Sometimes pictures speak louder than words…
I’m not a plotter. There. I said it.
I know there are a lot of writers out there who will say I should plot my work, that I should outline my stories or even think some of them out. I do think a lot of my stories out, but I don’t believe in plotting.
Wait. Wait! Put down those torches and pitchforks. No need to burn me at the stake. Yeah, it’s dark outside, but lynching is not the way to go here.
Let me explain. I’ve always thought that plotting out stories restricts the actual storytelling. I kills the creative process. I’m not entirely sure some of the greatest writers in the history of literature plotted out there stories. I’m almost certain many of them didn’t sit at their wooden tables, an oil lamp on just a few inches from their parchment and plume.
‘Hmmm…maybe I should put her in this situation. Oh, but wait. What if I do this to her? Ohhh, yeah, this would be awesome. I think, maybe, if she did this, then he would do that, and they would do this…oh yeah. Brilliant stuff. And we can end it like this. Amazing.’
Seriously, folks, do we really think Twain and Poe and Hemingway outlined everything they wrote? What about Dickens? Sure, they may have jotted down some things they didn’t want to forget, but to completely outline the story? I don’t believe it.
I’m a fan of flying by my seat. Not literally. I don’t have buttwings so stop looking. Most of my stories come from seeing something or hearing something and the immediate image or thought that comes to mind is generally what I start writing. I like to get in the car and ride along with the characters. Sometimes we will poke along, while other times we speed at a breakneck pace that threatens to cave the windshield in and cause us to wreck and splinter our bodies along the roadside. For me, being in the car with those characters is where the thrill is. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and they do. And that’s what makes it exciting.
I won’t sit here and lie and say I don’t actually jot down notes, especially if I am somewhere that I can’t actually write. But outlining kills the story for me. Why is that? Why does outlining kill the story? Well, the answer is simple: when I complete an outline I already know the entire story, and therefore, I no longer have the desire to write it. I know what’s going to happen, so there is no thrill. I can no longer go along for the ride. I can no longer watch as the story plays out, the characters doing their thing and me writing it down like an ancient scribe.
It’s a total bummer.
For me, it is always about the story. It’s always about the entertainment I get out of writing the stories. It’s also about the entertainment I hope you get when reading the stories I write. If I lose interest in the story, how do I expect you to keep interest in it? So, you see, plotting is a bad thing for me.
I do believe in situations. You want to put your characters in situations where they either get out of it alive or they don’t, and if they do get out of it, they either change for the better or for the worse. Situations. Not plot.
Stephen King said in his introduction to Salem’s Lot, that storytelling is as natural as breathing and that plotting is the literary equivalent to artificial respiration (not an exact quote, mind you), and I believe he is correct. Storytelling should feel natural. Not stifled. Not rushed. Not necessarily grammatically correct, either. Storytelling should be as natural as having a conversation with someone you are close to. Plotting doesn’t have that natural feel.
So, I don’t plot. I don’t enjoy it. I lose interest in stories when I do plot them out. And to prove it, I can look in my notebooks and see hundreds of ideas for stories. Many of the idea stories were written. But then I can see twenty-five pages of plotting—from beginning to end with the guts all there in the middle—and none of those stories have ever been written.
I don’t fault those who plot. If it works for you, then do it. It just doesn’t work for me. So, if you want to come along with me, take a ride with me and my characters, then just know I’m going for that ride as well. And maybe we can all enjoy it as the stories unfold.
Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another…
Recently, Lisa Vasquez’s novel, The Unsaintly Chronicles, The Anti-God came out. I had followed the pre-release buzz around it and thought I might just have to give it a read. I caught up with Lisa shortly after the release. We sat down for a little chat that Sunday afternoon. Folks, this is Lisa Vasquez.
AJ: You’ve been on vacation the last week or so? How was it?
LV: My vacation was amazing. I needed to decompress after the previous month’s events.
LV: It was the day before. Right up to the very minute. Seems like I’m always burning the candle at both ends.
AJ: Sometimes publishing can be like that, right down to the last minute with all the fine details that need to get worked out.
Can you tell me about the book?
LV: Sure! The book is about the journey of Isabel. She’s pretty oblivious to the fact that there’s this plane where God and his “family” of angels (Lucifer, included, of course) walk alongside the humans. So God and Lucifer are talking, enjoying the weather…a game of chess and discussing things. Isabel is pretty Renaissance for the times. She has decided that she doesn’t want to marry and that her duty will be to serve God and her people. She convinces the Pope to grant her permission to pursue this path and not marry her intended. This obviously puts her in God’s favor. Lucifer gets pissed (again) and decides to wage war and corrupt Isabel. With these two distracted, the audience is introduced to a new nemesis, Heresy. And she’s the “Void” that has been there since the beginning of time.
The book is a true tug at someone’s faith…I mean we always ask ourselves…am I doing the right thing? What happens if this isn’t the right path? What if the other religion is right and we’re wrong?
AJ: Interesting concept. What type of research did you do for this story?
LV: Well when I started, I was already on a journey to finding my peace. What I mean is, I was born Catholic, I went to a Baptist Church. I then shifted around a bit to a Lutheran church and I never felt “at home”. I didn’t feel the “rapture” and I didn’t feel my soul was at rest. So my research was honestly me sitting down and studying religion. Then as I got through part of it, my father died and then my grandmother, who was my best friend, followed by my step-father, who I was also very close to. I was angry. I was closed off. And then I met a woman, whose name I credited at the end of the book, and she was a former nun. How cool is that?? And she told me all kinds of things about her time on that path.
AJ: I’m going to ask this because I think you bring up a good point here. I believe everyone asks themselves (at one point or other) if they are on that right path or if they are going to Heaven or Hell (even those who I believe would deny such thoughts). I know I have wondered this before–plenty of times. Was there any time before, during or after, writing The Anti-God that you thought this?
LV: Always. But to be frank…
AJ: I would prefer you being Lisa, but if you want to be Frank, go right ahead. I hear he’s a good guy. (and the drummer goes, bah dum dum dum).
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
LV: Ha! There was a Lisa Frank! She was the sticker lady…Wait, scratch that! That’ll give away my age!
AJ: Too late. I’m so researching that! You were saying?
LV: I don’t believe in God or Heaven or Evil in the same way as I did. I think I relate more to a spiritual path…maybe even a Taoist …but not the poly-deity worshipping kind. I know…It’s confusing.
AJ: Do you consider The Unsaintly Chronicles, The Anti-God, a journey into the spiritual world?
LV: I consider The Unsaintly a Dark Fantasy, based on a real life person’s (Isabel) spiritual journey.
With a twist of horror. I’m making my own genre. Dark Horror Fantasy
AJ: That’s a great description. Dark Horror Fantasy? That sounds like a great genre mashup.
LV: I think so too!
AJ: This isn’t your first foray into the publishing world, right?
LV: No, I actually published just the prologue to this story before because I felt it was so different from the rest of the story that maybe folks would “get me” if I took them in baby steps on the journey. Turns out, it wasn’t that bad! I did very well. But then when I took a look at the finished product… I kind worked it out that I could put it back in. I experimented. So now anyone that has the first The Unsaintly book, has a collector’s item because I am no longer selling it that way. I also did a short story that was published. I have had several poems published (years back) and I’m working with Burning Willow Press, helping them out.
AJ: If I’m correct, one of your stories appears alongside one of mine in the anthology The Gathering Hoarde.
LV: You’re correct! Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down.
AJ: Tell me about Burning Willow Press and what you do with them.
