Thursday, July 30, 2015

In search of....

Wanted: Scathing, honest critiques of my writing. Don't hold back. Tell me what doesn't work as much as what does.

Would you respond to this "want" ad? Would you follow through?

I've been pondering this for quite some time. I've participated in several panels and forum discussions about reviews. I think that we've sufficiently throttled the poor dead horse named Review but here I am discussing it again. I guess I figured it's high time I explain my unusual take on reviews/critiques and why I crave some one and two star shred-fests.

What do negative reviews do for authors (or any artists for that matter)? I'm not talking about blatant, personal attacks so please do not misunderstand me. The reviews I'm referring to are the constructive critiques of creative works.

It is important to know what resonates with people, what speaks to your audience and what doesn't. Critiques/reviews provide this feedback and every creative needs to know what works and what doesn't. Negative reviews are as helpful in this matter as positive reviews. What do we learn from only receiving glowing feedback? Not much and let's be honest, nothing good comes of excessive ego-stroking. Even my favorite novels have extremely negative reviews - just roll over to goodreads, type in "The Hobbit" and check out the one star reviews. Granted, only 2% of the reviews on "The Hobbit" are 1 star crappers but 2% of more than 17,000 means there a sizable number of Hobbit-haters.

Is it too much to ask for some of that hate? Somebody to go through and shred everything I write, to point out all of the glaring errors and wretched holes in my work?

Apparently the answer is yes.

Is it fear of hurting my feelings? The fallout of too many artists losing it over negative feedback? I'm still trying to sort out the why of it but I know I'm not the only one. So here I am, on behalf of myself and some of the most solid creatives I know, asking all of you who value what we do to let it all out, to give us the brutal truth we need.

Maybe then we can weed out the crap that's flooding the world, like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. Just sayin.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

For my beautiful, talented, headstrong daughter....

It is no secret that I have a daughter. She's beautiful and talented and headstrong and I love her. Maybe that's just me being a proud Mom but I will let you decide.

She plays softball. This was her first season and she fell in love from the get go. She was fortunate to be placed on this incredible team where the girls got along from day one. At their first tournament game on Thursday they sang and danced and goofed off as a team. Nobody sits alone - EVER. They cheer for each other so loud that it echoes across all of the fields. They rallied and won in extra innings.

But, we live in the Midwest and as most Americans know, this summer has been one of the wettest I can remember. There have been a lot of rain outs. A LOT. This weekend (July 16th-19th) was set at the beginning of the season to be the alternate date for tournaments so, as a sports-friendly family, we purchased her plane tickets to visit my parents for July 20th. Unfortunately, the league now wants to play the championship game on Monday evening meaning that my daughter, and at least a few other girls, will miss the biggest game of their season because the league has opted to give deference to supplemental league play in which only a handful of the girls are participating. My kiddo was initially in tears but it did not last long. Today as she sits here waiting to play her next tournament game, knowing that if her team advances she will not be able to advance with them as the schedule stands now, she is working on alternate ideas. This is her plan:

1. Write a letter to the league to give to the league official prior to the tournament game tonight:

Dear DYA,

Hello my name is ****** and I have been given permission to write this letter and am doing so willingly. I am very upset about the tournaments and that the championship will be on Monday instead of being today or tomorrow.
I am a one of the softball players and have been there every game. I have been working hard and having fun this season and I was really looking forward to tournaments. In the beginning of the season everything said the season would be done by mid-July. The rain dates were listed as the 16th-19th so my family purchased our plane tickets for the 20th so I wouldn’t miss anything. Now that the championship is on Monday I won’t get to play if my team makes it. I am not the only girl who did so. I don’t think it’s right for girls who want to play softball and have played all season to miss out on the biggest game of the season.
            What I think we should do instead is push the Allstar league back because it is only a supplemental league so it should come after our league not before our league.
 I would also like to say something about fall softball in this letter. I have signed up for fall baseball since there is no fall softball. It is so sad that boys get a fall baseball league if we don’t get a fall softball league. There are not enough fall sports for girls. Why?


