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Walking the Labyrinth

November 17, 2010

A friend of mine, Cindy Pavlinac, has made a living of visiting sacred places and photographing them. I accepted her invitation to participate in the labyrinth walk at Grace Cathedral last Friday night, accompanied by her photographs and the beautiful live music of Martin Gregory on piano.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but God touched my heart.


This photograph to the left is how I felt afterwards. I started at the beginning of the labyrinth, bowing to the docent standing there. I began my journey, and along the way, twisted and turned until I found myself at the middle. Each time the turn faced me towards the front of the cathedral, I stopped and gave thanks. I considered why I was drawn to put myself in the presence of something holy. I felt like I was given an answer:  IT WAS TIME.

It was time for a little magic in my life, something miraculous, something otherworldly and totally off the charts. Time for putting away the toys of playing small, and time to get out the big toys the big girls and boys play with. Time to stand for my stories, getting the moving experiences down on paper. I’d been feeling a little sorry for myself for some would say good reasons. But I’d been self indulgent and focusing on myself, when there is all of heaven out there. My heaven has a small h. It isn’t a place as much as a state of mind. I’d been mired down by things I’d allowed myself to burden myself with, couldn’t get out of my mind, dreaming with dread.

I’d been keeping up the good fight. Trudging through the cold and the difficult. It wasn’t getting any easier. I should have arrived by now. When does it start to get easier? When does it all start to pay off? When is my turn?

Me, Me, Me.

And then I walked the labyrinth. The paper said to walk and think about your life, and leave your burden along the way, or in the middle, or release it when you are done.

Was I done yet? That’s what God asked me. “Are you done struggling? Being frustrated?”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Proove it.”
“Excuse me?”
“You heard me. Proove it.”
I sat back in my creaking chair, took out my notebook, watched the other pilgrim labyrinth walkers find whatever they were seeking, and took a deep breath and then a sigh. And I saw a new story.
That was Friday night. I am now 10,000 words into this new story. The more I write it the more I love it. Just like the very first one I wrote. And it is no struggle.

It is a miracle. I’m ready for the magic of the season, for those beautiful stories to come rising to the top so they can be told.

What about you? How do you prepare yourself for miracles in your life, those life-changing days and nights? What inspires you? Fills you with desire for magic and unlimited potential?

 

 

Giving Some Thanks — the Write Way

November 16, 2010

As I sit here at the computer, still digesting that fantastic meal from Golden Corral, I found myself reflecting on the topic of being thankful.

Now, this isn’t because it’s almost Thanksgiving, but more about why I was digesting the “wonderful” meal from Golden Corral. See, it was Military Appreciation Day and good old GC was treating veterans to a free meal (in case you’ve never heard of Golden Corral, it’s a buffet-style restaurant; a meal is whatever number of trips through the buffet line your stomach can handle).

Last Thursday was Veterans Day and a bunch of restaurants treated vets to an array of freebies, ranging from a free appetizer (like the Bloomin’ Onion at Outback Steakhouse) to an entire menu (Applebee’s). I can only imagine what would happen if Hooters joined the movement.

Being solo on these jaunts, I ended up sharing tables with others and got to hear their “war” stories and military tales. It made me wonder about these future generations are going to cope. I could remember all the discipline that military life had introduced into the lives of us veterans.

It made us productive citizens (most of us, anyway). The kind who built this great nation, brick by brick, girder by girder and X chromosome by Y chromosome.

Alas, it seemed as if the veterans’ appreciation is destined to become like Christmas – that once-a-year event where we all suddenly remember to be good to our fellow human beings, though even that is disappearing fast in an age of disaffectedness and political correctness.

For all the wonderful bits of technology we have available to us – cell phones, iPhones, Internet, laptops – we still seem not to know that there are wars going on. The news is reduced to “NATO servicemembers killed” yada yada yada.

Unfortunately, we’ve been going down that road for awhile. In Vietnam, protesters spit on returning veterans. While I’m glad no one is spitting now, we’re doing something almost as bad – we are gleefully and naively asking young men and women “did you kill anyone over there” or, even worse “how did it feel?”

Talk about disrespect. And everyone is asking, from little kids to adults.

I don’t know anymore.