LV: Ah, yes. Burning Willow is a publisher that is very much about its authors. They have a lot of say in the end result of their stories. So in essence, they’re selling themselves, and have the power to do so, rather than the publisher creating who they are. We are very close knit. My position with them is Cover Designer Head uh..Person or some such. Haha! I dunno my official title, I just know I fix, create, and help design the covers. I also did their logo.
AJ: I’ve seen your work. It’s well done.
LV: Thank you! I think practice makes perfect and I’m learning a lot as I go.
AJ: Speaking of your designs, am I correct in saying you have (or will have) your own design business?
LV: I do have my own. Darque Halo Designs. I’ve been doing graphics for a pretty long time, but book covers are a new thing. Started with my own and people really liked my style, so I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work on other covers from amazing authors.
AJ: Did you do the work on Unsaintly?
LV: I did. For both of them, yes.
AJ: If those are examples of your work, then they are great examples for the public to see.
LV: Thank you! I appreciate that, very much.
AJ: How did you end up working with BWP?
LV: I ended up working for Burning Willow when I did Kindra Sowder’s cover for her Executioner Series, Follow the Ashes (book 1).
I think they had seen some of my other work and really wanted me on the project. Then it seemed a natural progression to work for their company
AJ: It’s always interesting how people meet one another and then help one another and that leads to working together.
Along with your writing and design work for BWP, you are also Editor-in-Chief of Inked Muse Press Magazine.
LV: Yes that’s correct. I wanted a magazine that didn’t follow the imprint of other horror magazines. I wanted a magazine that addressed horror but also focused on the writing.
AJ: With that in mind, is IMPM taking submissions from writers?
LV: Always. I want big house authors and small press authors alike.
AJ: What types of work does IMPM accept?
LV: We take short stories, editorials, interviews, reviews, just about anything related to the horror genre
AJ: Do you have a link to the website, so if writers would like to look into IMPM they could find it?
Anyone that wants to submit something for consideration is welcome to. Right now the magazine is quarterly but if the demand calls for it, we may change the frequency.
AJ: Sounds good to me. Thank you for that information.
AJ: I want to change gears for just a second and ask a couple of short questions. Why horror, as opposed to other genres?
LV: I love the thrill of horror. I believe that without embracing darkness we cannot embrace the light. I was raised on horror, my father and my step father were very big fans and I learned to appreciate the genre from them. Also, growing up, I had friends that had the same interest. One of whom is still my best friend and partner to this day, Paul McVay.
AJ: This is awesome: I believe that without embracing darkness we cannot embrace the light.
Favorite horror author?
LV: Ohhh that’s hard. I change with my moods. I’m such a Libra. I mean there’s the standard, Stephen King. But I love Thomas Harris, Joe McKinney, Jonathan Maberry, Mark Tufo. OK, I can’t decide.
AJ: Fair enough. How about your favorite horror movie?
LV: The Exorcist, Silence of the Lambs, and Dawn of the Dead (the newer version)
AJ: Nice. Great choices.
Okay, just a couple of more questions and I’ll let you go rest up from your vacation.
You said you’re creating your own genre: Dark Horror Fantasy. Ideally, what type of story would that encompass?
LV: First, I want horror to be epic. A mix of real experiences and things that “could” happen. But I love epic stories, real fables. I’m part Greek so I embrace that whole theatrical, tragedy, Clash of the Titans type of story. Things that make your imagination stretch. Things that you never WANT to see if they exist. I have entire worlds inside my head. I love developing them and the people. And that’s part of the inspiration for The Unsaintly. I mean what’s scarier than Revelations?
AJ: Nothing is scarier than Revelations if you are a spiritual person (other than Hell).
LV: I’d probably bang on Hell’s door if I saw a dragon and riders in the sky
AJ: How can readers get ahold of Lisa Vasquez?
AJ: Where can readers find your work?
LV: My books are on Kindle and Amazon. I believe online I have global distribution. And if they want signed copies, they can order them off my website. Also, they can find me through the Horror Writers Association. They’ve been a huge help to me as well. So I’ve been giving back time to them and the genre
AJ: You brought up the HWA. I have been reluctant to join the HWA. What made you join them and, if you don’t mind, tell me about your experience with the HWA?
LV: HWA went through a rough year. They lost an integral part of their organization with the passing of their president. Lisa Morton stepped up to the plate along with the other officers. I came to the HWA because I read that you should join writers groups for support and to learn about your trade. Joe McKinney is part of the HWA, Jonathan Maberry is also a part of the HWA. People forget that it is entirely volunteer, so they criticize the sometimes lengthy wait in replies, etc… Hey these guys work hard, they work full time jobs, and they are writers too. They have to balance all of that and then keep answering the questions of all of us fledgling, aspiring writers. They offer free help. They offer mentorships, they help with contract questions and back up authors being taken advantage of. I’d say it’s a pretty good deal.
AJ: Thank you for that information. I knew Rocky Woods had passed away after a brave fight with ALS and I knew he had been working hard with HWA for a while. And I saw where Lisa Morton had stepped in.
I’m a reader. Convince me to buy your work
LV: Convince you? I think you or anyone who wants something different should buy my books. If you want to be drawn into the world, if you want to think and have your ideas tested. I’m all about pushing the line and experimenting. People who give my books a read usually end up loving what they read.
AJ: I love that type of confidence. You have me convinced.
One more thing. As a writer, what do you wish to accomplish with your work?
LV: I’d love it if people read my books, as simple as that sounds. And I’d like to bridge the gap of men vs. women in this genre. I don’t want to write romance, so please read, share, and review! My readers are everything to me. I love hearing their thoughts. I love the fact that a few people have said they have had crazy dreams after reading my work. Most of all, I would love to keep hearing “I can’t wait for your next book”.
AJ: I am the same way with wanting folks to read and enjoy and want my work.
LV: If you’re in it for the money, you’re not in it at all.
AJ: Is there anything else you would like to say, Lisa?
LV: If you’re interested in finding out what was really in the beginning, or what happens when you cannot enter Heaven or Hell, then check out The Unsaintly Chronicles: The Anti-God, the first book of a series.
I can almost assure you, that if you love stories about angels, demons, and other frightening creatures, without the same ole stories told a different way, you’ll love this book.
AJ: Lisa Vasquez, thank you for hanging out with me for a little while. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.
LV: Thank you very much for taking the time to have me!
There’s an old cartoon starring Bugs Bunny called, ‘A Hare Grows in Manhattan.’ If you’ve never seen a Bugs Bunny cartoon, then you are probably significantly younger than me or were very sheltered as a child. I am going to lean toward younger than me. Either way, you need to look him up.
In this particular cartoon, Bugs tells a story of his younger days and how he got cornered by a bunch of dogs. Early in the cartoon the dogs decide they want to bully Bugs. They play a game called ‘Dog Pile on the Rabbit.’ The activity is just as it sounds: the dogs pile on the rabbit in an attempt to hurt him.
Can you see that? Can you see Bugs in his nice little blue blazer (he had a hat, as well) being pounded on by one, two, three, four, five, six, seven dogs, all of them wearing heavy sweaters and derbies? All of them on top of him, trying to crush him under their weight?
Do you have that image? It’s kind of mean, isn’t it? It’s the typical bully mentality: see someone you believe is weaker than you and push them around. If that’s not bad enough, have all your buddies push them around, as well.
Dog. Pile. On. The. Rabbit.