Sincerely,

******

Not bad for a ten year old, eh? Did I mention that there is fall baseball in this league but no fall softball?? She's fighting that too.

2. Arrive at the field early for her game and speak with the girls from the four teams left in the tournament to have them sign a petition to attach with the letter, one to have the games played this weekend and the other to create a fall softball league.

My kiddo knows that her actions may not change things but she wants her voice heard and she's not going to leave for vacation without knowing that she tried. I'm supporting her. Will you?

Friday, July 10, 2015

When life gives you lemons....

...sell them to the highest bidder and buy a six pack of your favorite craft beer.



Sometimes I have so much to say that I can't get the words out. It's been a bit of a hell week (or hell weeks, plural?!) for me and I've written plenty, just not publicly for fear of repercussions that could be harmful to my family. My journals are overflowing with rants to expel the frustrations so they would not seep over into real time where my kids would feel them.

It didn't work. My kids felt it anyway. And they responded in those incredible way.

Let me back up a bit. It's not a secret that I'm divorced but I don't broadcast it out of respect for my kids who are still struggling with the breakup of their family. They've been through a lot and I did not want to pile on more. It seems that divorce still carries a stigma.

In most ways, I am MUCH better off since my divorce. Our marriage was no longer healthy for so many reasons. I am not going to get into the blame game but needless to say, I lost custody of most of my friends in the divorce and I've been left with some serious trust issues. Not that I don't have some incredible friends around here, I do, but they all have their own lives and I do not like to impede those lives. Some would call it "trouble asking for help." I would rather save my "help me" card for something truly dire - say auto wreck by the side of the road - because I have no immediate family in the area.

I'm getting off track again. This was not supposed to be the point of this post. The point is that I had a rough week and I have been dealing with it as best I could in the circumstances and my incredible kids have not complained one bit about not having our usual Wednesday excursion because Mommy's car broke down and needed some serious repairs. They have not complained that I have been preoccupied with getting my car fixed and doing some other un-fun things to try to improve our situation leaving little time to help my daughter sew her Walking Dead messenger bag or teach my son some new painting skills. Not only did they not complain, last night when we parted ways so that they could go with their Dad for the night, I returned home to the most delightful surprise.

Not only was my house clean - and I mean "Mommy clean" not "Kid clean" - I came home to the cutest little arrangement on my bed. How awesome are my kids?


So you know what, bring on those lemons. I'll hock 'em and buy ice cream to share with my kids. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

If I had a million dollars.....

Every time somebody asks me what I would do with a million dollars I can't help but mentally sing the awesome Barenaked Ladies song. Don't know it? You can catch it here. It's a neat little ditty. And it makes me think. What would I do?

A million dollars is a lot of money to me. I've struggled financially for a long time now, never seem to catch up, you know, the whole single mom and starving artist thing do not gel. So, yeah, I daydream a bit about having a million dollars.

So, what would I do?

Obviously I'd pay off my debt. I'd like a house in Seattle, Washington. One with a huge kitchen, a giant library with three walls of floor to ceiling bookshelves and A LOT of windows with an incredible, inspiring view. The kids and I don't need anything intense but we need those three things.

Then I'd help my family, naturally. My parents have been there for me and I really want to make sure they can retire and do what they love for their second careers. Then there's my supremely talented sis and bro-in-law who are chefs (YUMMMMY) who should be sharing their talents on their terms. I do so love watching them cook together, it's entertaining and rewarding. My brother and soon to be sis-in-law could use some love too, just a bit to get them going in the direction they choose.

What about some friends? Those incredible people who actually DID stick with me. You know who you are and I am grateful for you all.

Once they are all covered, I will have lots of money left in that million to do good things. I want to help other people like us, people who work hard their whole lives and just need a little help to get going. I surround myself with talented people who just need a break because we help each other, we push each other and we support each other when it seems that we will never make a life doing what we want to do. There are other people out there like us. And I want to help. I want to level the playing field.

A little too Shiny Happy People for you?