As for what this topic has to do with writing, such a culture change appears in our books. Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War (Mark Bowden), The Hurt Locker(Mark Boal) and Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead have showed us a war fought by the brave while the disaffected back home don’t seem to   notice. Boal appears here again with “Death  and Dishonor,” a piece that led to the movie In the Valley of Elah, a movie based on actual events in which soldiers suffering from PTSD because of Iraq kill and dismember one of their own.

Maybe we should either start writing about the bravery of our men and women in uniform and stop focusing on all the negative stuff. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen didn’t ask to go to war, but they performed their duties nonetheless. They certainly don’t need the people they’re safeguarding to paint them all with the same brush.

And maybe we can help with a few strokes of a pen instead of a paint brush.

At the very least, don’t wait until Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day to say thanks to those who served our country faithfully and with honor.

Change Is Good

November 15, 2010

I’ve been absent from the Wicked, Write in the Shadows and Everything Erotic roster for a few weeks. My life has been changing, which, from what I understand, is a good thing. To never change is to lie dormant, to lie dormant is to decay… and that is the beginning of the downward spiral into death.

I liked Jimmy’s post on Friday – made me think about where I was a year ago. I entered a huge contest, never thinking I’d get to the semi-finals, only to find out I did. I had to drop out of participating in NaNo to do a final polish on my MS for the requested submission. It was an exhilarating time to say the least.

I begged everyone I knew, and everyone remotely connected to me on Facebook, to vote for my book in the contest. They did. Readers hold a power within them, one they are mostly unaware of. Their energy and sheer dogged determination catapulted Vampire Vacation to the Fan Favorite spot in the contest, for which I’m still grateful.

While my title ultimately did not win, but achieved second place, it turned out to be a gift in disguise. The publisher holding the contest has since gone to an ebook model (Dorchester) and lost almost all of their authors, including the third and first place winners from the contest whom were under contract.

During the contest I conceived the idea for Wicked Writers and approached some fellow writers. Only two still remain from the original group of five; the others joined other blogs, blog on their own, or dropped out of blogging to focus on writing. We launched in January and it’s been a grand ride all around.

The year has held more personal and business ups and downs for me than any other time in my life. I turned the big 4-0 last week and I’m at peace with myself and my life right now. I never thought I’d be here. I never thought I’d be a writer. I never thought the crap I spew daily would be interesting in the least.

But here I am.

Published in under two years of writing “Chapter One”. Owner of a publishing company with a mostly empty website (stop by for a laugh on the Submissions & Reviewers tab: www.rhpublishing1.com), but we’ve published two books with one more due out this month and one more before the end of the year.

Change is good…

… but belief is better.

Did I think I’d be here a year ago? No.

Did I naively think once I landed an agent my book would have a contract lickety-split? Yes.

Have I learned more about this changing industry in the past six months than I thought was humanly possible? Yes.

This is the time. If you market the heck out of yourself, social network until your fingers and brain go numb, and work your ass off to produce a damn good book, then (and only then) are you ready for this new time in publishing.

Above all, your work must be good. I cannot stress this enough. And no, I couldn’t have done it on my own. Which is why a community of writers is key to success. There will always be readers if you spin a good tale, but you will never be able to produce a work worthy of being read unless you spend hours and hours on it.

Are you ready for change? Or are you still hoping an editor in a publishing house will believe in your work and help you perfect it?

Wake up – times are changing.

Right Now.

Are you?

You must believe in your work first and foremost. Then you need to get a thick skin so other writers can tell you what’s wrong with it and you can fix it. I’m not saying they are always right – I had a ton who hated my style. But you will eventually find ones that work well with you and can help you improve your work.

Listen to your readers. They will never steer you wrong and they will tell it to you straight.

Change with the times or get left behind. Take a risk. The worst that can happen is you fail and that’s something we’ve all survived before.

I believe in you and your work.

If I can do it, you can too– you just have to be willing to evolve.

Have any questions about publishing, self-publishing, starting a publishing house, or how the industry works? Just ask. I’ll answer to the best of my abilities.

Transitioning

November 11, 2010

    

I love to read. I used to have time for that.

