First of all, I want to say I adored Uncle Lauran. I just had no idea… Today, someone asked a question on social media about using multiple pen names…Ode to an Uncle I Didn’t Appreciate as Much as I Should Have Before Becoming a Writer
Monthly Archives: April 2023
Ode to an Uncle I Didn’t Appreciate as Much as I Should Have Before Becoming a Writer
First of all, I want to say I adored Uncle Lauran. I just had no idea…
Today, someone asked a question on social media about using multiple pen names, whether they should employ a different one for different genres they market their books in. My first reaction was; a name is the most important aspect of a writer and should sell the author selling the books no matter the genre. It’s hard to imagine using multiple pen names and struggling to brand each one for each genre. I have a hard enough time branding my one pen name. Of course, I’m self-published in the modern world. Back in my uncle’s day… sigh… oh to be a writer when people frequented libraries…
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it’s not a new question. Writers have used multiple pen names to flavor their stories and focus readers on the genre for ages.
Then, I had a “slap my forehead” moment when I realized one of the most amazing and prolific writers of the twentieth century who’d mastered this concept was my very own uncle, Lauran Paine, a man who like so many of us struggled to get published, found his niche and launched a career that resulted in over 1000 books! Yes that’s 3 zeros folks!
Here’s what People Magazine said about Uncle Lauran:
Uncle Lauran was in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most prolific living author for many years. That was the first thing I asked to look at when I went for a visit. I loved the Guinness books’ fun facts already, and to have an uncle’s accomplishments listed in a book that chronicled the tallest man ever, the shortest woman, and the largest living cat… well that was the best! I had no clue what it meant to have so many of your own books on the shelf. They covered a wall!
And the point of my musings today, he used over 70 pseudonyms! Both male and female, depending on the market.
I’m not sure why I haven’t given Uncle Lauran’s writing more thought since I’ve become a writer. My Dad inserts a story about him every time I talk about my writing (which makes for a lot of stories… hmmm…) and I love hearing them. But only today did it occur to me how amazing he was in his chosen profession, and I started remembering how he shared his experiences. I loved hearing them then. Today, as a writer, those conversations take on a whole new meaning.
Memories are funny things. I’m sure you’ve experienced that moment when one thought opens a floodgate. Uncle Lauran married my Aunt Mona in 1982. She was his favorite research librarian at the Siskiyou County Library. It was a late romance made in heaven. All the memories ran through my head today like a film reel. The holidays at the cozy A-Frame in the mountains. Uncle Lauran scaring off a huge bear who came to visit at the back porch one Thanksgiving. And his office full of his own books in the stone-lined basement built into the hill under the house.
So, I had to share. Because now that I’m a writer, and taking another look at his body of work, I’m floored. I would love the opportunity to go back in time and learn more about how he did it. He was a rock star! I appreciate so much better now what he accomplished by sitting down and writing every day with a set schedule.
Books were his bread and butter. He wrote full time from 1948 (though he started writing in 1934) until right before he died in 2001. He always talked about having a formula. If you master the formula, you can write anything on a steady basis. Mr. Friedman of People Magazine captured the formula best in Uncle Lauran’s interview.
Keep in mind, he was a true cowboy from a much earlier time…
Uncle Lauran really said that about the formula! He said it to me numerous times to convince me I could write. I guess I did have asperations back in those days. Hmmm.
U.K. Writer Ben Bridges does a beautiful job of highlighting Uncle Lauran’s career. You can find his article here. I love what he has to say about the pen names:
Mr. Bridges, also published by Robert Hale, has an impressive body of work himself under his own variety of pen names. I discovered another author I need to study and read!
My favorite part of Uncle Lauran’s story was how long it took him to find his niche, which didn’t happen until he got advice from his publisher to write what he knows. He was a cowboy, a stuntman, he owned cattle. He said he had the scars to prove it. He wrote what he knew and he gave his readers tons of it. He used to tell us some of his Hollywood stories about the times he hung out on the lot of the Lone Ranger. He was friends with Jay Silverheels, who was the legendary Tonto. That’s just a sample.
Two movies were made from Uncle Lauran’s stories, 1957’s The Quiet Gun inspired by Lawman, and 2003’s Open Range based on The Open Range Men, produced by Kevin Costner and starring Kevin Costner, Robert Duval, Annette Benning, Michael Gambon, and Michael Jeter. It’s an amazing movie, and does justice to the original story. My Aunt managed Uncle Lauran’s works after his passing in conjunction with Lauran Paine, Jr., and worked very hard with Mr. Costner to transform her husband’s story to the big screen. She got to attend the premier.
Uncle Lauran didn’t just crank out serial fiction. He created an impressive wide-ranging body of nonfiction. He brought this book to my Dad’s one visit, and I stayed up all night reading it. It’s fun to find these out of print books for sale from interesting booksellers. This one is listed by Common Crow Used & Rare Books.
Though I didn’t get to thank Uncle Lauran for planting those seeds to tell a story back when I was in my twenties, I hope he enjoyed my fascination with all that he was and accomplished, nevertheless.
As Promised Right Here on My Sunday Spotlight! Writing Battle has Launched its New Website!
There’s still time to sign up for the Spring Micro Fiction Challenge! Click on the image below and see what all the excitement is about!
My Pod People Won’t Let me Retire!
Retire I said. Write full time, I said. Get up when I want. Eat when I want. Listen to books when I want. Go out with friends when I want. Eerrk! …My Pod People Won’t Let me Retire!
My Pod People Won’t Let me Retire!
Retire I said. Write full time, I said. Get up when I want. Eat when I want. Listen to books when I want. Go out with friends when I want. Eerrk! Wait, back up. Write full time? That’s work, right?
Did I really think my pod people (aka book characters seeded in my brain by aliens) would let me retire? Get up when I wanted, go out with friends when I wanted. eat when I wanted? Okay, so that stuff is actually happening, but yikes! I am really writing full time!
Like get up, stay in my jammies, bring a cup of coffee to my office, and start writing, until I want to stop kind of full time writing. Oh Yeah!
It was a great month to retire from the old day job because it’s Camp NanoWrimo! I passed my goal yesterday and I’m closing in on a finish to a story I have been dying to write since Book Two in my series, The Starlight Chronicles (slipping in an announcement here – my series relaunch is happening in May!!), because there’s a vampire, one of those secondary pod people you fall in love with from his very first introduction. And he only gets better all the way through to his cliffhanger ending (coming in Book Three!!).
So what better Camp project is there than giving Mortas his own short story. And events unfold that include another great secondary pod person, Ember, the witch. But pod people beget more pod people when writing fiction. And that’s what’s happening in this story. New compelling pod people!
I’m trying to keep it short, which means its 15,000 if I want to submit it to an Indie Press anthology. But it’s pushing the boundaries really tight. So, we’ll see.
Let me know what you think of the story description that follows my beautiful teaser. I would love any help with using it for my submission.
No one remembers how Mortas came into existence, least of all him. Due to his vast age, he can command magic, and his vampire urges. His other inexplicable ability? He can exist in daylight. These skills mean Lord Aramis, the ruler of the North American Vampires, often assigns his favorite emissary to missions involving humans.
But Mortas has not always been at the pinnacle of vampire perfection. He’s done a lot of things in his thousands of years he would rather forget.
When he meets a witch in San Francisco in 1969, he wonders for the first time if it’s possible to live life without being plagued by dreams of regret. But Ember has another calling and leaves their bed one afternoon, never to return.
When you’re immortal, you move on.
An assignment leads Mortas to Selena Aires. He’s captivated by the beautiful, marked maiden with a prophetic destiny. Turns out she needs his help. But Mortas’s help is never free. When she pays the price without question and joins him on a dangerous mission, his fascination turns into purpose. A purpose that sends him into the worst predicament of his life.