Too bad. I just cannot understand the need to accumulate fortunes that you could never hope to spend in a lifetime when there are people out there struggling to make ends meet, going without food to make certain their kids don't, and drowning in debt working at jobs that make them crazy. There is not enough art or intelligent literature in this world to make it a better place. There is so much money out there just sitting, just fading and collecting layer upon layer of dust when it could be going to better places.

So, what would I do with a million dollars? I'd do my damnedest to change the world.

Friday, June 12, 2015

It's all about the sideboob....or is it?

Sideboob: noun, informal; The side part of a woman's breast, as exposed by a revealing item of clothing. (Oxforddictionaries.com)

Pull up your friendly neighborhood Google search, select "images" and type in "side boob" for the search. You will find a lovely and often amusing selection of images, mostly celebrities and all women. I'm not here to post pictures of these examples but feel free to check them out.

I recently heard that sideboob will rule the world one day. At first glance I can see how it could be true but then I dig deeper and realize that sideboob's predecessors (cleavage, knees, ankles, etc) have all fallen by the wayside when replaced with something more risqué and none of them have brought about gender equality let alone the advancement of the "fairer sex."

I'm going to argue that sideboob is nothing special or exciting and if a little fatty flesh is enough to cause such a ruckus then women have a tougher road to gender equality than I thought. I get that the female form tends to be more attractive than the male body and things like sideboob can garner attention across the media - especially social media - but is it the type of attention we want as a gender?

Backing up just a bit, I'm not saying well all need to be covered head to toe at all times - I live in the Midwest and that would make summers awfully uncomfortable - but I am saying that letting it all hang out to get attention is not perhaps the best way to accomplish our goals. Some women have worked very hard to gain respect and recognition in male dominated fields and they did so without sideboob. Marie Curie, Mother Theresa, Madeline Albright, JK Rowling and Oprah come to mind.

On topic, I wonder what Madame Curie would say in response to Nobel Prize winner, Tim Hunt's recent comments about female scientists? Makes me wonder what Mr. Hunt's thought on sideboob would be? My favorite article on this debacle can be read here


Marie Curie....look out Mr. Hunt she's a distraction with her mold and all. Good thing there's no sideboob involved.
 
How much could Marie Curie have accomplished if she'd only taken advantage of her sideboob abilities!? Or...not.
 
Still, my friend insists it's all about the sideboob. The claim is that some female authors, artists and other performers are getting extra attention (and profits) by showing some sideboob. I examined this by doing some research online and found, as noted above, that there is A LOT of attention given to sideboob. So I wonder again if my friend is right. Maybe he is, maybe a little sideboob would help me realize my dream....but then I think, if it works, will I feel good about it? No, I won't. I know I won't.
 
I'm going to argue that it's not all about the sideboob, at least not for me or, I'm guessing, Marie Curie either.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Please give a warm Emerald Seer welcome to Tim McWhorter

Even though he is extremely busy with a new release, Tim took some time out of his schedule to answer a few questions for me. Enjoy!



VP: What is your inspiration? What helps you get through writer's block?
Tim: The thing that helps me most with writer's block is the fact that I always have more than one project going at a time. It's the one good thing about having so many balls in the air. If I get stuck on a scene or storyline in my novel, I set it aside for a couple days and work on a short story or another novel entirely. Then, by the time I come back to my main project, my mind's pallet has been cleansed, and the solution I had been beating my head against the wall over usually comes to me like it had been there all along. Sometimes concentrating too hard becomes its own roadblock, and it just takes a clear mind to get over it.

VP: Do you listen to music when you write? Have a completely silent space?
Tim: I definitely listen to music when I write and edit. I have to. I'm high maintenance that way. With a full-time job that likes to come home with me at times, and four teenagers who are all involved in activities, my mind is a chaotic place more often than not just trying to keep up with it all. So when I finally get time to sit down and create, I listen to a lot of film scores and instrumental music. I often need the calming sounds to quiet my mind enough to focus on the task at hand. ANything with lyrics is too distracting. Besides, there's no more perfect inspiration for the type of dark thrillers I write than a deep, melancholy piece of music. Fire up the cellos!

