Tag Archives: Ray Bradbury

Giveaway: Before Leonora Wakes

The very cool Gef Fox recently reviewed Before Leonora Wakes (the first Division Mytho’s book) comparing it to Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. Thanks Gef!

We’re giving away five digital copies on Gef’s website now! You need to enter by next Wednesday (Sept. 12th) at midnight. If you’ve already read and enjoyed Before Leonora Wakes please spread the word about the giveaway! Thanks!

Tuesday’s Training: Mindset and Personality Traits

Benjamin Barber, an eminent sociologist, once said, “I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures… I divide the world into the learners and nonlearners.”

 

Does everybody have the personality traits or mindset to be a professional writer? I doubt it. For some I bet it will never be more than a hobby, a release, a form of self-medication. And there’ s nothing wrong with that. From studying professional writers, athletes, musicians, etc., I think that to work as a professional yourself you need the traits and mindset the professionals possess. Talent and creativity are NOT enough to enable you to stand among your heroes.

Are you determined enough? Determination goes hand in hand with focus, one being long term, the other short. Without focus and the desire to learn/improve, determination is more detrimental than beneficial though. Sometimes it takes a lot of failure to achieve success.  Sometimes we have no idea how much determination it takes until we look back nearly a decade and see nothing behind us but a mountain of rejection slips, and find that we’re just now holding that first paying acceptance. Determination is part faith, part ego, part fortitude, part training. You can learn to grow tough skin, learn to take constructive criticism and reject negative. How do you stay determined in those early years? If you’ve already got five, six, seven or more years with very little ‘success,’ what helps you keep going when the evidence (lack of sales) will make you question yourself and craft?

 

Are you humble enough/your ego in check? Nobody likes working with an asshole. Even worse is a drama queen. Deep down we all want to (or do) believe we’re special since our world view and our lives are supposed to be unique. But to be honest, mostly we’re not special, mostly our lives mirror the lives of those we’re attracted to and call friends.  Sometimes thinking we’re ‘special’ and have a story only we can tell helps us stay determined. The world is full of talented jackasses. If we step back and see how little we truly know (not just about writing, but about everything) the easier it is to get a more realistic perspective on where we stand. Yeah, we have something to contribute (hopefully), something moving, or entertaining, yet reader response is pretty much the only yardstick by with which we can measure our creations. Simply being aware of our roots, our place in the big scheme, etc., can we keep our egos in check? Hell, everybody wants acceptance and validation, but those who only want that might as well get the fudge out and find some other means of expression.

 

Are you reliable enough? It takes a certain mindset to stay steady in output, in meeting deadlines while juggling tons of other projects, in upholding your side of the contract, in answering fan email, etc. Like a lot of things, organization, focus, and a plan help, but without actually being consistently reliable (producing your best work, on time) organizational skills and short-term focus aren’t enough. It takes stamina to build momentum in a writing career (or as a musician or athlete). It takes dedication and editors learn to weed-out the non-dedicated quickly.

 

Are you honest enough? You have to be honest with yourself  in your emotions, your world view, your family view, relationships you’ve had, your mistakes, your treasures, what enthralls you and what disturbs you. And that’s just the first step! Then you have to portray that honesty through your characters in an effective manner that proves convincing and lasting. Honesty can’t be faked. I think it’s either something that you have or don’t have. If you’re prone to exaggerate or outright lie, the only thing you can do is be mindful of when and why and learn to nip it in the bud, even if it causes you internal struggle. Everyone wins when they’re honest.

 

Are you appreciative of others? Though we compose in solitude and study our craft with the door closed on everybody except the voices in our heads, people are the whole point behind writing. People help us, teach us, support us, humble us, inspire us, treat us, encourage us. We wouldn’t get anywhere with out at least a handful of close, like-minded, professionally driven amigos. If we never thank anybody it shows what really matters to us.

 

Are you curious enough? It takes an endless well of curiosity to supply the ink to our proverbial pen. Discovering, unearthing, learning, teaching (and in teaching, discovering more), always remaining mystified by life’s intricate web, enriches our work and our lives. Those who aren’t curious are obvious. Their stories are usually a rehashing of the same thing over and over and over. But the curious ones–like Bradbury, King, Gaiman–search out mysteries. Some people on the other hand just aren’t curious about much. Maybe they never will be because questioning things or confronting issues that piss them off or make them hurt, scares them. The world isn’t bland, our normal, lazy, conditioned perceptions are bland.

 

Are you comfortable with isolation? I love daydreaming, having brainstorming sessions on an upcoming project, being alone to read, going hiking by myself, the half hour or so I write every day in spurts of manic, blazing output. I don’t know how it is with the majority, but most of the pros advise getting in the chair, closing the door to distractions, and writing. You can’t do that while socializing. And writing novels takes a lot of focus, faith, confidence, intuition, and acquired skills. You may find that you have to spend hours upon hours alone to come up with one simple truth that has existed since the beginning of time but you simply overlooked because you were too busy in constant contact. Get used to isolation. And when not writing, go live so you have more to bring back to the drawing board.