Ember grew up in Fisherman’s Wharf, part of a coven who told fortunes for sailors as cover to more lucrative work, like picking their pockets. When two of her marks got the better of her at fourteen, she got rescued by a bear. To this day, she would do anything for that bear shifter because Andras Johns is one of the best men she knows. When he calls on her to help a vampire in trouble, she doesn’t hesitate to answer.
Until she finds out the vampire is Mortas.
Sunday Spotlight with Canadian Author of Thrilling Space Opera Tales, Nicolas Lemieux!
Nicolas and I connected on Twitter. I blogged about that awesome aspect of the sometimes risky social platform because I can now attest that it is …Sunday Spotlight with Canadian Author of Thrilling Space Opera Tales, Nicolas Lemieux!
Come Meet One of the Nicest Writers Out There!
So Many Fabulous Guests In 2023.
April posts are up! Coming Next!
January, February, March Were Amazing Too!
See also my Gallery of Guests 2022
Sunday Spotlight with Canadian Author of Thrilling Space Opera Tales, Nicolas Lemieux!
Nicolas and I connected on Twitter. I blogged about that awesome aspect of the sometimes risky social platform because I can now attest that it is possible to meet supportive, like-minded people who end up becoming a writing buddy and friend. Nicolas was one of those happy surprises.
An email dialog ensued lasting many weeks, and today I am sharing that conversation as it occurred, almost in its entirety, which was Nicolas’s creative idea. He is sharing the same on his blog from his perspective. You’ll note, and hopefully be entertained while picking up some great tips, my style of rambling (pardon the long parts!) versus Nicolas’s in-depth style where he provides tons of helpful resources (which I hyperlinked for your reference).
To get us started, here is an introduction to our conversation from Nicolas:
Author D. L. Lewellyn and I connected over social media, chatting and digging into the writing life, and sharing our respective creative journeys.
Our ongoing conversation covered many topics, like self-perception, writer’s block, plotting vs pantsing, the importance of finishing projects, and building an audience… We discussed our writing processes and shared intel about our respective stories. We pondered where to focus our fledgeling marketing efforts, how to find good beta readers; or work with developmental editors. We shared many writing and marketing resources that we’ve encountered along the way. We talked about the courage to start before you’re ready. We reflected on writing speed, routine, life balance, remote working…
There was initial talk of exchanging blog interviews, but ultimately, we chose to share our take-aways in a more conversational, free-form manner… almost as it took place over our extensive, in-depth series of emails. Then we agreed on publishing our two versions of the conversation simultaneously on our respective blogs.
The result is what follows. Please enjoy! ~ Nicolas
It all started with Twitter… and grew, and grew…
I wanted to let you know I really enjoyed “Cradle” and so did my husband. I read it out loud to him. How are your books coming? I look forward to your newsletter. Would you like to schedule a blog interview with me? I have a spot open in April.
Thanks so much Darci! I’m happy you and your husband liked Cradle. People reading my little story out loud to each other… that really makes my day!
I would be happy to do a blog interview in April. I’ve done a few of them, and each time is both a challenge and an occasion to dig deeper into some very interesting questions and topics.
Did I mention I loved your story about the Oscarsons? It brought up fond memories! I had an Oscar fish once; it sure was a hungry fellow! Kept watching me as soon as I entered the room, trying to catch my attention, eager to jump out of the tank for a pinch of raw meat. Fell to the floor once, poor thing. But the mishap didn’t calm Oscar down, no! It only made him hungrier.
If you’re of a mind to dig down into the depths of your writer’s psyche to answer a few questions, I’ll be thrilled to interview you on my blog as well.
It would be amazing to exchange interviews! I just hope I can meet the challenge of digging deep for your questions. 🙂
I’m trying to get back to the joy of writing novels this year. I’ve gotten sort of caught up in submitting short stories (got a few too many challenges lined up the next two months, in fact), while the big guys are sitting on the back burner. I made a momentous decision last fall to unpublish my two novels that are two parts of a three part series. They were languishing with slow sales, and I kept modifying them to fit how my third book keeps developing, so I decided to quit trying to sell them and work on finishing the series, maybe even do a repackaging with new cover art and then a big marketing campaign. It’s been tough not having them available any longer on Amazon, but freeing in a lot of ways. Still, I must finish them this year, so the pressure is on. I’m actually nearly done with the third book, just stuck a little and need to get unstuck. (Thanks for letting me ramble about that :)).
And thanks so much for the comments on the Oscarsons! The story didn’t make it through the contest like I hoped, but I was sure someone would relate to my fish couple if they knew anything about Oscars. I used to raise them, so I know exactly what you enjoy about them. They would eat out of my hands. But they would get so big, I had to exchange them at the store over time and start again with small ones. I’m glad your little dude survived his mishap 🙂 They are hardy fish!
Your remarks gave me hints for more questions. Mind if I ask you about how you deal with things like writer’s block, doubt, and not feeling like working on certain projects or aspects of projects, or specific stories? I think all writers face that, and I always love to read another writer’s view on it…
It’s funny you should ask that. I found out through social media posts from the winners of a contest that I wasn’t one of them. It would have been nicer to learn this officially, but it was a brand new contest, so I get it. Still. Gut punch. So, my husband got an earful, and I felt better. That’s probably not the best way to deal with rejection, especially for him. LOL. He definitely has been on this roller coaster ride with me since I started writing fiction two and a half years ago.
But hashing it out and sharing the winning stories with him helped. He suffered through good and bad (in my opinion) stories that way. I try to take an honest look, compare styles, and see where I might improve. My husband is a big help with that because he holds up the mirror, makes me look hard into it, and asks pointed questions I might not ask myself. One of the winning stories really moved me, and hubby liked it, too, so he asked me the hard question, which one did you like better, his or yours? I had to admit the winner’s story was more visceral than mine; it put us right in the scenes, sight, smell, touch, so we could sense and experience the story as well as travel through it. Compelling characters (good or bad) that I cared about. That’s what I strive for.
So, my world got put back in alignment, and I take comfort in the idea that what I think of as good writing is wildly different from what so many others think, and I have to remember it is all subjective. It’s the same for movies and television. There is so much garbage that makes it to top rated shows that I just don’t get . Now, give me a show like Wednesday [Addams], and I’m sold!
I’m nearly to the point of accepting that’s just the way it’s going to be, and I am determined to press on to find my niche audience. (Just hate those surprise gut punches – sometimes I think I need to give up contests – but they do help me to grow as a writer, and a person, for that matter).
All that said (I rambled once again), it hopefully gives you an idea of how I deal with the challenges; react, rant, rail at the world, then get over the emotional dump to the system and learn from it. Regarding writer’s block specifically, I seem to suffer it when I am at the end of the story. I’m a pantser who loves to sit at the keyboard with a single idea and let the story tell itself, and the characters emerge. Then, I might stop in the middle and hash out an outline and purpose for the tale. I can write hundreds of words that way. But when it comes to the end, I think I start doubting that my plot makes sense and questioning everything, which brings me to a screeching halt. Probably, because I don’t have a clear enough plan. So, I’ve collected a few how-to videos I need to watch, then I need to work on planning my stories better with a clearer road map. I would love to know what you do with outlines, story beats and scenes. How much pre-work do you do with your stories?
So, while I finished nearly 800 pages in my series, and published them, then unpublished them, it wasn’t a finish because the conclusion is still waiting and stuck in book three. It’s becoming a big problem. I have three other novels started, with an average 50,000 words each, and they are all waiting for a finish. What I do to work on this is just keep writing, even if it is only going over finished portions again because as I rework those portions, more ideas for my ending take hold. Still, when I get one complete finish under my belt, I will know I have finally succeeded as a writer. Selling them is a whole other set of worries. I guess that is why I love doing the short stories and competitions, because they get finished!