Some of you may know this, some may not, but one year ago at this time I had just found a publisher. Vamplit Publishing had my debut novel about vampires with a Christian twist, and I was simply waiting for the editor to send back my carved-up manuscript. At that time, I had one MySpace account which was gathering dust (for spying on my teenager, don’t you know), as well as one Facebook account. With that, however, all that I was doing was looking for old friends and playing Vampire Wars. Other than checking my e-mail multiple times per day for my edits which would ultimately not come in until Christmas Eve day, I had nothing to do in terms of writing.

     Oh, what a difference a year can make.

     Why am I telling you this, you ask? Some may be wondering why I am retelling it. Faithful readers of this hallowed page may have noticed that what was once fairly regimented has grown, shall we say: loose. There’s a reason for that and our hope here is it will be temporary. You see, many of us have gotten busy at quite the same time with regards to writing projects becoming published novels, and blogging evolving into PR campaigns and book tours.

     For me, 2010 transitioned from checking my e-mail every day, waiting for my novel to be published – to being published nearly every week. First came the blog. I didn’t design that. My publisher handed me the keys, but it was certainly up to me to fill it with stuff. I posted information about my novel, as well as film and music reviews and the occasional rant or editorial. A guest post on Wicked Writers transitioned over to a regular spot every other Friday. A review in a local magazine brought me to the attention of an editor who had just launched her own on-line magazine. I had never written articles before, nor did I have any kind of experience in Journalism; however, I have now been writing articles for her since the summer. I now have a second Facebook page (The Official James Garcia… You get the idea) as well as a Twitter Account.

     The point I’m attempting to make is, we spent a lot of time dreaming that these days might come; that we might be writing. Little did we realize, perhaps, just what form that might take; or how it might all come together. I think many of you have probably gone through the same things. Notice how I’ve mentioned nothing at all about us having houses to maintain, or children or grandchildren to parent. Or day jobs! Many of you are writing and running blogs; others are reading, reviewing and running blogs; and a whole bunch of us are trying like heck to do it all. Busy, huh?

There's a few DVDs there I still haven't seen yet.

 This brings me to the heart of the matter: please hang in there if we suddenly seem to have neglected to post on our day; or if we fail to update the poll or go a while without offering another contest. I think everyone here would agree that this site is very special to us, as well as all of the interaction with you fine people. Many of us are simply coping with transitioning at the moment. C.J.’s flying about the country on the Wicked Writer’s corporate jet, doing lectures and signings. NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) has claimed a few of us braver ones who are endeavoring to write a complete novel in one month (Anastasia and J.D.), Greg can’t hardly get any work done with Hollywood pleading with him to save some blockbuster project of their’s by taking the lead role. And for me, between writing posts and articles, I’m supposed to be overseeing the PR machine as it figures out new and improved ways to get the information out about my positively reviewed novel that few know about. I am also supposed to be polishing up its sequel and getting it ready for the moment that my trusty publisher asks for it.

     John Lennon is famous for a great many things, but in the Beatles’ song, “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, he sang, “Christ, you know it ain’t easy…”. It isn’t one of my favorite Beatle’s songs. In fact, I typically skip it. However, being motivated by music, it was the one lyric to leap into my head as I was crafting the paragraph. You may also notice one of these days that the blog appears a bit different. Potentially, we’re moving. I’m told it will be seamless and you will not have to be redirected or find one of those notices that we’ve moved. You will not have to pick up our mail or kick the pile of newspapers out of your way while walking to the front door. Nothing like that.

Jones is waiting for someone to come play with him!

     Just please hang in there (like my cat), because that’s all that we are attempting to do as well, amongst all of the stuff.

     As I like to say over on my blog…

     …We’ll talk soon.

The Dentist made me do it.

November 10, 2010

This Wednesday, I am submitting something I wrote for a contest (and won a free magazine subscription.)

Why?

Because I’m still in some MAJOR pain from the dentist office.

It seems the new alloy used to produce bone in my mouth partially worked. I have 2 out of 6 screws in, and no teeth yet. So, back to square one, where they cut me open and stuffed my gum line with more alloy, then stitched me up (which I felt ever d@mn piercing of the suture as it crisscrossed across my mouth.) Needless to say, I am on three pain meds and none of them are working. I am NOT in a mood to write anything dashingly exciting or even clever at this moment.

