowell

Many thanks for this opportunity, Elizabeth!

Happy Holidays, everyone! Wishing you all a Happy New Year, especially after a year like this. Today is the day of the Winter Solstice, which is the origin of many winter holidays. As the light and warmth of the sun will return, may the new year bring new light and warmth for all of us! I am certainly hoping 2021 brings changes and progress both career-wise and in writing.

And don’t forget: books (and book reviews) make great gifts! My Amazon author page was updated to include more anthologies from past and present, including As the World Burns, which came out last month.

Merry Writer Podcast

Many thanks to my fellow authors and bloggers Rachel Poli and Ari Meghlen for featuring me on the Merry Writer Podcast! If you haven’t yet, listen as I discuss with Rachel how I came to be a writer:

The episode is on Podbean too.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to listen to their other episodes!

And be sure to keep an eye out on my poetry and short story pages for upcoming links to the anthologies Fae Dreams and Nightmare Whispers: Madness Echoes from Fae Corps Inc! They’re due to come out at the end of the month! Some links are already available for preorder!

Interesting to note that some of my work that will appear in those anthologies are tied with earlier days of writing. “Crossing the Estuary” was originally a high school creative writing assignment I’d thought lost but rediscovered. “Candlelight” was an assignment in college where we had to write a poem in the style of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” following specific guidelines (yesterday was the anniversary of Poe’s death). I recall I actually started writing it on Halloween!

‘Through the Eyes’ of a Fantasy Writer

Here is my latest guest appearance, with the talented poet and blogger Vatsarah Stavyah, in which I discuss being a writer as well as my novel Mystical Greenwood:

‘Through the Eyes’ of a Fantasy Writer

Many thanks to Vatsarah for this opportunity!

And for those of you haven’t seen or heard yet, I am going to have some short works appearing in two anthologies from Fae Corps Inc, Fae Dreams and Nightmare Whispers, Volume II, scheduled to be released on Halloween! Another poem will be appearing in another upcoming anthology from Indie Blu(e) Publishing titled As the World Burns. Be sure to keep an eye on my poetry and new short story page for future links!

Also, as today is 9/11, I ask for a moment of remembrance for those who died on this day 19 years ago, and for those who were affected by it.

Behind the Book: Mystical Greenwood by Andrew McDowell

Check out this interview I did with my friend and fellow author Ally Aldridge as part of her “Behind the Book” series, in which I discuss my novel Mystical Greenwood. Many thanks, Ally, for this opportunity!

via Behind the Book: Mystical Greenwood by Andrew McDowell

Verse: Rhyme or Free?

Anyone who has watched Dead Poets Society remembers the viewpoint Robin Williams’s character John Keating gave regarding poetry, and how it cannot be measured. It was a very touching scene, and so I thought I’d talk about my own experiences with poetry, this being National Poetry Month.

I first began writing poetry when I was a teenager. Back then, one could say I was rather rigid. I didn’t experiment a whole lot, typically using a simple rhyme scheme, unless of course if I was writing a sonnet. I would write sonnets because I was (and still am) a huge fan of Shakespeare. I had even recited Sonnet #XVIII (Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?) at a Poetry Out Loud contest in high school, in which I won third place. But then again, I was rigid there too, because I’d only written sonnets in the Shakespearean format. In a way, looking back, perhaps I was afraid of breaking into new ground.

My rigidness continued for a while at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where I was introduced at a poetry club reading by the club leader as a more traditional poet compared to other members. The professor of an advanced poetry workshop class later made the observation that I liked to express a theme or idea at the end of each of my poems. However, it was through both that class and another poetry class at St. Mary’s that I began to break free and experiment with poetry.

I discovered new different forms that I had to write in as part of my assignments in those classes. More importantly, over the years I’ve broken free of form alone and began to not worry about syllables and rhymes. I’ve realized how poetry provides a way to really experiment with words and phrases, more so perhaps than fiction. I continued to express themes in my poetry, but also turned to showing and portraying emotions and feelings.

Among the blogs I follow are poets who use their sites to share their work, which is amazingly diverse and wonderfully done. I myself read three poems during an open mic at the Annapolis Chapter of the MWA:

Here’s another reading I did online for The And I Thought Ladies:

And another at the Annapolis MWA:

Poetry expresses what’s in the heart and mind. For any poet, and every writer, their work evolves over time, and through experimentation, gets better.

Resources
  1. Community of Literary Magazines and Presses Directory.
  2. Brewer, Robert Lee. List of 86 Poetic Forms for Poets.
  3. Guildford, Chuck. Stanza Breaks.
  4. Hess, Gary R. 55 Types of Poetry Forms.

Guest Barista, Andrew McDowell on Writer’s Resources

Check out this guest post I did for the Go Dog Go Cafe! Many thanks to Stephen and his associates for this opportunity!

Go Dog Go Café

Writers must read and conduct research to build their stories. No matter the genre, writers need to build plot and characters to create something that will appeal to readers, and there are many books offering tips and insights into these elements. I will discuss those titles I have listed for my own recommended resources and why I think they’re helpful.

Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces is one of the most well-known and influential books in the world. It draws upon many myths, identifying common characteristics and story elements to form what we know as the hero’s journey. Perhaps one of the most famous examples of Campbell’s influence is with George Lucas when he created Star Wars. There’s a reason why this book is helpful to writers: the hero’s journey appeals to people. It’s been depicted in many different ways, and stories do deviate at certain points (Frodo…

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Love is in the Words

Romance has long been considered an important component of literature and drama. It draws them in, including me. People love to praise those who make huge sacrifices for love. Readers like to see it blossom and endure amid great trials and hardships, to see it conquer all. Unfortunately, sometimes fans can get so obsessed with notions of romance that they can lose their hold of reality.