This morning I was perusing Facebook just before heading to work. I came across a post in a group I was a member of. I use the word WAS on purpose here. This group was a book review group. As a writer, these are the types of groups I like. At some point last night someone took exception to another person asking them to review the individual’s book. From what I gather, based on the person’s post, the person downloaded the samples of two books and…
…went off on the requesting individual. When I say ‘went off’ I’m talking ballistic here. The individual asked for an honest review of his self-published book. Apparently, the reviewer decided to give an honest review, but also post it to Facebook because…because…honestly, I don’t know why. Maybe the reviewer was a little pissed off because of the quality of the writing. Fine. If you’re mad about that, then tell the requestor, don’t tell the rest of the world.
I’m not going to mention the reviewer’s name, but here are a few little tidbits from the post in the group on Facebook. Are you ready for this? Here goes:
You reek of amateurism. (That’s not too bad, right? There’s a chance the reviewer is right.)
You’re a deluded narcissist… (Not very nice. Name calling.)
Either way, you will never get read by anyone who matters. (EVERY reader MATTERS. Every single one of them.)
You’re an embarrassment who deserves to fail. (WTH? Really? Deserves to fail?)
Okay, I have to stop here. A lot of the comments made in this post bothered me, but this one lingered on my mind long after I read this. No one deserves to fail. No one. I don’t care how bad the book (oh, wait, I mean, the sample of the book) was, but to say someone deserves to fail is totally wrong. The person did something many others didn’t do: he tried.
Let me throw out a thought: What if this person, the requestor who wrote the book that reeks of amateurism, is a special needs person? What if this is the best he could do, based on being a special needs person? What if this is someone who always wanted to try to write, but never did because he thought people would laugh at him. Or worse yet, bash him? What if this is a person who lacked the confidence to try anything like this? And what if this person worried and struggled to even ask anyone to read it? We don’t know these things, but what if? Just throwing it out there.
How dare you think you’re good enough? What dues have you paid? What makes you think for one minute you deserve to be called a writer…? (Ummm…Stephanie Meyers anyone? My point? She’s not the greatest writer, but millions have bought her books and millions have watched her movies. Why? Because she connected with the readers. No, she’s not that great at it, but she succeeded where most of us want to, and the fact that she didn’t give up is what made her a writer, at least for a while. Was she good enough? What dues did she pay? Does it matter to the millions who love Twilight? I doubt it.)
There was a lot more, but most of it was general mouth running, though I still think it was aimed at the individual.
Here’s the problem with this whole post: this is NOT how you review someone’s book. If you think someone wasted your time, fine. If you think someone can’t write, fine. If you think that the book should be burned in a ceremony in a temple, fine. But—BUT!—you don’t attack the individual. The moment you attack the individual you have lost all credibility. You have become a bully.
There are tactful ways to leave negative reviews, be it privately or publicly. This…this is not the way to do it. Zero encouragement. Zero positivity. Don’t say that sometimes you can’t say something good about something or someone. That’s a lie. If you can’t, then you don’t want to.
This was mean-spirited. This was hurtful, and I feel bad for the person it was directed at. It’s public shaming, even if the reviewer didn’t post the requestor’s name or title of the book. I’m certain that individual saw it. I wonder how crushed he may have felt after reading it.
But wait. Remember the first few paragraphs about Bugs Bunny? Did you see the title of this piece? That’s right. Dog Pile on the Rabbit.
The public humiliation was one thing, but the comments that followed were worse. People piled it on, echoing the reviewer’s thoughts and words (even though they didn’t know who the writer was or read his book). That individual who wrote a book or two was the rabbit and the reviewer was Butch, the leader of the dog gang, and all those that got in line and jumped on top were the other dogs piling it on. Just piling it on.
Now, before you think I’m a sensitive, whiny individual, I’m not. I’ve never read anything by the reviewer (who may or may not be a writer, as well. I don’t know). But, I do know he’s not Stephen King. He’s not James Patterson. He’s not Dean Koontz. He’s not Clive Barker. He’s not J.K. Rowling. He’s not Dan Simmons. He’s not even Stephanie Meyer.
I also know that he was wrong. Period. He was wrong. I don’t care who you are, your efforts should never be bashed by anyone. Yes, the person asked for an honest review, and yes, this is about as honest as one can get in expressing how bad the reviewer thought the book was. But this was the wrong way to do it.
Maybe I wouldn’t have taken exception to it, if it hadn’t been made public for anyone in that group to read. I wouldn’t have known about it, so I’m certain I wouldn’t be writing this now. Maybe, if he had just kept it between himself and the writer…No. Who am I kidding? It’s still wrong. There is this thing called tact. I have, on more than a lot of occasions, been told I lack it. However, I’ve never bashed anyone like this reviewer did to this individual.
But really, this isn’t just about the ranting review. It’s about the public pile on. Why do we, as people, do this? Why don’t we stop and think, ‘hey, that could be me?’ Why don’t we, instead of bashing and jumping on the bandwagon, try and put ourselves in others’ shoes. Maybe then we wouldn’t be so quick to pile on, to jump right into the fray, to judge.
I do have one question about this. Would the reviewer, if standing face to face with the writer, still say the things he said? Would he be a little more cautious? Would he suddenly change his tune because, guess what, the person is right there in front of him? I don’t know, but I can take a guess.
Let me tell you a little story. Back when I first started writing, an editor sent me an e-mail asking me about a story I had written that had appeared on a website. I sent him the story, excited that someone wanted my work. Not long after, I received an e-mail back from him. In that e-mail he ranted and blasted me, personally, and my writing—much like the reviewer did to the requestor. I was told I should never write anything ever again.
That was very early in my writing ‘career.’ It could have been damaging. At first, I was hurt and angry and I wanted to just wring the editor’s neck. If he had been standing in front of me when he said those things, well, I just may have done that. Instead, I chose to prove him wrong. But most people aren’t going to do that. Most people who get smacked like that give up. That’s never a good thing.
So, people, before you pile on the rabbit, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Not just in the writing world, but in life. Just remember, we don’t know what someone else is going through, or even anything about them. This may be the best a person can do, based on circumstances. You just never know.
Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.
Writers. We’re the biggest liars in the world.
Let me clarify this. There are liars and then there are LIARS. Then there are fibbers and half-truthers.
I would love to explain, but honestly, I can’t. Okay, I’m lying. I can.
I’m sure you’ve heard reference to this at some point, that writers are liars and all that jazz. Many people have said it. Stephen King did. As did Neil Gaiman. As a matter of fact, Neil Gaiman wrote these words in Sandman, Vol. 3:
“Writers are liars, my dear, surely you know that by now?”
Yes, you probably know that by now, but let’s get moving. I’m going to try to keep this short.
I’ve stated before that there is no such thing as real content any longer. We’ve either seen, heard, done, tasted, said everything there is to see, hear, do, taste, and say. Now, it’s all about seeing, hearing, doing, tasting, and saying things differently. That’s where all of the originality is. With the internet (and its many lies, but that is for a different time) we can go almost anywhere and see almost anything and never leave the confines of our home, so the things we can see, hear, do, taste and say are limitless.
Writers (and really all artistic people) take the things that they have seen, heard, done, tasted and said and put them to words. They take the black and white and make vibrant colors out of them. Yes, writers paint pictures with their words. A lot of our experiences are put into our fiction. We’ll take the eyes of this person and put it with the hair from that one and the lips from this one and the nose from that person over there and the body type from that person sitting down on the park bench feeding the pigeons, to create our characters. We’ll give them personality traits from people we know, whether we realize it or not.