On a side note: I am closing in on 20,000 words in Nanowrimo. And I have threaten to place my dentist in the role of the demented, sadistic villain. I can do that you know; I am a writer!

Anyway, without further adieu, here is my little snip of a post for open topic.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

In moments of self-doubt, I’m haunted by her words.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Under my nose, my fifth grade teacher shook my original, handwritten, 125 loose leaf page story, bound together with scraps of scarlet yarn.

“Children your age don’t possess the ability to understand adult ideas.” Her acidic glare through dark framed glasses pinned me against a cabinet. “Where did you learn this?”

Before I could defend myself, the woman pinched her lips tight and examined me as an exterminator does a cockroach. “You’re an impertinent student and a deviant freak of nature. You’ll never possess the discipline to be successful author.”

Although I felt stung by the sharpness of her words, the tears came after hearing the hollow echo of my beautiful first book, tossed in to the old metal wastebasket.

So went my first experience as a writer.

Without a doubt, my muse raised its rebellious spirit to confront her challenge.

I will be a published author. My stories will be read, enjoyed, and cherished by others who feel alone. Different from everybody else.

Different. Like me.

I continued to write. I imagined how my stories would touch someone’s life with words of encouragement, to believe in ones self. It’s hard to survive in a world where you’re alone, afraid to hope or love because you believe yourself a deviant freak of nature.

For you see, the things that break an author’s heart are tools used to discover the passion within. This creates a voice conspicuous enough to whisper aloud from the printed words, thus seducing the reader’s soul.

In order for my dream to breathe, however, depended upon how well I learned life lessons through trials of angst, sorrow, and raw hardship. The adversity which I endured while in pursuit of my goal came in many forms:

*My decision to remain faithful to my personal morals forced me to give up my Journalism scholarship.

*I wailed as the jealousy of an abusive ex destroyed 10 years of written tales, cursing me with the prophecy that I’d never become an author because I was a loser.

*With misplaced trust, I fell for deception, believing my stories to be equivalent to a blasphemy. For over a decade, I ceased all writing, my sacrifice to purge the deviant, freakish sins.

Each tribulation added a flux of personal strength, an extra dose of tenacity, and a greater determination to my declaration of who I am, what I write, and why I write it.

And I know, upon the authenticity of publication, my life will change. To accomplish my goals and achieve my dream, I will feel the sweet satisfaction of vindication.

As for the people who swore I’d never succeed, I will let my freak flag fly in victory.

I’ll have greater self-confidence, increased faith in my abilities and announce with pride:

“I am a published author. My stories are read, enjoyed, and cherished by others who feel alone. Different from everybody else.

Different. Like me.”

Research: the write stuff – a tale of big words?

November 4, 2010

OK, a free blog topic! So, is it really true? I really don’t have to write more about horror, Halloween, and other ghouly stuff? (At least not for another year!)

But I have gotten so used to this place… writing about stuff I haven’t really a clue about! What am I to do now? Go back to mundane thrillers and financial crime? And, me being so late with this post… What will you readers be looking for now?

If in doubt… write from experience! Write what you know and can feel!

Yes, all well and good, I say… but there is an existential paradox here (big words #1 & #2) Oooo! I love it when I get philosophical! (Big word #3) Again I digress…

The Existential Paradox of Fiction

A paradox...

Write what you know and can feel? But I write fiction. Fiction is not real. I cannot KNOW it; neither can I actually FEEL it! I cannot therefore write fiction based on what I know and feel. I cannot write what I cannot know. QED!

Existentially, if in doubt… what the h*** do I do now? How can I effectively write fiction if writing is best based on knowledge and experience and I have neither?

Research, I hear you say. (Well I might, if I could get the hang of this auto-suggestion malarkey!)

Research is a search for knowledge – perhaps the knowledge I need to write the fiction I am planning. But research implies a systematic investigation to establish facts and it usually also implies a scientific (not existential) method. What good is research to me? I am trying to write about stuff that does not exist – it is FICTION!

I repeat: F I C T I O N ! ! !

What about applied research, though? Surely that is different?