VP: Who inspires you? What authors do you look up to? Why?
Tim: Amazing writing inspires me. Whether that's literature, film or even music, when I come across great writing, it makes me want to grab a pen and do the same.

VP: When did you first start writing? What genre do you prefer?
Tim: Other than some really cheesy song lyrics in high school, I didn't start writing until late in life. I've been an avid reader since I was still wiping snot on my sleeve, and always dreamed of doing what all those authors did. Even as I grew up, I simply never thought I could. You have to know someone to be published, right?  Don't you have to live in NYC to get noticed? It wasn't until I was in my mid 30s that I realized that train of thought was complete bullshit. Not only do those things not have to be true in order to get published, but you don't even have to be published just to write. In fact, that's probably the worst reason to pick up a pen and put it to paper. There are so many better reasons to create art.

VP: If you had to choose another genre to write, what would it be? Why?
Tim: This is going to sound like a put on, especially for those who have read my horrifically tinged suspense thrillers, but another genre I like to explore is family/romantic drama. I love books, film, music, etc that affect emotion, particularly sadness. I feel that sadness is the emotion that stays with a reader longer than any other, and is the most profound that can be drawn upon from a reader/viewer/listener. I have written a few short stories and a screenplay that deal with couples and families forced to wade through the crap that life sometimes throws at us, and affecting the reader's emotions brings me a considerable amount of satisfaction. The author that most people would recognize, that closest resembles what I like to explore, is Nicholas Sparks, whose books go much deeper into the human psyche and how it deals with life than just the romantic aspect that the public seems to focus on. I am simply drawn to raw human emotion in all facets.


VP: Do you have another job and if so what is it?
Tim: My Clark Kent persona is a tooling engineer for an industrial ceramic company. I design molds and dies to manufacture ceramic components for steel foundries and the investment cast industry. Trust me, it's not as exciting as it sounds.

VP: Tell about your first book and how long it took you to write the first draft?
Tim: My first book was a novella titled, Shadows Remain. It was an idea I played with off and on for about a year and a half. Once I finally got serious about doing it, the first draft was completed in about six or seven months. That was back when I had no idea what I was doing, or that a successful writer needs to have an actual routine for writing. I was just squeezing in time here or there, which is not the best, nor the most efficient way to complete a project.

VP:  List all of your titles with a one sentence synopsis of each.
Tim:    Swallowing the Worm and Other Stories - A collection of old and new short stories that deals with life in all its glory, from love to loss and all aspects in between.
            Shadows Remain (novella) - A creepy ghost story that deals with what happens when things are left unresolved between people, regardless of age or time.
            Bone White (novel) - A story of missing teenage girls and the two young men who inadvertently stumble upon the answers to the mystery with devastating consequences.
            Blackened (novel) - A continuation of the Bone White story that deals with the aftermath of the events, including whether or not being a good Samaritan is ultimately worth the cost.

VP: Who is your favorite character? Why?
Tim:  Both of my favorite characters are from the supporting cast; one from Bone White and one from Blackened. Besides the young girl that I will talk about a few questions from now, my other favorite character is Dallas Tipsword from Blackened. He's the owner of the auto repair shop where Luke works, but he becomes more than simply a boss. He's a smart ass Vietnam vet who loves cars and is in many ways still stuck in the 60s (an era I am also enamored with). He's fond of tie-dye, his long beard and a handgun he's appropriately named, Prudence. I was so sad to see him go when Blackened wrapped up, that I decided he may have to make a return visit somewhere, possibly with his own short story or novella. The world needs more Dallas Tipsword.

VP: Which character was most difficult to write?
Tim: I think the character that was most difficult to write was the antagonist of both Bone White and Blackened, Mr. Corwin Barnes. It was most difficult to maintain that balance between giving the reader enough about him to understand his motives, while still maintaining a considerable amount of mystery about him. That was important for me, and the balancing act teetered both ways before all was said and done.