We do the same thing with settings. We may have seen a creepy house along an old dirt road with a door hanging on by one hinge and all but one pane of glass busted out. That becomes a setting for a story. Or maybe just a scene in a story. However, we create a history for that creepy house. It may involve an abusive relationship or the murders of several people, maybe even children. Maybe their ghosts are still trapped inside that creepy house. We don’t know the history of the house, so why not make it up? Why not lie about it?
We do it with plots and we do it with dialogue and we do it with the resolutions of the stories. We do it throughout our fiction. But we use real components from our lives as the cornerstones of everything we write. We use the seen, heard, done, tasted and said that we’ve experienced.
Sometimes writers will tell a story to remember it, but we take those memories and turn them into lies. Sure, a good chunk of it might be true, but the facts get tweaked and turned and twisted and, will you look at that, what was once a truth is now not so much truth or lie, but life as we told it. We’ll take something we’ve seen that we can’t unsee or forget and add a little something to keep it from being one hundred percent true. We’ll take what we’ve heard, the way it was heard, the tones and even the background noises, and change something—a word, a tone, a background sound—and the truth is now a half-truth. We use the things we’ve done, good or bad, and sometimes we only change one component, but we change it in some way. You get the picture, right? Yeah, we do this with taste and said as well. But we don’t forget. No, writing is often the big reminder and the act of writing is the therapy that no shrink can provide.
Speaking of therapy, trauma is a huge factor in writing and sometimes we tell these stories to cope with hurt, pain, sadness, depression, illnesses, loneliness, anger and plenty of other emotions. In this case, the writing is a ‘getting it out’ thing; it’s a cleansing. Sometimes after the story is written we feel better. Other times, well the pain is still there, but the story is out and that’s not a bad thing. Usually these stories are more truth than lies, but the lies are still there.
Now, let’s take a minute to talk about these liars. Clearly, best-selling authors are great at it. They are the real LIARS. They are the ones who have turned lying into an art form. They also get paid a lot of money for those lies. Then you have those who are part time liars. The majority of writers fall in this category. Those are the ones who have full-time jobs and write when time allows. Those are the ones who dream of one day becoming one of the real LIARS and quitting their day job to write and get paid to do so. These are the ones who still have a true passion for writing. They haven’t reached the pinnacle of success, but they keep trying. Then there are the fibbers. These are the people who tell lies, but not very often. They might want to more than they do, but they don’t, either because of time or dedication or lack of passion.
Finally, there’s the little white-liars (or half-truthers). Most of us start off here. It’s that stage at the beginning of a writing career where the individual either decides to pursue writing or not. It’s where passion is either born or buried. It is one of the most influential stages for a writer and can grow very fast or can be crushed beneath the weight of criticism or lack of confidence.
I told you I would make it quick. I need to go now. I have some dreams to chase and some lies to tell. Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.
Good evening, Faithful Readers. Today I would like to welcome James Crawford to Type AJ Negative. Sit down, have a glass of your favorite beverage and enjoy our conversation.
AJ: First, tell me a little about Manleigh Cheese.
JC: Manleigh Cheese is the result of friends challenging me to write something other than horror.
AJ: Where did the concept of Manleigh Cheese come from?
JC: Since I live in the Washington, DC area, there’s a thriving food truck scene, and whispers of corruption every day. I thought they could be two tastes that taste great together.
I’m a foodie, and this great little cheese place, Cheesetique opened a few years ago, that was the inspiration for a cheese-based food truck.
AJ: Nice. What type of writer do you consider yourself to be?
AJ: Why dialog-driven as opposed to descriptive or action-based?
JC: I’m a talker, so my characters tend to be. I’m in love with words and communication.
AJ: I’m a talker, as well. Some tell me I never shut-up. As a writer, what do you have to offer the readers?
JC: Hopefully, well drawn characters who exhibit “real” emotions.
AJ: As a writer, do you have a hard time focusing on one story at a time or do your thoughts tend to stay on point throughout a story?
JC: For me, having more than one project running at a time is a pressure valve. I “go there” when I write horror, and a little comedy helps me balance out. A little sci-fi relaxes the humor…and so on.
AJ: My mind tends to go in a thousand directions at one time. I never have just one project or story going on. You are also a painter. What do you paint and is painting the same type of outlet as writing?
JC: Since my living situation changed, I don’t have a workshop for my metal pursuits. Going back to fine art, where I started, is a way to keep that creativity sharp. Yes, it also helps to define a character by drawing him, her, or it.
AJ: Okay, let’s shift gears, what’s your favorite food truck?
JC: I’ve…this is a confession…never eaten at one.
AJ: DOH! I’ve only eaten at three of them and I have loved all of them.
JC: Yeah. I’m a poseur.
AJ: Okay, Mr. Poseur, let’s switch gears again and discuss Permuted Press for a minute or three. How was your initial experience with them?
JC: It was great. I was enthused, and so was Jacob. I felt like I’d succeeded.
AJ: Truthfully, you had. Getting on with Permuted was something I wanted to do at some point, but never actually attempted. Now, I’m glad I didn’t.
JC: I got to watch the crazy up front.
AJ: When you say watch the crazy up front, what do you mean?
JC: The new ownership coming on, and their struggle to turn Permuted into (I’m thinking) some sort of cash cow.
AJ: So, then Permuted switched hands and then things went nuts?
JC: That’s how it seemed to me. Every six months, some new kerfuffle.
AJ: How many books did you put out with Permuted?
JC: My first trilogy is under Permuted, but nothing else will be.
AJ: You left Permuted, but your trilogy is kind of stuck there, right?
JC: I am stuck with them for that trilogy, and have to offer them first opportunity on anything else in that series. Contractual obligation.
AJ: That is crazy. If you could do one thing over, what would it be?
JC: Oooo. Ah. Argh.
AJ: Yeah, I know. Sometimes reflecting back is harder than moving forward.
JC: Aside from voicing my displeasure in a louder voice, and more broadly…not submitting to them in the first place.
AJ: Let’s move on. Manleigh Cheese came out recently, put out by Burning Willow Press. How did you hear about BWP and what has that experience been like?
JC: I knew of Kindra and Sheron from Permuted, and I liked the idea of what they wanted to build. I submitted, and they accepted.
AJ: What was the editorial process like?
JC: Pretty simple. They handed the manuscript to their editor, she made some comments, I corrected a few things, and we were good to go.
AJ: Nice. So, do you prefer your cheese to be mature like in the Cheez-It commercials or immature?
JC: Does it taste good? That’s my qualifier.
AJ: Mature cheese it is!
Okay, time to get serious. I’m a potential reader. Sell me on your book. Why should I buy it?
JC: Do you like urban fantasy, but are tired of the old Sidhe in America thing? Do you like evil evil? None of the gray area stuff? How about characters you can like, and want to have a drink with?
That’s Manleigh Cheese.
AJ: Good answer. Now, sell me on you. If you had to pitch yourself to me (which I’ve had to do with a person face to face before she would buy my books), what would you say?
JC: Honestly, I do my best to be a genuine person. I have a sense of humor, and really enjoy learning who my potential readers are. That’s the best thing about being a “small time” author.
AJ: I like that. I think the person who asked me the same question would like that response.
If you owned a food truck, what would you sell?
JC: I’d try a zombie theme food truck. The burgers might be named for people. Amanda (avocado and other toppings); Bubba (extra bacon)…Guts on a bun. French fingers.
AJ Nice. I like that.
JC: There’s actually a menu for the Manleigh Cheese truck in the book.