Oh, yes! Discovery and interpretation – all designed to advance human knowledge. But, knowledge as the basis of the unreal – of fiction? The paradox again. There are no facts concerning what is not real.

Now here’s one! Artistic research… Debatable! Art as an alternative in the search for knowledge and truth? Dubious, surely… but we are still digressing from the paradox! There are no facts concerning what is not real.

The existential paradox suggests: “why should we bother to develop our individual knowledge-bases as an aid to writing fiction – developing untrue narratives for the purpose of entertainment, not the advancement of human knowledge – why?

Why bother with research? We can just make stuff up, surely!

A tricky place...

Case in point! A short time ago, I posted the opening chapter of my work in progress – the sequel to River of Judgement – in which I set the villain of the peace in a tricky situation in Libya. What do I know of Libya, or what an encounter with a criminal master-mind would be like? I know nothing. It’s fiction. I just made it up!

I created a social situation in a country that I have never visited, in a world (of crime) that I have never witnessed, about people that are wholly fictitious! If I was to gather facts – research, if you like – to develop the knowledge to write that scene on the basis of what I knew to be the case, I could end up in a pretty dicey situation myself. That is, assuming that such a reality actually existed somewhere, and didn’t mind being exposed in a real narrative. But then, that would not be fiction… 😉

I have missed a point here (deliberately so, in the hope that I could find enough to write about, lol)

The paradox of the unreal real is simply solved.

The answer lies in counterfactual analysis (big word #4). Assume the fiction is real, as we write about it. We research for facts that would support our fictional reality (if it was real). We research to support the narrative, not to provide it.

We want our readers to believe in the worlds we create. But the great thing is, these worlds we create don’t actually have to BE real. The world of our fictional narrative merely has to give the impression of a reality, long enough to engage our readers.

Fictional worlds, the places and characters that exist within them and the lives and actions we portray as fiction writers, form what can be described as socio-cultural contexts of systems of meaning, action, and/or beliefs.

These contexts of systems are basic to the world they describe. They are “plausibility structures”, and are a dialectic (given up counting big words now). Our fictional world should comprise a plausible structure, one that supports the fictional narrative. It does not replace it. And the fictional narrative, drawing on the plausible structure, in turn, suggests that structure is wholly real! The narrative acts to make the fictional world self-evident.

So research becomes a necessity if we do not have the knowledge to create and write about plausible structures.

And where does that leave the opening of my sequel set in Libya? Is my reality plausible? (Not factual.) Well, lucky me, this weekend I am about to set foot on Libyan soil for the first time in my life. I shall take full advantage of gaining experiences that will help me develop the structure of my fictional world – but I shall not worry a jot about the narrative! 🙂

CJ’s First Full Speaking Engagement

November 3, 2010
The flier posted around campus. Way cool.
Yes, I’m a nerd.

Or… otherwise known as “Can You Shut Her Up, Please?”

All kidding aside, I think I did pretty good. I worry I talk too much when answering a question. And yes, there are times I start in one direction (because I’m so sure the background to my answer is key) and I wind up forgetting what the eff someone asked me because I took too long to get to the answer.

The Jacksonville folks rolled out the red carpet for me and really made me feel like a superstar. I never had to lift a finger. Shelly Howard was really the driving force behind getting me there and it was a joy to speak with her and hear the enthusiasm pour from her.

Dr. Brannon dressed as Sookie and me
with my big cheesy grin

The day started with Dr.Brannon and I talking in her office, getting to know each other better. Or, as I like to think of it, someone in charge making sure I wasn’t a complete whack-job who might embarrass the school. She and I are near the same age and it was a joy to see a professor so excited about the topics she teaches. I only hope my own kids are as lucky to have teachers like her when they go to college.

Next, I went to the auditorium to meet with someone from the school paper. Only they weren’t there and decided it would be best to take notes on the question and answer session with the students and base the article on what we covered. Pretty smart way to kill two birds with one stone.

Lauren and Dr.Brannon

Lauren, as I later found out, will be writing the article. As soon as I get a link I’ll post it for you. Someone took pictures of me slouching up on the small carpeted stage while I was yaking, so be prepared, they are probably not flattering pictures. Every time the flash went off my only thought was “Crap, I think my mouth was open again.”