One last thought, I think you are doing it right in that you are building an audience, giving them a glimpse of what is to come with your short story, so when you are ready to launch, you will have a built-in market. That is one reason I am toying with starting a newsletter. It is a good model. Plus, I think I mentioned it on Twitter, but your tagline/description under your signature is very catchy.
Social media is too hard and like beating my head against a wall. Any thoughts about marketing?
So many topics; keep rambling, I love it!
As for deep digging, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I have a hunch the depths reveal themselves on their own terms, and it happens most times when we’re not trying too hard, just allowing things to flow naturally–as seems to come easily to you.
Which brings up a new question. About allowing the writing to flow naturally and abundantly… Do you consider it part of your natural talent, or do you need to culture it, and nurture it? Do you consider yourself a fast writer, or a slow one? Is it better to draft as fast as possible without looking back, or to take our time, edit a little and smell the roses, letting the ideas bubble up and allow the story to come to life… but risk taking too much time?
A few years ago, I had a good routine going on, of doing morning pages each and every day (as proposed by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way: three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing without pause, no matter what comes out, first thing every day). Besides helping me catching a ton of fleeting ideas, and helping me plan ahead a bit, and find new avenues for my stories and my life in general, and allowing me to vent out many a frustration and bad feeling… the morning pages seemed to give me a kind of flow, an easiness of letting the words come out without overthinking them.
Lately, I’ve been struggling to go back to that kind of routine, and my writing has maybe become slower. But it has also improved, I hope, as I move forward with my main writing project, and as I work with my developmental editor, and rewrite, and re-think, and basically scratch my head raw and try again and again. I lose my sleep over it all the time, but I remind myself to trust the process, and that I will get there, eventually.
Also, I find it kind of helpful to remember to focus on the process itself, rather than the end result. But it’s hard to do.
My process so far :
- Outline, whatever comes out, with what little I know about writing (next to nothing when I started). View it as draft-zero.
- Write a shitty first draft for my eyes only. Shitty is the key word here, the attitude to adopt. Or nothing comes out. Also, trying not to edit too much, if at all. (This is theoretical, and I was never able to do that, by the way, so I end up compromising, but still going forward.) Viewing it as a practice round helps too (for real), and reminding myself that no one else but me is ever going to read those shitty words. Since this draft is only “a test”.
- Realize that even with a lot of planning and outlining, there is still a lot of seat-of-the-pants improvisation involved. Discovery writing helps me reach for new notions and solutions. Because there’s no end to what I didn’t think of, or forgot, or to new, better ideas that just keep popping up all the time.
- Keep reading and learning. A lot: books on writing, blogs, podcasts…
- Re-structure. Re-outline.
- Re-draft. It’s still a practice round, or at least, I try to trick my mind into believing it is, and make it feel like this is still only a test, no pressure. Because let’s be frank, it most probably is… Or maybe, what if it’s not?
At this point, the writing should be a lot better, if not almost perfect, right? After so much reading, and learning, and practising… Besides, I’ve done some reaching out, and now I’ve got a platform on my hands, with a bunch of followers, and a couple thousand subscribers to my mailing list… So where’s my book? People are waiting, this is taking too much time!
Okay. So I want this to be the final draft.
- Get tense. Get writer’s block. Go back to the morning pages–but now they feel like a drag. Change day jobs. Feel like an imposter. Or maybe it’s not just a feeling: I really am an imposter. Flirt with burnout. Get Covid19 in 2022. Take a break. Come back to it. Tell myself it’s a practice, a test, not a performance…
I’m nearing the end of the second full draft of Seven Drifts. It won’t be the final draft, but I think it’s going to be a good stepping point to get to it without having to rewrite everything. Looking back, it feels like the fourth draft. That’s what I’ve been calling it for a while now, because I wrote the first Act four times, changed genres, shuffled sections and scenes around, and made the whole thing into a big mess, like a broken jigsaw puzzle. Broken, but still fascinating.
All in all, it’s a wonderful process. And I like puzzles, so I’m certainly not going to start complaining about this one!
Over the holidays, I reached the end of Act 2, the central part. It feels great to be at the end of it, because it’s a fair chunk of the story, making for half the story’s length. So I started figuring out Act 3 once again, with all the changes and new ideas and problems to resolve that came up while doing the rest.
And now, I’m tackling it. The ending payoff, the last quarter of the story. Oh yeah! That’s an encouraging, exciting place to be.
Talk of rambling!
This was so awesome! Stream of consciousness writing… That’s got to be powerful. You’re giving me quite a list of to-dos! It makes me realize I’m not alone. I have gone through so much of what you are describing. Thank you for bringing it all out so nicely! And your stories sound incredible!
I think we started from a similar place in our writing journeys, and are figuring things out along the same lines almost at the same pace, only parts of it we have switched around. For instance, you got your newsletter and following ahead of time, I published my books first, then learned about marketing and newsletters and even how to write better! I always put my carts before the horse. Just like being a pantser writer, I leap into things. Good lessons came from it and so I’m not complaining, just back-tracking a bit now. I at least have a collection of my short stories up on Amazon to hold my place. 🙂
But the result is we both are experiencing the pressure of finishing our shining stars, you to meet your followers’ expectations and me because I don’t want to leave that hole open with published books I already marketed now hanging out there unpublished.
I ended up feeling like the biggest imposter publishing my books before they were ready (I didn’t know enough at the time to realize they weren’t), but I had a couple friends read them and tell me, “why don’t you publish them?” and being completely ignorant and having it so easy to do on KDP [Kindle Direct Publishing], I did. I had some folks giving me some good reads, reviews, and feedback, but the third book wasn’t done and my writing was not fully developed yet. After making so many changes to them as I wrote the third book, I just thought I’d better not let more copies out in the world until I clean up the whole thing. Then, I got sidetracked with other stories that needed to be written, and then the dang short story competition world. I’m hoping to focus on finishing my series, and I want to publish at least one of my other stand-alone novels this year. But which one? I love them all and the characters and scenes are all inside my head wanting to get out.
My other huge problem? Where to focus my marketing. What fantasy niche do my books fit in? There are so many and most are utterly saturated. It is so easy to get lost. My stories incorporate a lot of different genres. I toy with the idea of either writing to a specific audience for every book, or just letting my stories be and find their own way. After all, they are obviously what I want to write, and that’s where the joy is, right? I think that is another reason I’ve found satisfaction in writing short stories. I can play around with the genres and see where, if anywhere, I might settle. Even on Vocal, the genres are a hodgepodge.
Another issue is I have done it all on my own, no beta readers (only begging friends and family), no editors, content or otherwise. I even did my own book covers, which seem to get good reviews, but yikes! I let everything swing out there on my own. It’s no wonder I felt a need to call a halt and rethink things. How did you get your content editor? Does it help having professional eyes, and is it worth the expense?
Then, there is the time needed for learning. I have such a hard time carving it out and I end up relying on quick doses wherever I can find them (Reedsy is one of my favorites), but mostly I rely on help from fellow writers like you and the feedback I get from story submissions. You have no idea how much I appreciate this exchange. It is my preferred and most valuable way of learning.
As for your questions. I’m going to noodle over them more and continue the discussion later. But for now, I only started writing during COVID (so sorry you got sick with it by the way). The first summer, I read 199 books, and 60 in 2021, and by then the burning need to write my own stories had consumed me. It seems both a long and short time have passed indulging in this passion, but I couldn’t be happier that the bug struck me. I’m getting up there in years, close to retiring from my government job (where I write in a different way so at least I had some technical abilities) and the need to get my stories finished is driven by that as well. So, I’m going to think more about your questions, because I haven’t had time to answer them for myself. It could be that I’ve been unknowingly saving it all up for so many years that I’ll always be able to sit down and write, but that’s not a good enough answer. So, more later for sure.