AJ: Okay, we need to talk about the Menu a little. That is a great idea
JC: The Bitch Set Me Up cupcake is based on what former DC Mayor Marion Berry said when they arrested him for cocaine.
AJ: Hahaha! That’s great. What is your favorite item on the menu?
JC: I’d be really fond of the Political Puffs.
AJ: That’s the savory cheese puffs made with Manleigh’s own artisan cheddar. It would be four bucks. That’s great.
JC: I had fun with it.
James Crawford’s Manleigh Cheese can be purchased on Amazon. To whet your appetite, enjoy this excerpt:
“Pardon that interruption. My colleague took an interest in your intern.”
A quirk of his perfect lips sent a shiver down Lois Nasen-Hedges’ legs. She hated how gorgeous he was—tall, slim, long black hair, and those piercing emerald eyes—as much as she craved his attention.
“Certainly, Toll. Interruptions happen.” She tried to hide her feelings by smoothing her skirt—if it accidentally enhanced her shapely thighs, so much the better. “Where were we a moment ago?”
“Yes. We were discussing the return of the artifact to me, now that our bargain is completed.” He nodded, each movement carefully measured to increase Ms. Nasen-Hedges’ heartbeat.
“It will take me a few days to retrieve it,” Lois said, ducking her eyes, hoping he wouldn’t catch the lie she was trying to craft.
“A few days will be fine,” Toll crooned, “but I would remind you there are devastating consequences if you decide to break our bargain.”
He smiled at her from the other side of the desk, flashing pointed, pearlescent teeth. The threat was an old one, but effective: cross me, and everyone you hold dear dies, torn limb from limb. As an added bonus, Toll threw in something new (testing threats for effectiveness was his hobby and favorite way to pass the time).
The latest addition to the consequences was how failure to return the artifact would also bring about the destruction of the wall between the spirit world and the material world. Not a small threat—when added to the previously mentioned mayhem involving loved ones—and also a complete and utter lie.
“I don’t believe.” He whispered this time. “The nations you have built would survive the revelation that your reality is not the only one our world supports. We accept that humans exist, but we are myths and nightmares for you—never seen in daylight, or encountered on the street.”
She couldn’t bring herself to get defensive at him for reminding her of the consequences. He was right. Everything would go insane if Joe American had spirits to placate before cracking open a cold one… or if the military’s weapons were outclassed by spells and dark spirits.
It was also enough reason to keep the artifact in the possession of the United States of America. Leverage. Withholding the object of someone’s desire and keeping it beyond their reach was a tried and true method for securing good behavior. Lois Nasen-Hedges didn’t believe herself to be a fool.
Toll might be the sexiest creature in existence, but he was also cunning, manipulative, and powerful enough to break the tenuous balance of power in the normal world. Creatures like this, Lois believed, should to be kept in line through proper management and coercion. Especially when the entity in question was nearly immortal, and a bullet through the brain might not be fatal.
Fairies and supernatural creatures were not what she expected to be dealing with in the halls of government. Little green men were almost to be expected, but she never imagined anything supernatural might be real, or sitting on the other side of her desk.
“I’m pleased we see eye-to-eye on this issue, Toll.” Lois forced a smile, knowing full well she was going to play an incredibly dangerous game. “I would like to propose we meet again a week from today at this address.”
She slid the sheet of paper over the leather surface of her desk. He glanced at it, quirked his lips, and retrieved it with immaculately manicured fingers.
“An old quarry in Marriotsville, Maryland.” He leaned back in the chair, and smiled. “You make interesting choices, Ms. Nasen-Hedges.”
“It is easily secured, and no one will stumble across our transaction,” she paused, “at least, no one who would be missed.”
“As always, I am impressed by your practicality. Next Friday, at the time and location you’ve provided, is satisfactory.”
Toll stood up, bowed, and offered his hand. Lois stood, reached out and placed her hand in his. She gasped when his fingers locked around her palm like slim steel cables. He pulled her over her desk with no effort, leaving only the toes of her expensive loafers touching the floor.
“I want to remind you,” he said, as his honey and briars voice deepened into a growl, “crossing me would go poorly for you. I will skin you alive, and use your flesh to wipe my ass, before I feed you to things you do not wish to imagine.”
She couldn’t speak. His eyes held her attention like his hand held hers: without mercy.
Toll let her hand drop, deftly slitting her palm with the unnaturally sharp edge of his fingernail. Lois Nasen-Hedges gasped as she fell across her desk, eyes focused on the blood dripping from her outstretched hand onto the cream carpet below.
When she looked up, he was already gone, and she was left to wonder if the game she’d begun was worth playing.
One of the good and bad things about being a writer is we often have an avenue to share things about our lives that some folks don’t. Some of these things are great. Others, not so much. This was originally written on March 2, 2010. Recent events bring this back to the forefront of my mind, and it is as true today as it was when I originally wrote it. This appeared on my original blog, The Odd Ramblings of A.J. Brown.
I want to talk about real life for a minute, not this game we call writing, this world of make believe that many of us writers live in. I want to talk about real life. Can you bear with me for a few minutes and let me ramble about something that’s on my mind?
In his collection, Just After Sunset, Stephen King writes in the story, Rest Stop, these words (and I hope this is not copyright infringement since I am not selling this to a publication or making any money off of it. I’m just making a point.):
“Had he thought there was no place for the Dog out in the big empty of the American heartland? That was narrow thinking wasn’t it? Because, under the right circumstances, anyone could end up anywhere, doing anything.”
This brings me to reality. I read that Friday evening, after leaving the courthouse where a married couple in their sixties was in a hearing to adopt one of their children’s children. Let me see if I can paint a picture for you.
The courtroom was small, with the viewing gallery just as you enter the wooden double doors. The gallery itself was made up of long benches, much like church pews but not as comfortable. The plaintiff’s and defendant’s tables sat up front, near the judge’s chair, or throne, as I like to call it. To the left was a table where the Guardian Ad Litem sat, a nice young woman, blond hair, cut short, dressed in one of those nice dress suits that women wear to such gatherings. The court reporter was an elderly woman, who moved a little faster than a turtle, but not much. To her, this was probably a mundane, everyday process, a ho-hum experience, if you will.
At the plaintiff’s table sat the grandparents of the children in question, he with the silver hair and worried eyes, she with the dyed brown hair with hints of gray peeking through. She wore nice slacks and a top, maybe a church outfit at one time, which she may not wear again because of the association with the event at hand. An attorney—an older gentleman, who I later found out is blind—sat to their immediate right. Behind those three were three other folks, a woman, who was the attorney’s wife and eternal right hand woman, and two other folks, younger, maybe even a couple. I have no idea the relationship between attorney and the couple but I’m gathering they were part of the same practice.
The defendants’ seats were empty. The parents weren’t there. There was no attorney. There was nobody at all in those seats. If there were ever a chance for tumbleweeds to roll by, this was it.
In the viewing gallery behind the six folks at the plaintiff’s table, sat a slew of folks, maybe twelve, maybe fifteen. Maybe less. I was smack dab in the middle of these folks of mostly older church goers, a family of God there to support and bear witness for the grandparents if need be.
The judge, a gray-haired gentleman with glasses hanging off the bridge of his nose, sat in his chair (remember, I like to call it his throne). He shuffled some papers and then began with the proceedings, going through the same old same old for him. But every word he said was critical to the plaintiffs, to their case for adoption of their three grandchildren. His voice was easily a southern drawl, laced in monotone dryness. He seemed like he was in no hurry, and for all involved, I’m not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. I guess it just depends on how you are looking at it. Me, I like to look at things with my eyes open. To the plaintiffs every word probably echoed in their ears, every ticking second probably like hours.