Modern adaptations of classic stories alter characters for the sake of romance. Helen of Troy has been portrayed as falling genuinely in love with Paris rather than being under a spell, as she was originally in The Iliad. In some adaptations of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod and Katrina are in love, with Ichabod as a noble hero, whereas in the original story his motives are anything but honorable, and it’s implied Katrina, who was rather vane, merely used him to make Brom Bones jealous. Even villains like Dracula, who originally had no qualms over their actions, have become “humanized” and anti-heroic via romance. Romance appeals to people.

Within fandoms and fanfiction, I’ve seen “shippers” when there’s a love triangle and even with characters who either didn’t end up together or weren’t in love. Margaret Mitchell was hounded by Gone with the Wind fans wanting to know if Rhett and Scarlett reunited. She never gave them a definitive answer, because that wasn’t the point of the story. It’s been suggested some (but not all) fans don’t care about reason, wanting a romantic ending no matter how much it defies logic.

So is there a danger when writers incorporate romance into stories? Yes. There have been articles and books discussing how reading romance novels can be dangerous for one’s physical and psychological health, because in searching for love in real life, readers may aspire to an idealized image found only in fiction. Some try to play it out, thinking it’ll end like in stories. The result is grave disappointment, because in real life nothing is perfect. In Sense and Sensibility, the romantic Marianne falls for the handsome, dashing Willoughby and wears her heart on her sleeve. When he leaves her and marries for money (after being disinherited for abandoning another girl he got pregnant), Marianne wallows in grief, to the point where she endangers her health and nearly dies.

So what can writers do? Recognize the power stories have to shape readers’ views on love. Perhaps aim to show love isn’t perfect, with fights and disagreements, but still satisfy readers. Marianne finds love in Colonel Brandon and gets a happy ending, but she matures and sees the error of her past conduct. Another thing to bear in mind is that sometimes relationships don’t work out. Seldom is a first love everlasting, especially with teenagers. At other times, there isn’t a happy ending but hope for a better future.

I don’t dismiss the power and importance of romance. It’s needed in some (but not all) stories. But writers and readers alike need to understand genuine romance is gradual, with ups and downs. As Shakespeare says, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” And as I learned in church, love is an umbrella term used for many situations that aren’t identical. Furthermore, what may appear to be love isn’t necessarily love. They say love is blind; so is obsession. Love not built on a solid foundation of friendship, mutual trust, and respect, is the easiest—and fastest—to crumble.

Updates on Works in Progress

Hopefully by now, most of you have read Mystical Greenwood and are eagerly awaiting the sequel. Well, I thought I’d talk a bit about where I am presently with my current projects. Uh oh, spoiler alert! Hopefully these aren’t big spoilers but teasers. I’ll do my best to refrain from giving too much away. Consider it an early holiday gift.

As I said, there is a sequel to Mystical Greenwood in progress. From the beginning, I’ve wanted the One with Nature series to consist of three books. I know how I want the second to end, but it won’t be the end of the story, so the third book has that purpose already (and I even have a vision of how I’d like it to end). Having focused on forests, I intend to take my characters to another important realm of Nature: the sea (as well as emphasize other bodies of water). So there will be an exploration of and emphasis on aquatic life, and as I hinted before, I’d like to include some more mythical creatures. Taranis will raise the stakes of his fight, and the sequel will include an element Mystical Greenwood lacked: romance.

Anyone who’s seen my works in progress page knows there’s been another story in the works, set in the real world dealing with pets who are neglected and abused. I started it as a class project back at St. Mary’s College. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love animals, and it pains me to think of how many pets—not just dogs—suffer in this world and are deprived of love and comfort. A number of other projects and short works are also in the early stages/idea phase. Things to look forward to in the future!

In addition to these large works, I have short ones too that I’m trying to publish. I’ve had some poetry published this year, and there’s a lot more. I also have two completed short stories. As I’ve said from the beginning, I want to explore various genres and forms of writing. I’ve had a wide variety of interests throughout my life, and perhaps that’s due to my Asperger syndrome. But I definitely want to explore them in writing. I’ll be sure to post updates when they come.

Be sure to check out my Events page for upcoming appearances! Also, registration is open for the 2020 Maryland Writers Conference. Early bird prices go until New Year’s Eve! If you’re interested, go to the MWA website to learn more!

And of course, if you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll read and review Mystical Greenwood! And if you know someone who loves reading fantasy and loves Nature, books make great gifts during the winter holidays! In Iceland, a country with a high reading and publication rate, there is a tradition of exchanging books on Christmas Eve known as Jólabókaflóð, or the Yule Book Flood.

Mystical Greenwood is available in Paperback, Kindle, and Nook:

US$: Amazon  |  B&N  |  BAM!

UK£: Amazon.co.uk  |  Foyles  |  Waterstones

CA$: Amazon.ca

Be sure to add it to your to-read list on Goodreads! The cover art is available at Deviant Art. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive notifications of new blog posts! You can also follow me on social media:

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  YouTube  |  Tumblr  |  Goodreads

Further Reading
  1. De La Mare, Guinevere. Jolabokaflod: Meet Your Favorite New Holiday Tradition.