We had somewhere between 30 and 40 people show up — no one fell asleep and the yawns were more a result of the pizza served for lunch (I hope), so I think that means I kept everyone’s attention.

There were a gamut of questions asked, from “What is urban fantasy?” “How did you become a writer?” “How did you get published?” to “Why do you think female authors write about vampires?” There were many more, after all, it did last about 40-45 minutes, but it went by in a blur.

Hopefully Lauren was paying attention because I’m not sure what all my answers were. Think it was the adrenaline rush 😉

Shelly and I at the Halloween Festival.

Next, we went right to the Vampire Lit class and I wolfed down some french fires and diet coke as politely as possible while answering more questions in class. The students directed the way the class progressed and I think the professor would have been happier if we covered more scholarly on-topic questions, but overall, any participation was great.

Again, I don’t remember most of what I said. Funny how the mind works. I can’t be the only speaker who gets up and talks on the fly and can’t recall all the ins and outs afterwards, right? People laughed when I tried to joke and no one laughed at me, I’m sure I would have recognized such behavior from my youth, so I’m guessing it went well.

I went back to the hotel for a bit after the class, caught up on phone calls and emails and then BAM, I was back at school for the Halloween Festival. It was a small turnout according to the organizers, but I enjoyed it. I got to speak with lots of students one on one and really had a nice time.

Ryan working his plastic fangs to snag an apple!

They had lots of food, bobbing for apples (while wearing vamp fangs, which was a hoot), wiffle ball aka Twilight-inspired baseball (clever!), a pinata filled with candy and a costume contest.

I wasn’t sure how I’d go over at the school – some nobody newbie-writer coming in to speak, but the students were so warm and inviting I never felt awkward. Yes, I will probably talk to a wall if left to my own devices long enough, but no one blatantly walked away and snubbed me, so I’m calling it a success.

Hey, you have to realize I’m used to cold calling and selling myself for work in potentially  negative environments. This was a breeze in comparison.

Kids from one of the adult students
and Mandi to the right.

Oh – I almost forgot the best part – giving away my books! The first person who won, Mandi, was incredible. I think she unwittingly set the tone for everyone else. When her ticket number was called she jumped from her seat like a cattle prod zapped her and shouted “Oh my god, I won! I won!” and came running down the side isle.

Of course, I said the only witty thing that popped into my mind “Come on down! You’re the next contestant on The Price is Right!” Her reaction made the whole thing worth while.  I felt worthy. I felt like my book was a real prize and she was beyond happy to receive it. The other winners were all gracious and every one of them wanted me to sign their copy.

Shelly and the losing pinata.

Some enterprising young men opted for me not to personalize it and I joked it may be worth something in ten years and they could sell it on ebay (or give it as a gift). A few students stayed and talked with me after the speaking part in the auditorium and I was told if anyone wants to talk with you rather than running for the door then you did a good job.

We gave away more copies at the festival later and again, Mandi won another prize (not my book this time). I think her good karma came back to her that day – she gave me a gift with her positive energy and was a winner again only hours later.

Alissa and Leann? Forgot a lot of
names, someone help me out.

I went back to my hotel wrung out and tired. It was a fabulous day and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I’m still shocked at how fast it all went by. I soaked in the tub and talked to hubby for a bit before winding down enough by 11 to get to sleep. Incredible how the rush keeps you going even when you’re more than ready for bed.

The next day Shelly picked me up and drove me to the airport. We chatted some more about writing and she shared something with me: after our brainstorming at the restaurant on the night of my arrival, she had so many ideas churning she sat down and started to write. How exciting!

I’m really enjoying this new career. Being able to reach out and encourage others is an aspect I never expected when I started writing last year. I’m still awkward when it comes to accepting praise or being told I inspire someone, but be patient with me. I still don’t think what I’ve done is extraordinary and I still think everyone can write if they want to.

Thought this one was funny, had to share.

It takes drive and dedication to improve your craft. And a thick skin to realize not everyone will like your work. No worries. I’m proof enough that if you write it, they will enjoy it.

Someone out there will, I guarantee it. The odds are with ya 😉

Wishing you all a great week,

~C.J.