At one point the judge stated, maybe not so clearly at first, that the parents had signed away their parental rights to the children.
Stop there for a second.
As a person with two kids of my own, this struck me. Hard. My stomach sank. But me and my writer’s mind could picture the couple, the mom and dad of three children, sitting there, a shark of an attorney by their side, maybe a slick talker with a way with words and an ace up his sleeve. Ah, but again, that was just my writer’s imagination working.
At any rate, the parents had signed away their rights. Why? Does it matter, really? Maybe they didn’t want the kids any longer. Maybe they owed a ton of money in child support and would have been in a world of trouble if they didn’t. Maybe, one or both of the parents realized that the best thing for these three kids, all ten years of age and younger, would be to let someone have them that could take care of them, provide for them, love them. Maybe the father cared about his kids just enough to say, ‘this is what is best for them,’ and maybe he convinced the mother of the same thing and maybe . . . I’m hoping that last part is true. Even if it isn’t, it is my hope that it is.
With my stomach suddenly hanging around my thighs (if this were a story, my stomach would have been hanging around something else in the general vicinity), the judge continued on, asking if the plaintiffs were there. They each acknowledged and he acknowledged their attendance, for the record, I guess.
Then he asked if the mother of the three children were there. He looked up, said ‘No,’ and proceeded to ask the same of the father. Again, he looked up, said, ‘No.” This time, my heart jumped into my throat, my stomach joining it in trying to occupy a place it didn’t belong. I bit my bottom lip and stared, not at the judge or the plaintiffs, but at the empty seats where Mom and Dad Defendant should have been, the parents of these three children. I admit now, this saddened me.
Maybe it was just me, but the judge seemed, I don’t know, disgusted, maybe. Maybe that’s not even the right word. Maybe, he felt disappointed. I know I did. Maybe, and this could be more true than I think it is, maybe the judge was a little disheartened by the lack of the parents being there to defend their actions, to fight for their children. But, then again, they had signed their parental rights away. So, why would they be there? Possibly, to be held accountable for their actions.
I listened as the grandmother was called to answer questions on her behalf. The grandfather was next. The Guardian Ad Litem followed, standing from her seat, her words rehearsed, as if she had done this a thousand times. I venture to think she has.
I’m paraphrasing here, but I think you’ll get the gist of her statements:
“Your honor, I visited the home (I can’t recall the date at the moment, but that doesn’t matter for this) of Mr. and Mrs. Goodparent and what I found was a spacious home where each child had their own beds, plenty of child appropriate toys and child appropriate clothing. The house was clean and, most importantly, your Honor, I saw three happy children. In my opinion, it is in the best interest for these three children to be awarded custody to Mr. and Mrs. Goodparent.”
With that, she sat down, folded her hands one on top of the other.
The judge looked over several more pieces of paper. He spoke some words I didn’t catch, but the ones I did were simple and to the point. “I find it is in the best interest for this adoption to be granted.” He addressed the grandparents, his eyes noticeably softer than they had been for all of the ten minutes it took to hear the case and he said, “Now, go home and do what you’ve been doing and take care of those grandbabies.”
Court was adjourned, but everyone sat still, quiet, possibly not even sure of what had just happened. Was it finally over for them? Were the children, after several years of living with the grandparents, finally a permanent fixture of their home? Yes and yes.
Outside the courtroom, hugs were given, a tear or two shed, out of relief and sadness all the same.
The grandparents went on their way, going to do what the judge told them to do and go take care of them grandbabies. In their early sixties, the time of their life where it should be he and she and the open road to travel, dreams that were put on hold for years while they raised their own children realized, yet once again, they were parents to young children.
It was a bittersweet verdict. I sat at my desk that night, a long day having passed, my children in bed, my feet propped up by the keyboard, the thoughts of the day rumbling, bumbling, stumbling through my head. I had just finished up King’s story, Rest Stop, and that passage ran through my head over and over and over again.
“…under the right circumstances, anyone could end up anywhere, doing anything.”
My mind also kept coming back to the absentee parents at the courthouse. A quick note here and why this is so personal. I grew up with the father of the three children. He was a bright kid, intelligence beyond intelligence. Girls loved him. He rarely cracked a textbook, simply because he absorbed everything. He was the king of BS also. Someone whose charm could make you believe the most outlandish lie, even if you absolutely knew he wasn’t telling you the truth. He should have amounted to just a little more than what he did. I guess, knowing someone for so long, you never see this type of thing coming. And, if you do, you pretend it’s not real or you pretend that things will get better, though, deep down inside, you know they never will.
What can you do? Well, you can pray if you have faith in God. If you don’t, then you harbor those angered feelings until it becomes resentment and then hate and loathing. Not exactly good for you, if you know what I mean. Or, you just let it go. Chalk it up to life getting the best of someone and move on. That’s just a little tougher to do.
If this were a work of fiction we would be nearing what some would consider to be a happy ending. I’ve left out a lot of this—it’s not necessary to dwell on the entirety of this story. Only the plight of the children matters and the resolution to the plot was the adoption by the grandparents. Thus, the story book ending would be the celebration in the courthouse, or maybe the kids running up to the grandparents, jumping in their arms, smiles on their youthful faces. Someone go ahead and stamp The End on the back page for me and close the book. Leave a review, if you don’t mind.
However, this is no book, but real life. And in real life, there isn’t always a happy ending to the story. No, in real life, there are still struggles and pain and the all too real prospect of time slipping by; slipping through the fingers. The reality of this is simple: In ten, maybe fifteen years when the parents of these three kids are alone, they will want their children to come and see them. Come see your Ma, why don’t yah? Come and pay a visit to your old man, please. Do you know what I believe will happen? Do you even want to know? Probably not, but I’m going to tell you anyway. After all, I’m the one telling this story, aren’t I?
Harry Chapin once sang about Cats and Cradles and Silver Spoons in a song some years ago about a man too busy to spend time with his son. It’s about how the child came into the world and lived his life while the father was away. Each part of the song, one many of you no doubt have heard, is about how the boy grows up while the father is busy tending to his own affairs. In the end, the boy is a man with his own family and he has no time to visit the father who was never around when the boy was a child.
When you comin’ home dad? I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, son You know we’ll have a good time then –Harry Chapin Cats and the Cradle.
Yeah, that’s what’s going to happen. When you think about real life, that is exactly what’s going to happen. This has stayed with me since that day, sitting in the courtroom, a witness for the plaintiffs, if needed. My heart sinks, even to this minute, knowing that on down the line—because in real life, there is always an on down the line—the parents are going to be alone, sad and wishing their children wanted to spend time with them, something they weren’t willing to do for their children.
They say reality is often stranger than fiction. Reality is often times quite a bit sadder than fiction also. And, here we have come to the end of my story, which is not really a story at all, but real life, a reality check, if you will. But I don’t want to end this on a downer. I truly don’t, so I’ll end it with another tidbit from another song.
The Beatles sang some years ago about the sun coming, little darling. I tend to think, to hope that part of those lyrics can hold true to even this story of great sadness.
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it’s all right
Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it’s all right
Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it’s all right
Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it’s all right
It’s all right.