I had to insert a header image here because what follows is chock full of great writing resources!
So many things to talk about! I can’t believe I’ve been wondering what to write in my blog and newsletter. It’s all there!
I’d like to touch on the world of my story some time soon on my blog. World building is one of my biggest fascinations, and I think it’s a part of my quirks and means of expression. I think the world is a major character in the story, and I’m planning to start revealing more of it soon. Probably after I finish re-writing this draft of the story, I’ll give it one more big round of attention. The city is called Seven. It’s a wonderful place to live, the best place, as the saying goes, and who needs the rest of humankind, right? It’s a huge space city, a former starship, stranded after a battle and journey to nowhere, hiding but making the best of it. It’s configured as a long stack of revolving cylinders, called O’Neill cylinders. It’s a great place to live, but some people, against the main culture and Administration in place, still believe that its main MAHAL drive, 200 years ago, at the time of the Awakening, might have been fixable, or at least replaceable in some way…
But you started before you were ready, and I think it’s fantastic. I read a quick book a couple of years back, called Everything is Figureoutable. The author, Marie Forleo, advises exactly that: Start before you’re ready. (Otherwise, we might never be ready.) So kudos for doing it!
I think it’s what I did too, in some ways. Some years ago I read You’ve Got a Book in You, by Elizabeth Sims. Simple, down-to-earth advice. Premise: writing a book is easy. Me: Maybe it is, maybe it’s not, but as long as you can make yourself believe it is, then you can do it, and you don’t have to wait.
This is how I wrote my first story, Tides of Cath. Halfway through, I realized I needed to know more about writing, like how to structure the story, and maybe, what’s a scene, that thing I keep hearing about. I didn’t finish Tides of Cath (yet), but I had a good chunk of it, meandering and trying to find its way through a million ideas. So I stepped back, realized it could be a trilogy instead of a stand-alone novel, made plans for it, then realized that another story I had been playing with in my head could in fact be a prequel to Tides of Cath, or a parallel narrative thread set in its far past.
So naturally, I thought it logical to write the prequel story first, since it was going to have a lot of impact on the current one. So I did that. The little prequel story turned out bigger, of course. A full novel. But I wrote it all, all the way to the end.
In the meantime, I kept reading. I spent a lot of time on K.M. Weiland’s blog Helping Writers Become Authors, it’s amazing. And she has this fantastic podcast too (same title), where she narrates the contents of her blog articles, so you can absorb them in the way most convenient to you, even twice if you like, for better understanding. I loved her series of blog posts and/or episodes on story structure, it’s fantastic.
So I did that for a while, going back to the beginning of the episodes, until I was current. Then I stumbled on The Story Grid. I read the book, and I went for the podcast (same title). Again, I binged on three-four years of episodes until I got current. I still follow them both, though my podcast listening time got reduced dramatically when I stopped commuting back in 2020. These two podcasts changed so many things for me!
Start before you’re ready: Are you really saying you published two books and worked on a third one, all in the space of a couple of years during and since the pandemic? I think it’s amazing! It doesn’t matter that you unpublished the books; you did it and it’s awesome! I commend you for the sheer courage to do it in the first place.
As for me, now I know I’m not a fast writer (not so far). Am I a slow writer? I don’t know. To me, bringing my first story, from idea (or no idea) to publishable, is a long process of learning, trying and failing, stepping back and looking back, doing it again, etc. I wish it would take less time, and sometimes I wonder whether I should start another project instead, or focus more on short stories; that would be a great way to benefit from a shorter cycle of feedback loops. But I was drawn to writing longer stories, and this is what I wanted to do, so I guess I couldn’t really help it.
By the way, the Story Grid community is how I met my developmental editor Courtney Harrell. Over the summer of 2018, I enrolled in a 15-week online class called Leveling Up Your Craft, and they had an option to work with one of their editors. On a whim, I enrolled in that too (Start before you’re ready!), and then I perused their list of editors, and I didn’t know whom to choose. But then Courtney appeared on one of the episodes of the podcast, and just like that, I knew I’d be at ease and happy working with her. And I was, so we kept it on after the class was over. It turned out to be a wonderful collaboration. So far, she’s the only person in the universe who’s ever read my drafts of Seven Drifts, barring the few excerpts or seeding ideas I released on my site.
Courtney is enthusiastic and very encouraging. Each call brings a set of new ideas and questions, avenues to explore, even solutions to problems I wasn’t able to find. Of course it’s far from free, but somewhere along the way, I kind of decided my craft was worth investing into. I see it as a business now, even though I have never made a dime from it, not yet. Some people invest a fortune into their hobbies; why not invest some in what I want to become my main activity as I get older?
Speaking of business, or marketing… I believe there’s a simple, easy way to start building our author platforms, step by step, at the pace that is convenient to each individual writer.
There’s a ton of books on that, and I’m sure you’re read many of them already. I trusted Tim Grahl because he was the protagonist of the Story Grid podcast and a kind of hero to me, so I went with his little book Your First 1000 Copies and I listened to his podcast Book Launch. It’s all there, and I like his philosophy. He breaks it down into three parts: permission, content and outreach. He has his own definition of marketing: It’s a matter of being relentlessly helpful, and of building long-lasting relationships. Nothing more to it.
That’s what we’re doing when we grow our mailing list, and send nice things to our subscribers once in a while. The ones who connect will be expecting a book sooner or later. We help people when we provide them with fiction to enrich their lives. We help people when we showcase their work with interviews or guest posts, or share what little we know with them, or just plain share our struggles and wins, so they might connect and empathize. It’s quite simple really! So he advises to start as soon as possible, even years before releasing a book… That’s exactly what he did in the SG podcast: he was the struggling writer asking advice from the experienced editor. A magical combination.
I enrolled in Tim’s online courses, Author Platform 101, How to Launch a Bestseller, and Author Platform in a Weekend. I haven’t finished them all yet. They are very helpful, but not absolutely necessary. The gist of his method is in the book and podcast.
As for The Story Grid, it’s a fascinating story in itself. It started with Shawn Coyne’s book, then Tim Grahl proposed the podcast idea, and it exploded from there. It became a university and a guild with many editors and writers and publications. It grew so big in fact, it became something I find a bit overwhelming. At some point, I’d rather focus on doing the work, and less on just doing courses, so I distanced myself from it a bit. But I’m glad I was able to glean so much from it, and I’m not saying I won’t enroll in more classes in the future. But at this point, I’d rather focus on finishing my book first. Also, there is an abundance of other awesome resources out there, all worth exploring. In time.
Oh, have you heard of Joanna Penn’s podcast, The Creative Penn? Great marketing advice!
I am fascinated by the world of Seven and actually pictured it when I read Cradle, much like you described. Judging by the passion you’ve poured into it and the layers of development, I’m sure it’s going to be epic! Do you have more short stories planned for teasers? I’m realizing after our discussion, that probably many authors got started by jumping in before they were ready. It’s been a fun ride, hasn’t it?
Thanks so much for the abundance of information and advice!! Wow. I checked Courtney’s website. Totally on my wish list to have a consultant like her. But my budget is thin. With nearly 900 pages in this series, it would make for a whopping bill. But I totally agree it’s worth investing in my writing as a career, so I am seriously considering these types of services… someday soon. When I say I want to repackage and republish when the whole thing is finished, getting this kind of help is what I have in mind as well as professional book covers… but at least book covers. I might also have to choose between a line editor or a developmental editor because I can’t afford both.