 

Are you independent? Look up co-dependency, see how co-dependent you are in just your little writing circles, then reassess. You have to work toward a certain level of competency on your own.

 

Are you self-motivated? Nearly everybody who writes probably fantasizes about doing it for a living. I work part time still for my brother-in-law, mostly to stay in shape and keep myself from boredom since some of the best story sections take place while doing what has become a mindless task. When you don’t have a boss over your shoulder, when all you have is time, you might waste a lot of it. The dream bubble pops, you get bored. You procrastinate because, well, hell, you have all the time in the world! But you don’t. Because you’re pissing it away taking all that time thinking about what you could be doing (an old habit for a lot of people) instead of actually doing it. Find ways to self-motivate. Different things probably work for different people.

 

Is obsession part of your personality? It takes an almost unhealthy dose of obsession to reach a professional level. Mediocre writers are a dime a dozen. There are all kinds of things writers can obsess about, not all of them good. What’s bad to obsess about? How about what everybody is going to say before you’ve even finished the first chapter? How about how huge or small your first advance will be? How about paranoia and thinking that other writers, or agents, or editors will steal your ideas? Not a healthy kind of obsession. When I’m talking about obsession, I’m talking about an uncontrollable wonder of humanity, the world, the process of creation, the precision of well-placed words, how stories move us in ways very little else can. I’m talking about touching magic. I don’t think it’s something that can be taught or acquired. I think it’s a very deep (or not) place in our psyches.

 

Do you have a professional mindset? Do you want to do the best job you can do, be on time, give your customers what they pay for, handle your business effectively and efficiently, learn new ways to improve, think outside the box and forge new ground? Do you want to take each aspect of your writing career seriously, or only the writing itself and merely dabble in anything outside the creative side of it? Are you willing to study, implement and reassess? Can you balance the artistic and business sides of your career, or do you even want to?

 

Are you patient enough? Patience isn’t easy. Patience itself takes work that can already wear down what reserves of energy you have that day, week, month or year. But it’s necessary because there are no overnight successes and you’re unrealistic if you think you will be one. Better to accept that things will take time. A lot of time. A lot of work. A lot of learning. Then more patience.

 

Are you expressive enough?  Every word and action sends a message. Take a hard look at every scene in your WIP. What message are your words and actions sending? It goes back to all of us being conditioned about how unique we are, then a lot of people churn out the same boring crap. Tap deeply into your emotions (and god, more than one of them over the course of a novel, please). I’m an intense person by nature, always have been, and it comes across in my work. And people that I know who are passive by nature tend to write passively, their characters skirting conflict constantly and the story going nowhere because they have passion but feel they’ll be punished for expressing it. If you’re passive, learn to be a little more forward and say exactly what you mean. Story is conflict.

 

Are you attentive to details? The right details, the right word choices, the right execution are all very personal. But editors and agents can see a big difference between an amateur and semi-professional by their attention to detail alone. Stephen King gives a great example of it in On Writing. Many other pros do as well. Details matter, but the right details. How do you learn that? I’ll always swear by hand-copying favorite books. It’s the best way that works for me to internalize how, why, when the masters do what, and to what extent.

 

Are you for change? A closed mindset in any profession hurts more than helps. Times change, people change, tastes change, perspective changes for you, for me, for our characters, from beginning to end. Cycles, patterns, order and chaos. It’s all part of the sweet and endless mystery. Be open to change. Be water. Be a learner. Nerds rule the world.

And if you missed the awesome news… My Division Mytho’s website, that has tons of awesome details about this massive storyline I’m building (over a million words), is now LIVE! I’m so excited. A huge thanks to Peter Schwotzer for designing it! And a big thanks to everybody who checks it out and shares!

Tuesday’s Training: Favorite Writing Books

Crunched on time so this is going to be a quick post. I’ve read a ton of books to learn the craft but only a handful of them were worth the time or money. Here are my list of the best of the best.

 

Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook

Tom Piccirilli’s Welcome to Hell

James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure

John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on the Craft for Young Writers

Rachel Ballon’s Breathing Life into Your Characters

Stephen King’s On Writing

Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing 

 

 

Tuesday’s Training: Your muse

Our creativity comes from what has touched, scared and stimulated us before this present moment as well as through thinking on what has never been, what could have been, and what might yet be.

We form narrative from light and shadow, wisps of smoke, whispered prayers, all in hopes that the finished product will connect with and move someone else (hopefully a lot of someones.)