There is a scene in the movie The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, where Gandalf finds a small sword in a cave. He leaves the cave and gives it to Bilbo Baggins. If you’ve seen the movie, you probably know what happened next. If you haven’t, it’s okay. You don’t need to have seen it to get what Gandalf tells Bilbo a few seconds later. You don’t even have to know what the movie is about to understand the context of what Gandalf says.
To preface the statement, Bilbo tells Gandalf he had never used a sword in his life, and Gandalf tells him he hopes he never has to and (here’s the statement):
“True courage is about knowing, not when to take a life, but when to spare one.”
I’m not going to tell you what happens, but if you’ve never seen the movie, that particular line comes into play later.
That leads me to my topic today. I want to talk about courage and compassion for a minute.
True courage. It takes courage to be a soldier in any military, especially during times of war, which seem to be never ending. It takes courage to be a firefighter, especially when you have to run into a burning building to save someone. It takes courage to face something you are afraid of. Afraid of heights? Get on a rollercoaster or look over the edge of a high rise building or a mountain. It takes courage to step outside your comfort zone and do something you’ve never done. It takes courage to ask that pretty little girl out to the prom knowing she might say no.
It takes courage to be who you are.
The next few lines of what I am about to write may or may not offend some folks, but I’m going to say them anyway. If you will, just stick with me through the next few lines, and do it with an open mind.
In today’s world it takes courage to be different. Think I’m wrong? How many people have come out as gay or lesbian and immediately been scorned by their family or friends or co-workers or local religious group?
How many people have had a differing opinion than those around them and immediately been threatened with hateful words or deeds? You want an example? Okay, here you go:
Bruce Jenner, a.k.a. Caitlyn Jenner. I’m going to be honest with you here. I have no clue what’s going through his/her mind. I don’t understand what made him choose to go from being a man to being a woman. I don’t know. And here is where I will get completely honest with you: I don’t care. What he/she has done is really none of my business. It doesn’t have a direct effect on my life or my children’s lives. What he chose to do is between himself, his psyche and his God. It has nothing to do with me. Do you know what that means? My opinion on the matter, well, it doesn’t matter. And it shouldn’t. As I said up a few sentences, I don’t care what he does. It is his life and the only person/people this really effects is him and his family. End of story.
You wanted an example. I gave you one.
Here’s what I do know: people are quick to criticize others. They are quick to point out everything they have done (or are doing) wrong. They are quick to try and change those they feel are doing all these wrong things. They are quick to judge. Do you know how many times I’ve heard otherwise good people make comments like ‘that person’s going to hell’ or ‘this country’s going to hell in a handbasket’? Maybe it is, but does it do any good for someone to criticize others for things they have done that do not affect the person doing the criticizing? I don’t think so.
People are critical because they don’t understand a person’s motives or a situation. They don’t know what’s going through someone’s head when they decide to do something.
Okay, I guess it’s time to anger some folks. Criticizing something or someone because you don’t understand it or them is weak and narrow-minded.
If you haven’t clicked off the page, yet, I appreciate it.
The human mind is a very defensive thing. When it doesn’t understand something, it makes excuses for not trying to understand it. It allows the fear mechanism to kick in. I’ve stated it here before, but F.E.A.R. stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. I learned that a few years ago at work. (It’s a long story I won’t go into now. If you want to know about it, drop me a line and I’ll explain to you where I got it from.) When our defenses kick in we are quick to judge, to react, and to criticize. Sometimes that leads us to talking bad about people. Other times the defenses are so strong that we would rather break someone down, cuss at them, lie about them, beat them or bend the truth to fit out needs. We’ve seen it happen a lot over the last few years.
Fear makes people do stupid things. We’ve seen all the horror movies and the display of stupidity that takes place in most of them. Funny thing about real life, sometimes the movies aren’t too far off. Fear is a critical part of our psyche. If we fear something we will get away from it and avoid it as much as we possibly can. I am absolutely terrified of snakes, so I stay away from them. If I see one in the woods, I back away slowly while keeping it in sight.
A buddy of mine used to have a couple of snakes and he went to take one of them out of its cage and asked me if I wanted to hold it.
‘If you want that thing to stay alive, you might want to put it back in its cage.’
I was not kidding. It would have been very bad for me, the snake and my friend if he wouldn’t have put it back in its cage.
On the other hand, if we don’t run from the thing that scares us, we attack it, which I mentioned several ways how above. Criticism and hatred are two of the biggest ways to attack someone you don’t like or understand.
What is the opposite of Fear? I believe it is Courage.
Courage. It’s what the cowardly lion wanted in The Wizard of Oz. It’s what we all want.
It takes courage to be different. Even more so, it takes courage to defend someone different than you, even if everyone else disagrees with you. It takes courage to show compassion to someone who wouldn’t show you the same compassion. It takes courage to do the right thing. In this day and age, in the world we live in, very few people want to do the right thing. They want to do their thing. If it can benefit them, even if it’s not necessarily right or fair, then there’s a chance people will do it. Like I said, it takes courage to do the right thing. None of us are always courageous in our decision making. None. Of. Us.
Let’s go back to that quote from The Hobbit and let’s change it up a little.
“Courage is knowing, not when to criticize others, but when to show compassion to them.”
Compassion is concern for others. It’s helping someone shorter than you reach something on the top shelf. It’s helping someone struggling to carry something heavy by taking part of the load. It’s seeing a need and trying to address it, but without stipulations. None of the ‘I’ll do this, but you have to do this’ nonsense. No, that’s not compassion. Compassion comes with no strings attached. It’s a genuine feeling of concern for someone to the point that you want to help them without expecting anything else in return. It’s a woman giving a young couple 20 bucks so they can buy a kiddie pool for their young son because they couldn’t afford to do it themselves.
Compassion. There’s not enough of it in this world. There needs to be more. Much, much more. Courage. The cowardly lion wanted it, but it wasn’t given to him. He developed it when he did the right thing and tried to save Dorothy and his friends from the wicked witch. It takes courage these days to show compassion and understanding, even in the face of things we may not understand. But it takes neither courage, nor compassion to criticize and break people down because they think differently or choose differently or believe differently or look differently than we do or if they make decisions for their lives that hurts no one that we don’t agree with.
Everyone is different. Everyone has their own idea of how things should be. Why should it matter to someone if someone else doesn’t have those same beliefs? It shouldn’t, but for some reason, it does. I’ll never understand it.
Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another…
Almost every job I’ve ever had has ended in some sort of leadership role. The role may not be a managerial type, but there is always some sort of leadership responsibility taken on. This happens whether I want it to or not. Most of the time this happens without much discussion. It just happens.
Sometimes these roles require a bit of a ra ra ra mentality, and sometimes a bit of tough love, though I’m not sure it’s love being doled out. Sometimes it requires a kid gloves type of mentality, where you just have to be gentle with someone (like it or not). It’s easy to say, but it’s difficult to do.
Most of the times these leadership roles take on a form of team building, whether it’s actually finding the right people for the team, or building the people up that are already on it. It’s this team building that I want to focus on today.
I have had some great teams, but one in particular makes me proud. There were four members on this team, including myself. Two of them were easy to train and easy to get on board when we came together. The third one was a bit of work. He had come into the team later than the others, but he came in with experience, having done this particular job for eight years somewhere else. Minimal training was needed, or so I was told.
Before we go on, let’s give this team member a name. I will call him Z from here on.
Z didn’t buy into our philosophy of teamwork and stepping up when other team members needed help. He didn’t buy into our communications system. He rarely asked for help.
Still, he was productive and did his job. Minimal training, remember?