Up till now, I’ve done all my own editing and artwork with the help of online tools like Autocrit editor (I’m a lifetime member, and love the editing platform. I’ve also done legal and business writing and editing throughout my other career, so lots of training and practice. Still, it’s so easy to miss my own errors, and editing fiction is way different.
Autocrit compares your writing to authors in your genre, or ones you select and gives you data to help adjust where your writing is weak or just needs tweaking, like overusing adverbs, passive voice, pacing, etc. Currently, I enjoy comparing mine to Dean Koontz. 🙂 A huge influence in my writing style goal. Other influential authors are Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, John Grisham, and in the supernatural fantasy arena, Kresley Cole, Jeaniene Frost, Laura Thalassa, and my favorite of all, Grace Draven. I’m old enough to have been influenced by many prolific, traditional romance authors, and that flavors a lot of my writing.
For book covers and promos, I use Canva’s premium tools.
I’m going to have to make a list of all the great resources you just shared and work them into my schedule. I wish I had more to share with you, but literally, my biggest resource has been the huge amount of books in the supernatural genre that I devoured during the start of the pandemic, then absorbed, then felt the burning need to churn into my own style.
I do have one free resource to share, which is Richie Billing’s Fantasy Writers Toolshed. He does a great podcast and interviews authors, etc. But he provides so many free resources in his newsletter on all the things we’ve been talking about. I joined his Discord group and from there is where the Fantasy Sci Fi Writers Alliance got started, which you can learn about on my website. We started a book club to review each other’s books, a short story competition, and other community events and resources. Still, it is a challenge to keep up with it all. Just like you I would love to settle down and just write. Otherwise, how am I ever going to finish my series and other WIPs?
The Autocrit editor platform sounds wonderful; I will definitely check it out, as well as Richie Billing’s Fantasy Writers Toolshed. Sounds great, especially that they also do Sci-Fi.
I’ve used Canva a little bit; it helped me come up with a quick cover for my Cradle scene, but I haven’t dived into the premium, fancy tools yet. From seeing your covers, I can infer they are great, because you did some amazing work there! Your covers are totally professional, in my opinion.
It is true that hiring a developmental editor to edit a 900 page manuscript is going to cost a lot! But I trust you’ll know whether you need to do it or not. Beta readers might be a more practical way to go. I’m not too sure how to find them, though, or how to work with them. I read an interesting article about that once by K.M. Weiland, but I can’t seem to find it again. I think it might have been this one: Helping Writers Become Authors. But there’s a bunch of them!
I still don’t know whether I’m going to pay for line editing and copy editing. I suspect I’ll have to!
I don’t have any more short stories to my name, but I have some ideas that could gravitate around the world of Seven Drifts. I’m considering taking a break from the novel at some point, so I can try to come up with a couple of them. Possibly between this current draft and the next.
So many things to do, so many things to learn, and so many things to consider! I’m loving all of it, by the way, and I know I can do only one thing at a time… so I do that.
It’s so exciting having you share your works in progress and plans because how it comes about, the process, the journey, is what we’re here for today. Thank you! And I can’t wait to see how it all progresses for you.
This week was so busy at work that I didn’t even have time to wish I was writing instead, which is a good thing, actually. It often plagues me, sometimes even waking me up in the middle of the night with anxiety at the idea of running out of time to tell all my stories (and get them out in the world). I think that is a byproduct of taking up writing in my 50s. But I don’t want to rush my age just so I can retire and have more time to write, though in effect I end up doing that. What I need to do now is figure out how to balance it all so I’m content with my progress. That’s a common question I ask in my interviews. I love to learn how people balance making a living with making the time to follow their passion. I have a couple really great interviews lined up this month. Two friends from my writers alliance really put some thought into the questions and gave detailed answers. I hope I get some good traffic to my blog to do them justice. The first one goes up tomorrow. I post on Sundays. [See my Gallery of Guests 2022 for January’s conversations with Madeline Davis and Isa Ottoni]
It’s been a challenge even getting to work with this crazy winter weather. Fortunately, since Covid, I’m set up for remote work and can take advantage of that. My regular schedule is four 10-hour days with Thursday remote, so it is awesome to be able to be home four out of seven days. With the weather (I’m on a couple acres in a rural area where it takes a lot to clear the snow and get out) I have the flexibility to stay home more if needed. We’re getting heavy rain mixed with snow at the moment and that’s not even the bad one. Another atmospheric river is supposed to dump a lot on us Monday. We are ready for spring 🙂 Not to mention getting away from northern Nevada in the winter, maybe for good after I retire in a year and a half. One more winter to go. So many reasons to count down the days… 🙂 [Update – I took an early retirement! My full-time writing dream is in full swing!]
I’ve been thinking more about whether I’m the type of writer who enjoys having the words flow whenever I sit down to write. I never thought about it in depth, other than to recognize I am indeed a panster. And as I’m typing this and the words are just flowing (aka rambling) I’m realizing that has always been my style even before I started writing fiction. I already talked about this a little when I described myself as a panster. I’ve been a panster for every creative endeavor I’ve taken on over the years. You can probably call it a lack of patience because I’d rather “do” than “learn.” Mostly I’ve taken up fiber arts or mixed media art, and Zentangle over the years, and love taking classes. But even in the middle of a lesson, I end up cheating and jumping ahead of the teacher. I’ve gone down the wrong path in a project and annoyed a lot of teachers that way. LOL
So, when I write, I just want to jump in and let things develop, characters included. In my musings on my blog, I talk about my characters being seeded in my brain by aliens, and call my characters my Pod People. I’ve always done everything intuitively and that’s how my characters come about, almost like they’ve lived in my head way before I started writing.
You can see some of my obsessions in About Me which I like to share because I know so many out there have tried it all like me. My message is… That’s Awesome!
Life balance is so elusive! It’s hard to have a clear view, much less a definitive answer on it. I’m constantly struggling with it, adapting, and playing with it, learning as I go.
I used to have a great routine, at least one that worked well for me.
Before the pandemic, we used to have something at work called “pajama Wednesdays.” It was an opportunity to work from home. The idea was that people who chose to go to the office anyway on those days would wear pajamas and share pics. I’m not too much into parties myself, but I had a glimpse of some entertaining office pajama party photos. The trend passed eventually, but the option remained to work from home once in a while, and over time, it didn’t matter too much on what day we did it. That was a few years before 2020.
With COVID, things reversed, and working from home became the norm. It wasn’t a new thing for me, but doing it every day was. I thought it was great, and I still do, but in the process, I lost a few things, like commute time. About two hours a day are spent riding a bus and/or the Montreal subway (we call it the Metro). I didn’t care much for commuting, but what I really miss is the listening time. I got behind on all the great writing podcasts I used to follow. I even got behind on my dev editor calls lately. I try to make up for it with daily walks, and that’s a great idea too, but I’m still short on my daily two hours of listening time. But that’s a detail, no big deal, and with no big impact on my life either. And besides, it means I have two extra hours now, to do other things, right? So what am I complaining about?
Still, my awesome, superhuman writing routine… kind of went down the drain in 2020, and I’ve been struggling to keep the ideas flowing at the same pace ever since. Writing from home every day should have given me more time, right? But somehow, I ended up with less. I still don’t know how to explain it, but I’m willing to give it a try: I used to write for an hour in the morning, most days before leaving for work, then about another hour over lunch, and at least twice a week, I wrote for a couple more hours at night. Plus some nice and long writing sessions on the weekend mornings, usually three to five hours per sitting. And I often took a day off from my job to write more; most weeks in fact. So all in all, I was able to clock between 10 to 20 writing hours per week, give or take.