Our muse, our inspirations, come from a number of places and take various processes from quick absorption, a streak of lightning, or the slower, gestating movement that rattles us to our core and takes our breath away. Sometimes the lightning strike produces the gestation, but no matter what inspires us a key aspect of a healthy writing career is to STAY inspired.

I’ve heard tons of people talk about writer’s block. Don’t have a clue how to get through it because I’ve never had it, but I think one of the reasons I haven’t is because of variety, multiple points of inspiration, and a pretty simple approach to life (kinda black and white actually, which isn’t always good but isn’t always bad either because it keeps me focused.)

So, let’s look at the various parts that feed and sustain our muse, our energy, and make our time more effective both before and after creating something new, and hopefully makes what we put ourselves through worthwhile…

Knowledge:

It’s easy to stay inspired when you have knowledge that you’re passionate about, whether it be some aspect of the writing craft, or some aspect of what it means to be human, or the importance of stories, or a deep and abiding knowledge of human emotions. Some of it we pluck consciously from every day life, some floats up like gold-encrusted debris from our subconscious, from lessons learned that can only be learned via hindsight.

But how we come by inspiration isn’t as important as acquiring the seeds that produce more of it.

Inspiration:

That spark of an idea that stirs something in us is always exciting. But we also get inspiration from other places and probably should. Those who wait for inspiration to strike them are happy when it does and tortured when it doesn’t. Who wants to live and create like that? We can make our own inspiration a lot of times by reading books that level us, by reading those that have before, by participating in other creative endeavors (which also bleed over into our writing in a cross-pollination sort of way!), by listening to the wind, watching the stars, letting our minds wander and by remembering what it was like to be a kid without our parents around, when the world held possibilities and not an endless, bone-crushing grind. I find inspiration in all of those things, a little every day, plus in studying beautiful and striking artwork, in playing guitar, in talking to a best friend, in listening to (and sometimes mishearing) a family member. Don’t always wait for inspiration. Breathe life until you’re about to burst so that there is always material creating itself in your subconscious.

Trust:

Trust in our heart-of-hearts that what we write about matters to us and means something is incredibly important. If we don’t trust our process then it’s already standing on shaky ground. It’s easier to be inspired and find inspiration when we know deep in our gut that we’re going to find something worth saying, with characters that bleed and bond together, with dialogue that crackles, with obstacles that push our characters to their limits, and in turn, the reader.

What I’ve done to build trust in my process is to accept that nothing I ever write will be perfect, not to me, not to anybody. It takes some of the pressure off, lets me say, “Hey, I’ll just do my best and that’s all that’s required.” Then I go do my best and more often than not I’m mostly satisfied with the results.

Imagination:

Your muse will probably kick you in the nuts or vagina if you never let your imagination run wild and naked through the forest or bound recklessly down slick city streets. Imagination is paramount. It’s as important as the execution of a tale. It’s details, the way they’re told, the massive scope of the project, and it carries the weight of stars and land and sea. All of the greats had bucket loads of it pressing at the walls of their brains. They dipped their pen in that gushy mass of nerves and created what wasn’t there before.

When I read slush for Horror Library Vol. 4, back before I’d ever sold a story, one of the things that struck me about most of the rejected pieces was a lack of imagination. You know why? Because the majority of them would tell the same stale tale and how do you get excited about that?

We’re all given and nurture (or not) a certain volume of imagination. Those gifted with a lot must be wary that it doesn’t override the story because its easy for the very imaginative to let that fire burn away the story and diminish it. We learn through experience when we have too little or too much. Those who lack imagination are in a similar predicament, but theirs is that their work can come out too bland, bound by the constraints of what their logical, rational minds allow. We have to let go of our place in the world if we’re to let our imaginations grow. I think part of what holds us back is conditioning by parents and preachers and school systems. When we chase security it flees from us because it doesn’t exist. It’s a mirage.

There are many writers but only a handful who have truly inspired me, muses many times in their own way down dark passages and those open, lovely times that are crowded by bliss: William Faulkner, Tom Piccirilli, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Mr. Poe, Jack Cady, Greg Gifune, Robert Dunbar, Sara Gruen, Dennis Lehane, John Connolly, Peter Straub, Douglas Clegg, Clive Barker, Cormac McCarthy, John Gardner, Gary Braunbeck, Jack Ketchum, Brian Hodge, Lee Thomas, and Neil Gaiman. I’m going to dedicate my serial novel THE COLLECTED SONGS OF SONNELION to them because they are all in this, hidden between pages and crowding sentences with their undeniable mark.

So, go find those seeds that you can toss to the wind. Be patient while you work and every now and then as you toil away in your closed little world, eyes straining and heart aching, you’ll peek over your shoulder and see those seeds have taken root. What will grow? God only knows. But that’s part of the fun.

New interview with me on Darkfuse

Just received word the interview with me went live on Darkfuse. It was a lot of fun. Here’s a snippet:

What was your inspiration for writing DOWN HERE IN THE DARK?