The first few months went well. Then things began happening that Z didn’t tell me about. Then I started hearing whispers from our customer base. I investigated into this and found a few things I didn’t like. But before I could say anything about what I had found out, the bosses called me in for a meeting.
‘We have a problem.’
This is not what you want to hear to start a meeting.
Turned out Z had some issues, and a few of them could have cost him his job. I set out to keep that from happening and worked with Z, retraining him on things I thought he already knew and understood. Minimal training? There is no such thing.
Fortunately, Z kept his job and became a very reliable team member who learned to ask questions and ask for help when he didn’t understand something.
Writing is kind of the same.
Yeah, I knew I would get a few crinkled noses and confused expressions on that one. Let me see if I can explain this the way I see it in my head.
Writing is all about world building, character building, plot and resolution. There are so many ingredients that go into telling a good, readable story, that if one ingredient is off, then so is the entire story. It’s kind of like one team member not doing his/her job. Yeah, the whole team suffers.
To be a successful team at anything, you need all of the team members on board with the game plan. If you have four team members and one of them isn’t on the same page as the other three, then it will be harder for the team as a whole to succeed. For example: In football if the quarterback and receiver aren’t on the same page as far as the play they are going to run, then the quarterback could end up throwing the ball to a spot the receiver isn’t at. This could lead to an incompletion (not so bad) or an interception of the pass (very bad). That means they didn’t communicate well enough to be on the same page, to know the same play and get the outcome they wanted.
Good. Now, let me relate this back to writing.
In order to be a good writer, you have to know, first of all, how to put a sentence together. Let’s call that Sentence Structure. Then you need to also have a sense of Grammar. You need to know a lot of words. We’ll call this Vocabulary. These are three key team members to the act of writing. If you don’t know these three things, writing a story that is readable is pretty much impossible. These three team members have to work together to tell the story. If one of them is off, then so is the story.
But, wait. Vocabulary has its own team of members. Synonyms, Pronouns, Nouns, Verbs, Adverbs, Adjectives, Antonyms, Conjunctions and so many others. They are all members of the Vocabulary Team, and they don’t always get along. Especially when choosing what type of word to use, such as Passive as opposed to Active words. The use of the wrong team member when putting together a sentence will make the entire sentence (or team) weaker.
There’s other members you need on your team:
Point of View
And a bunch of others.
You don’t need just any of these members. You need the right ones for the right stories. If you don’t have the right ones, then the story will suffer. You see? The wrong words at the wrong time is like running the wrong play and having the quarterback throw an interception.
This is where the writer has to do a little training.
I used to suck at dialogue. I didn’t quite grasp the concept that dialogue needed to further a story along, not just be there. Dialogue that is just ‘there’ is like a loiterer just standing around. Neither one of them do much at all, and they are both kind of a hindrance. Bad dialogue is the couch potato of writing. It just sits there and eats up precious words and space while ruining the story it appears in.
One day someone told something quite profound, and I have held tight to it ever since. I was told that dialogue is the oxygen of a story. Without oxygen, you will die. Bad dialogue is like carbon monoxide–it’s a killer. However, good dialogue breathes life into the lungs of a story, allowing it to live and to have a purpose; to further along the story.
After hearing this I stopped writing stories for a while. Instead, I wrote scenes using only dialogue. I wanted to see if someone could tell what was going on by reading dialogue alone. At first, I couldn’t even tell what was going on in the scenes I wrote. Then, slowly, I began to see an improvement. I began understanding that if a piece of dialogue doesn’t make sense to me, the writer, then it’s not going to make sense to you, the reader.
I taught myself how to write better dialogue by listening to people talk. I essentially trained my Dialogue to be good. I trained that particular team member to do his job, and do it well. It was a lot of work, but it paid off. Now, I write dialogue well. Do I do it great every single time? No. Nobody does. But when I go back and read what I’ve written, I can spot the bad Dialogue and fix it.
There are areas of writing I still struggle with. Some words still throw me off and I have to stop and think about which word I really want to use. Sometimes I struggle with a description or being too wordy or not wordy enough (yes, it is possible). But when that happens, I stop and create a ‘lesson’ for myself. I will write something in several different ways to see how each one sounds. Sometimes that requires rewriting entire passages just to change one sentence. It is often not easy, but when a breakthrough happens and I realize what I am doing wrong, it is always worth the extra time spent.
Writing is not always easy. Many times it can kick your butt. However, if you are writing and learning, then you are going to get better. If you struggle with an area of writing, then don’t just brush it off. It will affect every other area of writing that you may or may not be good at. It’s like a slack team mate. Address it, work on it, learn from it, and then move on to the next issue.
I’m currently working on an area of my writing that I have loathed ever since trying to make a name for myself in this business: marketing. Yes, marketing is an area of writing that we must deal with. It may not have anything to do with the actual writing, but it has everything to do with people buying the work. I hate doing it, and I am not good at it. But I’m working on it. I have been for the last year. I’ve developed a little bit of a following, but I have a long way to go. I’m still trying to get people interested in my writing. This, probably more so than anything else, will probably take me the longest to learn and to incorporate into my team. Right now Marketing is not such a good team mate, and it isn’t doing its job all that well. But hopefully, I can train it (and myself) to do better, to think of all the other team mates who put in the time and energy to do their parts right, and it will hop on the bandwagon.
I know this blog is a little odd, but I hope you see the similarities I tried to make for you (and me).
Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…
Cate and I worked our second festival today. It was the Kaleidoscope Cultural Arts Festival in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Though we didn’t sell a lot, we still enjoyed it. We met a lot of folks, and had some very good conversations. One of those conversations led to two thoughts that go hand in hand. I would like to share them with you now.
The first of these, I think, should go without saying, but I’ve found more and more that people don’t do this as much as they should. That thing? Care about your art. It’s quite simple. Care about what you are doing. I used the term ‘art’ because, truthfully, writing is art, whether good or bad is up to the writer.
It’s like coloring within the lines when you were a kid. Think about it for a second. When I was a kid I was told over and over to try and stay within the lines while coloring pictures. I got to where I worked really hard at it because, well, first I got tired of hearing that I was doing it wrong (even if in my eyes I was doing it right), and second I wanted so bad to finally succeed at keeping all the colors within the picture with no blob over the line. I grew to care about coloring the way my teachers said to.
This is the way writing is. Though I would never say you need to write between the lines and follow all the rules, you should still care about the stories you tell, the characters you create, the settings you put them in, the details you give their lives, the situations they deal with, the solutions to those situations and which way their lives go or end. Those are important items that shouldn’t be neglected. By caring about the story, you pay attention to those details, and in doing so, you stay between the lines. [[For the record, I believe some rules no longer apply to writing done in this day and age. However, know them, because, though they can be broken, break them at the right times.]]
Here’s a truth: readers can usually tell when an author doesn’t care about the story they’ve told. And if you don’t care about your stories, why should they?
Point two: If you care about your craft, the person you are will shine through in your work. I’m not talking about the person you want the world to see. I’m talking about the real person on the inside. That person will shine through. It will shine through in your style. It will shine through in your voice. It will shine through in the words you choose or do not choose. It’s. Just. That. Simple.
Let me share a third point, and yes, I’m improvising here. If you love what you are doing you are going to care about it. If you are just doing it to make a buck, well, you might make some money, but you won’t tell great stories, things that stick with people years after they read it. You can write all you want, but caring about your stories will make more than a little difference in whether the readers care about your stories or not.
They are all connected. If you love, if you care, you will shine through. And if you love and if you care, the readers will know and they will love and care, as well.
Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.