These days, it’s much less than that. I write for a couple of hours and I get exhausted. Ever adapting, right? So, was it my energy that took a dip, or my stamina, or was it the general anxiety around the world that got to me, or a general lack of stimulation caused by not going out often or long enough, and not meeting people except virtually? One thing I find challenging is to always be in the same place. My writing spot, my living room, my home office and my actual working place… now it’s pretty much all the same.
But I can work and write standing up or sitting down. And I can sit at the old rocking chair by the window that oversees the entertaining, snowy back alley alive with cats and squirrels. I can use little rituals to switch from one situation to the next, like going out for a walk, or working out, or even napping. But still, some days, my brain feels like it aged ten years over the last three, and lost a big chunk of its capacities.
I guess at the end of all things*, what really matters is that we keep our sanity, and keep enjoying life, and that we find satisfaction in watching the progress of our projects, however fast or slow. (* Sorry, I couldn’t help the Lord Of The Rings quote here.)
In fact, I’m actually excited. I’m rewriting the last part of my novel now. That is something, after all the months of revising and re-thinking, and struggling to make sense of that big, sprawling mess of a puzzle! I’m hoping to finish it this year. That book will be so good! Unless it ends up being totally lame… But no doubt it’s my inner demon talking here: doubt. In any case, the only thing I want to care about now is losing myself in the process, enjoying it, and seeing the story evolve as it unravels until the end.
There’s a lot of planning involved in the case of this particular project, and there’s a ton of pantsing as well. I think I’m naturally a pantser, often pining for the good old days when I used to just write and see where a story and its characters would take me. But then again, I’m a plotter too. I have to, because that messy thing needs a whole lotta love (Can’t help it.)
It’s so interesting to see how other writers use a combination of techniques depending on where they are in their progress, or the stream of time. I loved reading about how you switched to what works for you in a particular situation. Makes me know I’m not alone. And wow! We all need those Pajama Days!
I wanted to let you know I posted the announcements for my April guests. I was just waiting for info from my other guest because I wanted to post you both together. Sci fi fantasy is kind of the theme that’s taking shape. So excited!
My other April guest, Dustin Frueh, was so excited about the announcement and being a guest with you, that he posted it on his Instagram after visiting your website. I have a lot of fun matching up my guests when it feels like they have things in common and there is a central theme. In this case, a love of sci-fi and fantasy space opera. It adds a lot to the promos and draws interest to the final posts.
So exciting! Looking forward to it! It’s always great to connect with other fellow authors. I’m in direct contact with Dustin now. Thanks for the connection!
Guess what? I managed to get a story accepted by an anthology publisher, Dragon Soul Press! I took down the selkie story from Vocal (and some others I want to submit elsewhere) and expanded it into a much fuller short story, and it happened to be a good fit for Song of the Siren. That was a big boost to my imposter syndrome. It’s up for presale and releasing in May. I have more stories I’m working on for other anthologies coming up this year.
I also did another Writing Battle competition starting in February and just finished. I made it halfway through the duels until getting cut in the third round. Bummed, but it’s a hot competition. It’s really hard to get past your peers and that’s sort of the point for the contests! I got feedback from ten peer judges and it was consistent enough to really pinpoint where the story needed work. The fifth round is the professional judging. So, lots of good lessons and feedback from readers and that’s who we need to impress, right?
I’m attaching my 1000-word story if you’d like to take a look. I had to use the prompts, lost world (genre), pineapple and zookeeper. The consistent feedback was that the end was an afterthought, which I admit it was. The story should have stayed contained on the pineapple and I could have made that the setting for the lost world and fleshed it out more. Readers really wanted to know more about life on a floating pineapple. Now I know better and will have fun reworking it. But I still think it’s a fun story and it was really fun to write.
Way to go! So exciting, and so impressive! Congratulations on publishing your selkie story on Dragon Soul Press! Congratulations also on the Writing Battle competition!
Thanks Nicolas! This has been so much fun. I really appreciate you shining the light back on me in this two-way interview. What a great concept, and tons of fun. It illustrates the amazing connections that come along when you get out and share with the Writing Community.
You can follow Nicolas and his progress on his epic space opera story featuring a drifting city spaceship, a wannabe sleuth and some murders, a brewing rebellion and an antique wooden treasure chest in the amazing world of Seven Drifts at nicolaslemieu.com. He’s also on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
My name is Nicolas Lemieux and I live in Montreal with my wife Marie-Claude in a third-storey apartment overlooking an interesting, green back-alley.
Although French is my first language, I like to write in English primarily. My chosen writing genre is science fiction, principally space opera.
I get my kicks out of dreaming up astonishing worlds packed with a sharp palette of badass, quirky characters who get tangled up in all manners of meaningful trouble. Often funny, sometimes disquieting, always exciting.
I believe stories have the power to stretch our imagination in all kinds of ways. They expand our worldview and give us practical tools for living. They ignite our curiosity on all kinds of subject matters. They make us thirsty for more exploration, more ways to look at the world, more pondering and more discoveries.
I believe each time you dive into a good book, you come out better off at the other end, because you’ve gained a new, flaring spark that will stick with you until the end of times, helping you fend off the pits and falls that might have consumed you otherwise.
Be a badass reader! Read my latest, free story today: Cradle.
You can learn more about Nicolas and his pending series on the fabulous Realm of J.V. Hilliard, Episode 119!
And just to demonstrate how these fruitful collaborations work, JV Hilliard will be on an upcoming Spotlight this summer and I will be on an episode of the Realm! Stay tuned! And thank you Nicolas!
In parting, Nicolas’s version of our conversation includes a sneak peek of my new covers for my series, The Starlight Chronicles! I am excited to announce that I’m set to relaunch my series in May, including a presale date for Book Three, Tigris Vetus. Nicolas has kindly offered to be the first to share, and more details will follow from me next month. But if you want to get a look now, follow our conversation on Nicolas’s blog, where you also can find a great body of interviews with so many amazing writers.
Sunday Spotlight with Writer, Podcaster, and all things Beowulf and Old English-Michael C. Carroll!
Born and raised in Massachusetts’ Merrimack Valley, Michael C. Carroll has always loved storytelling. After graduating from Boston College, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia where he teaches and lectures on the epic poetry that inspires his writing. It was not until his master’s program through the Bread Loaf School of English brought him to Oxford…
Check Out This Great Podcast
Worldbuilding 101 with Stephen Aryan
My Pod People Are Having So Much Fun at Camp!
I’m so glad my writing buddy talked me into Camp NaNoWriMo. (Thanks Dustin – You’ll get to meet him this Sunday on my Creator Spotlight.) Because my …My Pod People Are Having So Much Fun at Camp!
Sharing – The Other Side of Infinity by Joan F. Smith
The Other Side of Infinity by Joan F. Smith is a unique take on the concept of the butterfly effect. Following a girl with foreknowledge who gets a …The Other Side of Infinity by Joan F. Smith
Sunday Spotlight! With Author, Blogger, Voracious Book Reviewer, and my buddy, Dustin A. Frueh.
Welcome Dustin! We’ve worked on the elements of this chat for a while and it’s finally here! I’m super excited to share our conversation because I …Sunday Spotlight! With Author, Blogger, Voracious Book Reviewer, and my buddy, Dustin A. Frueh.
Sharing! – Fairytale Fun in Gardens
The two-tonne dragon head in Castle Fraser’s secret gardenIn between dark and romantic writing sessions, I’ve been taking little breaks of fairytale …Fairytale Fun in Gardens
Getting ready for my May relaunch of The Starlight Chronicles!
Enjoy these teasers!!
I am so danged excited!! Stay tuned.
This Sunday – on my Creator Spotlight!
An Engaging Conversation, Great Resources, and Exciting Upcoming Releases!