Well, it’s a small part of a large story, and I knew that Frank Gunn was as close as you can get to shattered by the end of IRON BUTTERFLIES RUST, so I explored that and the trip, the adventure really, as scary as it can be at times, that brings him to the crazy little town of Division. I see things very clearly when it comes to my character and how his story ties into others, the big picture and the small beats, which made it easy to write about him in this book. I enjoy subtext too and there is a lot of that, and a lot of links to other Division books, and I like the forward propulsion of the narrative, the searching Frank does inside himself and trying to relate to all the odd things going on around him, which really is out of his reach like it is anybody’s.

What themes do you enjoy exploring?

Oh, a lot of themes. Lol. Recurring ones are about betrayal and how we deal with it; the necessity of returning violence when somebody will be nothing but violent to you or those you love; growing up on the inside instead of faking it simply for the sake of others; how weak and strong and reliable and unreliable we can all be, how human that makes us; that if anything in the world is a monster, it’s man; if anything in the world is a hero, it’s man; connections that may not appear to be connections at first until we dig deeper and figure out people’s motives; how frail love makes us, and how incredibly driven; how hate doesn’t eat us alive, our allowing it to rule over us for an extended period of time does, because hate is as necessary as love; how there’s magic in childhood and adults train it out of us; how desperate some people are to find an identity and others will sacrifice everything just to fit in, which I and most of my characters feel is very, very sad; I like to explore the results of tragedy, and show how different people cope or accept it; I deal in self-loathing because I’ve done it most of my life, and the work it takes to break those negative thought processes; bad habits and good habits, regrets and pride, extremes and everywhere between; the mystery of life and our fear of death; our egotism one moment and self-doubt the next; most of my characters feel like Holden Caulfield, that they’re surrounded by phonies, that they themselves might be phonies, and it whittles at their souls because if nothing is true or fair or genuine then what’s the fucking point when you don’t want to play the game to begin with?

Read the rest of the interview here: Lee’s Darkfuse interview…

Please spread the word for me too! Thanks!

A Hell of a Gift…

With every ending and new beginning, I feel weaker yet truer to my work and myself. I think the more honesty we drive into our books, the more we come to point where the stories are full of real life and even the fantastic constructs, upon closer inspection, reveal metaphors. I’m dwelling a lot lately on Pivotal Moments because that last novella I wrote is full of them; they’re in every scene, they’re the exposed muscles behind the mask, the scream or heartbreaking whimper in the night, the constant ache that never ends.

If I died right now I’d leave behind only a smidgen of what plays through my heart, and makes racket in my brain, and truths large and small that blossom in my spirit. I see my characters and in them see myself and it doesn’t make me very proud. I am conflicted. If I could only love more purely, move more efficiently, learn more quickly, give more freely. But that’s our lot, isn’t it? To struggle; to fight ourselves; to find a way to overcome our selfishness and self-centeredness. Or we chose not to. Or we’re not aware.

Pivotal moments. Endings. Beginnings. And all the space between, when our choices aren’t the best ones, when we give too much and let go too easily. When do we ever learn balance? I’d like some of that. I think baggage gets in our way; our perceptions skewer worthwhile moments and leave us wanting more when we should be grateful, even elated. Society teaches us to run, run, fucking run, dive in the spotlight and keep pace, justify your actions to yourself and you can justify them to others. And I have such a problem with all that. I feel like an alien that I don’t care about being in the spotlight, that I don’t care about goddamn networking, that I don’t take my writing seriously (I do take the stories seriously). I don’t even feel like a writer yet. I feel inadequate and stupid far too often for that. I want to learn more though, and I do, because some really great people give me feedback and I read a lot. But I’m not anything special and I never will be and I’m okay with that (most of the time).

There’s a little boy that occupies a tree fort in my heart and he swings from the branches and watches the world go by and so many people rushing around, growing grayer and sadder by the second, and he hurts for them because he doesn’t think they’re enjoying themselves, much less living. And he looks at the man I’ve become and sometimes he tells me point blank, I don’t like you right now. You sometimes forget what matters.

Ray Bradbury said, “Find your bliss.” Where is my bliss? I ache when I draw to the end of a story and I burn with fever upon starting a new one. But nothing lasts. Nothing lasts. So we have to make the most of the time we have, right? And this life is so short and we only get one chance at it.

You know how we can make it better? I know two things.

Kindness. Go be kind to someone. That’s living and sharing life.

Listen to someone.

Shut up for five minutes and let someone else talk and be heard.

You’re probably surrounded by people who don’t think anyone can hear them, or that anyone even wants to.

I feel that way sometimes. Like I don’t have anyone to listen to me. It sucks.

Do someone that kindness at least. It’ll make them smile and tear away their cloak of invisibility. And that’s a hell of a gift.