Sunday Spotlight! With Author, Blogger, Voracious Book Reviewer, and my buddy, Dustin A. Frueh.
Welcome Dustin! We’ve worked on the elements of this chat for a while and it’s finally here! I’m super excited to share our conversation because I know it will inspire other writers and creators who can relate to the types of struggles and joy you experienced as you pursued, and continue to pursue, your passion for literature, whether writing it, or reading it.
One of my favorite parts of your story is when you found the joy of reading. Tell us about being a late bloomer turned devotee of the written word.
Writing has pretty much always been a part of my life. I can still recall being in the fifth or sixth grade, and sort of dreaming about becoming a household name, and I’d jot down potential chapter titles, which says a lot about how little I knew about the writing process. That went on for a short time, and then I’d put writing out of my mind for a while, only to revisit it at random times throughout my teens and early twenties. Writing’s funny like that, isn’t it? It’s kind of like an insistent plague that refuses to let you out of its grasp. Only, unlike an actual plague, the writing process is rarely deadly. It’s one of the healthiest endeavors you can pursue.
I wake up each morning, grateful for all the wonderful educators who, in their own, distinct ways, have guided and encouraged me over the years. And I’m thankful for my wife and other family members you’ve believed in me, especially when I didn’t have faith in myself. The friendships I’ve fostered online genuinely mean the world to me, and there are far too many to count. Lastly, I’m grateful to God for the plans He made for me a long, long time ago, and for giving me the talent, desire, and the gift of storytelling.
The peculiar thing is, and this will no doubt surprise you, as it seems to go against the grain of most writers, but prior to my fourteenth birthday, I was never very interested in reading. There was a reason for that, too. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in stories, because I obviously was, on some level. I just wasn’t a very good reader. But one random day, in the summer between eighth and ninth grade, after being curious for a while about Stephen King’s writing, almost on a whim, I used my allowance to purchase a paperback copy of Misery (this was in 1993, when books were still relatively inexpensive,) and I started reading it later that day. I could not put it down, and I’ve never looked back. That book forever changed the trajectory of my life.
That is a powerful statement about fiction, and I love how it just hit you all of a sudden. What did you do with your newfound passion?
Reading almost obsessively quickly became my “new normal.” It was practically a drug. And with the exception of required school reading, I was pretty much only reading Stephen King for the next three or four years. Before long, I’d amassed quite the paperback collection, and I prided myself in the sheer number of books I was reading, and the fact that I was devouring them. For example, in my senior year of high school, I finished The Stand (complete and unabridged version, as I couldn’t find the original novel until I was in my early twenties,) in maybe a week’s time. If you’re familiar with that version, you’ll note that it’s well over a thousand pages.
Also during that general time frame, and as required reading, I was introduced to Shirley Jackson’s classic short story, The Lottery, which happens to be one of my favorite stories of all-time. There was something about it that inspired me to try my hand (again) at writing. The tale also showed me something important, something I’ll never forget but which felt kind of like an eureka moment at the time, which was that not all “scary” stories had to revolve around an insane killer clown or serial killers like Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees. They could be serious, and they could communicate something important about the world. It would be many, many years before I realized there’s a term for that: social commentary. The latter is one of my absolute favorite elements to read about, not just in horror, but across any genre.
Way to capture the benefits of good horror fiction! Taking away thought-provoking insights in addition to being entertained has always been a plus for me, too. What other elements do you hope for in a story?
I inevitably look for character development, worldbuilding, impressive prose, and stories with social commentary and subtext. And dread, of course. I’m a sucker for a compelling story with a well-executed sense of dread. I’m definitely a character-driven type of person, as opposed to plot. I learned a lot about the craft in college. I’ll be eternally grateful for one professor, in particular, Mr. Matt Sullivan (who’s now a published author with a second novel forthcoming, so big shout-out to Matthew J. Sullivan, author of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore) because he probably taught me more about writing than I’ll ever know. Most importantly, he believed in me. He saw the potential long before I, or anyone else, probably did. I took as many of his classes as I could, and through them, I was introduced to a lot of very different authors and genres and unique styles. His creative writing course, in particular, was unlike anything I’d experienced, and the highlight (for me) was a full week or two of workshops, where we’d divide into several small groups, read each other’s stories, and give in-depth, constructive criticisms.
That sounds amazing. All you teachers out there, what a gift you have to be able to touch even one student so profoundly. Thank you!
So, while you were on this journey of discovery, you had some personal battles to deal with. How did fiction help you cope then and now?
As good and positive as all that sounds, I was masking something dark and sad. Looking back on it, I’d been depressed since I was a child. I only know from what family has told me, but prior to the age of around eight or nine I had been an outgoing, talkative person. Afterward, I withdrew from the world and got quiet. I lost a big part of myself, and I’ve never really reverted back to the bubbly, extraverted person I used to be. Around nineteen, twenty years old, my depression became increasingly more pronounced and, for the most part, I kept everything hidden until I finally got help in December of 2005. My one constant was reading. Those characters became the counterparts I needed to keep going. The macabre and fantastical plots excited me in ways that the real world could not. But there eventually came a time when the reading was no longer enough. A lot of the joy and wide-eyed wonder was gone.
Darci, I gave up on life. I gave up on myself, on my hopes and dreams and aspirations. I came extremely close to losing my life, only to finally reach out and receive the psychiatric help that I desperately needed. Coming out of that dark place, I realized that I was glad to be alive, and thankful that I didn’t die that day. Since then, I’ve been fully medicated and it’s been a struggle, a hard-fought battle to be happy, and the two necessary ingredients for me to be a happier person are reading and writing, preferably every day. Also necessary for my happiness are the love and grace of Jesus, and the unconditional love and understanding of my family. I’ve also discovered the need to talk books with other people who share the passion for the written word. Books are absolutely essential things.
Thank you so much for sharing that. So many people suffer from mental health issues, often quietly, especially after the pandemic. I think we will see studies for decades to come on the aftermath of the prolonged mass social isolation. Unfortunately, it’s still a difficult medical condition to acknowledge, let alone bravely seek help for. I’m so glad you found a path, Dustin. And though it will always be challenging, I hope sharing your journey with others will help you as well as our readers who might have their own struggles . What do you do to keep your focus on the creative side of things?
I joined the wonderful online reading community called Goodreads in September, 2010, but I didn’t start reviewing books until October 27, 2011. My first review was of Stephen King’s The Wind Through the Keyhole (book 4.5 in his amazing Dark Tower series,) and thanks to the positive responses to it, I would go on to write many more passionate reviews. I try to review every book I read. Also around that same time, per the encouragement of an old friend (sadly, we’ve since lost touch), I started blogging via WordPress, where I share the same reviews found on Goodreads, as well as a few random life-related posts.
Speaking of blogging, I’ve actually been thinking about completely revamping my site, because I’m really not happy with it. I want to change the domain name and everything. There’ll still be my reviews, but I really want to talk about the writing life and family. My son is a Type 1 diabetic (diagnosed in August, 2021). He also has a sensory-processing disorder and is on the spectrum (Autism Spectrum Disorder), which he was diagnosed with when he was only four-years-old. He’ll be eleven in November. He’s the strongest person I know. He’s also my hero.
You can find Dustin’s fantastic review of Wind Through the Keyhole on Goodreads.
I hope you keep us posted on redesigning your blogsite. Creating your perfect theme for those amazing reviews, your amazing family, and a writer’s life will be a super fun project! Let me know if you need eyes on it.
Can you share with us more of your ideas and what you’re going for?
My primary reason for creating my blog was two-fold. First and foremost, those first few months at Goodreads made me realize just how much I love talking about books and connecting with new people who enjoy the same authors and/or the same type of stories that I enjoy. But, if I could reach others through WordPress, then maybe I could recommend a book to someone else, and maybe it could become one of their favorites, too. That was the initial hope. At the time, I thought that if my words could reach just one person, then I’d consider it a job well done; an endeavor worth pursuing. All the time, energy, and sacrifice would be worth it. Now, though, more than ten years later, I want my site to be something I am proud of, a place to call home. Ultimately, I’d love to see it grow, but that’s not the primary reason for redesigning it. I want to do that because I’m unhappy with its current state.
Yes, writing and reading are a very big part of who I am, but I try not to let those things define me. I’m a father, a husband, a follower of Jesus; I’m a survivor of childhood trauma and the subsequent life-long mental illness, which ultimately led to a suicide attempt. I’m a fighter, a lover of humanity and animals. I am passionate about the Arts, I’m constantly learning new and interesting things. I’m an ally of the LGTBQ+ community and an advocate of mental health and suicide prevention. I am all of those things and more.
All those things offered through your blog will be so inspiring to the reading and writing community. You’ve got the vision! I hope you have a blast bringing it to fruition.
I’ve been dying to get to this part. Tell us about some of your favorite recommendations.
Some of my favorite books of all time are Stephen King’s On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft. I’ve read it twice, and I recommend it to anyone interested in writing, or anyone interested in reading a memoir. Even if none of those apply, I recommend it simply for the beauty of language, and learning more about King. That book alone inspired me to pick up the pen and paper again. It instilled in me the knowledge that if “I was brave enough,” I could actually write a book. And now I have. I love that King is no stranger to giving out writing advice, and that he genuinely believes his Constant Readers can write their damn story, and it be something they can be proud of. The love he has for his wife, Tabitha, was on full display there, too.
Dune by Frank Herbert is, without a doubt, my favorite sci-fi novel. I’m long overdue for my first reread, actually.
If you’re looking for a vastly rewarding, extremely long and epic historical fiction novel, look no further than Les Miserables by the incomparable Victor Hugo. That’s perhaps my favorite in classic literature. Sure, it can be quite dense at times, and it’s well over a thousand pages, but I quickly found myself enthralled by the characters and by the French history in almost equal measure.
I’m also a big fan of the post-modern movement and writers like David Foster Wallace and Richard Powers are near and dear to my heart. I also love pretty much anything by Don DeLillo. I mean, seriously, I’d be very hard-pressed to find much finer books than White Noise or Underworld. Especially the latter. Wallace’s Infinite Jest is easily one of the best novels I’ve ever read, albeit for different reasons than the “typical” reader. I read it in 2016, and I still think about the characters and that tome in general, on a fairly regular basis. The fact that I’m active in the Reddit subthread doesn’t hurt, either. I’m astounded by anything that Wallace wrote. A couple months ago, I finished my review of Wallace’s debut novel, The Broom of the System. Gosh, I love that book, and it never ceases to astonish me that it was published when he was twenty-four years old.
I’m also big into fantasy, grimdark, sci-fi, nonfiction, some poetry. Pretty much anything that sounds interesting and fun. It 100% has to be fun!
You can follow Dustin on Reddit here. And be sure to follow him on Goodreads for his reviews and recommendations. He also shares his reviews on Instagram.
Okay Dustin. Let’s get down to some stats. You’ve read 542 books according to your Goodreads and you’ve got a whopping 8,567 on your TBR list. First, how many reviews have you done out of the 542? And, what number on your TBR are you comfortable saying you might check off in a lifetime? 🙂 Because I wouldn’t be surprised if you made a good dent in that. How many books on average do you read a year?
Now, that’s an interesting question because according to Goodreads, I’ve reviewed four hundred and thirty-nine books. But that included short stories and a couple essays, and those are a lot easier to finish because they require a lot less time. Not only that, but some of them aren’t actually ones I’ve read but on my TBR because I wanted to document my initial reactions to hearing about them, and some consisting of copy/pasted blurbs from Amazon because they’re not always available on Goodreads. If I had to guess, though, I’ve probably reviewed between three and four hundred books.
Per your second question, I would love to read all of them. But realistically, I know I never will. I can see myself getting through at least two or three hundred on my TBR.
For many reasons, I read a lot, lot less than I did when I was in my teens and early twenties. For one, I really struggle on a regular basis to concentrate, so that takes me a lot longer to finish even an average length book. Plus, I like to write at least a thousand words a day, and that can take me a few hours. I’m also a dedicated family man with a ton of responsibilities, outside of creative endeavors. Or I get lazy and procrastinate, even though I love reading. Or, I hurt too much and I can’t bear the thought of sitting up for hours to read. Because when I’m hurting that bad, all I want to do is lie down and relax. The last few years, I think I’ve only read between nine and twenty books a year. I’m not proud of that, either as a writer or in general. The important thing, though, is that I am reading, improving my well-being, and enjoying most of what I read. Great questions, Darci. 😊
I think you should be proud of yourself. Your stats are phenomenal no matter how you slice them! Especially working through all those challenges while you’re at it. I only hope I can get in ten books a year. I’ve set a goal for 30 this year. I guess we will see.
And guess what, Dustin? I just discovered we can compare our Goodreads book lists! What a great feature. By the way, Dustin and I are currently reading, for fun and discussion, Empire of the Vampire, and loving it so far. We are also buddies on NaNoWriMo, having a blast supporting each other on our progress for this month’s Camp NaNo.
With that fantastic list of recommendations, I think this is the perfect spot for your beautiful poem, which I’m thrilled you are letting me publish here. Thank you!
No, thank YOU! I appreciate your willingness to share it with your readers. Okay here it is…
Art is not Glamorous
Now for more good stuff. What are your works in progress and your plans for them?
I am currently going strong in my NaNoWrimo novel, facetiously referred to as “Project: Never-Ending Story.” I decided that instead of writing one MASSIVE manuscript, I’d divide it into three or four shorter novels. Book I was fun, but I’m truly having a blast writing Book II. The momentum is much faster (in fact, I consider the first one quite the slow burn, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,) things are getting a lot more interesting as it goes along, and one of my favorite elements of sci-fi/fantasy is the worldbuilding itself. I’m a pantser through and through, and so every day brings something new and interesting to the page. This story is getting increasingly complex as I’m learning more about these characters and this world, and I’m eager to see where it’s all going.
Right now, my goal is to get the rough draft done. I haven’t thought too much about my publishing path, though I am leaning more towards traditional.
What final thoughts can you share about the Writer’s Life for those facing your types of challenges?
The writing life can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be daunting at times. It’s oftentimes made more difficult with clinical depression, social anxiety, and chronic pain. Six or seven years ago, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, is a generalized series of aches, pain, and tenderness throughout the body. Other symptoms include “brain fog,” trouble concentrating, difficulty sleeping or not feeling fully rested upon waking.
In addition, my wife has fibromyalgia and she’s a Type 2 diabetic (diagnosed within two days of our son) and naturally, that can be a lot to deal with on a regular basis. We live with my mother-in-law, who will turn seventy-two in April, and she requires a lot of help with mobility and doing things around the apartment in general. Currently, she’s working hard to get her strength back, so she can be more mobile and independent. My wife and I (and our son, to some extent) work together to help her as much as she needs. So, needless to say, finding the adequate environment and time to pursue reading and writing is not easy. No one said it would be, but perhaps my personal journey is a little harder than the average creative. Then again, maybe not. Who really knows, right? 🙂
For more about facing the challenges of fibromyalgia, you can click here.
This has truly been an inspiring conversation, Dustin. Thank you for bringing attention to the challenges of a family dealing with multiple health issues, and the ways you have found to cope with it all and support each other. I look forward to more of your writing, reviews, and insights on Goodreads and your blog.