VP: What scenes are most difficult to write?
Tim: This may surprise most readers, but the scenes I found most difficult to write were the disturbing scenes. Trust me, if the reader cringes when they read the more disturbing and graphic scenes in either Bone White or Blackened, they can be rest assured that I cringed while writing them. I'm actually not as comfortable with that aspect of the books as one might think. It disturbs me as well, and I don't necessarily like to live in that world. But on the other hand, those scenes are necessary to the story, and I would never consider not including them.

VP: Do you see yourself in any of your characters?
Tim: Since the characters of both Luke and Garrett from Bone White and Blackened are based on myself and my high school friend, I absolutely see a little of myself in both.

VP: Indie pub or trad pub?
Tim: Currently, I am an indie author. I've chosen this route for two reasons. First, if you look up the term control freak in the dictionary, you'd see my mug staring back at you from the page, or more currently, the screen. I take a considerable amount of pride in my writing/books, and couldn't imagine not being happy with the end product simply because a particular decision was taken out of my hands. From the storyline content, to the cover design, right down to the font being used for the blurb on the back, I like to make those decisions. It's a sickness, I know, but I'm not sure there is a 12-step program for control issues.
            The second reason I self-publish is because I'm not a fan of how many publishing houses operate and treat their authors. Too many of them seem to have forgotten that the only reason they have a product to sell is because of the authors.

VP: What is your favorite scene? Why?
Tim: Such a difficult question. Whenever a question asks for an absolute, it proves nearly impossible for me to answer in the same manner. But, I would say that ONE of my favorite scenes in Bone White is when we are introduced to one young girl in particular. She is so creepy and subtly disturbing, that even though the reader is already on edge by the time we meet her, that scene still has enough oomph to make the reader ask, 'what the @#$%??' in disbelief. And what author doesn't love creating those moments?

VP: If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Tim: Another excellent, yet difficult question. I think if I could meet anyone, I would want to meet John Lennon. There are only a handful of musicians that I consider 'true artists,' and he's at the top of the list. Very few musicians/songwriters at his level of fame continued to write straight from the heart, regardless whether it would sell. Even though they weren't popular topics, he wrote about everything from the war and corrupt governmental policy to his mother, children and wife, personal songs that everyone could relate to despite the fact he wrote them for no one but those involved. I'm sure he was told time and time again that a particular song or album wasn't what the fans wanted, but he didn't care. That is a true artist in my mind, and that's what has always drawn me to his music.
            The next person I would want to go back in time and meet would be Mark David Chapman. One way or another, I would make sure he never got on that plane to New York.

VP: If you could take the place of one of your characters, which one would you choose and why?
Tim:  I throw way too much crap at my characters to ever want to be one of them!

VP: If you could vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would you do?
Tim:  That's tough. I absolutely love to travel, so my bucket list is quite extensive. One of the places I would most like to go would be Tuscany. The scenery I see on television and photos looks so serene. The rolling hills. The vineyards. The tiny villas and cottages. If I ever get to the point where I can live off my writing, I will without a doubt take a couple weeks and travel all through the Tuscan countryside, writing, drinking wine and visiting every quaint village I can. I can't imagine how inspirational a trip like that would be.

VP: What is your favorite TV show/movie from your childhood?  What is it now?
Tim: I think, like most children of the 1970s, my favorite TV shows back then were the usual: Brady Bunch, Gilligan's Island, Alice, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Three's Company, Leave It To Beaver. Same with cartoons: Scooby Doo, Hong Kong Phooey, Speed Racer. As a kid, I pretty much went with what was popular, and didn't stray too far from the norm.
            Of all the great movies that came out of the 70s/80s, the only one that I would consider an actual 'favorite' from my childhood would be Jaws. Loved it then, still love it now. Easily in my top five films of all time. Rounding out the top five would be Legends of the Fall, A River Runs Through It, This Is Where I Leave You and The Hangover. (notice 3 out of the 5 are highly dramatic...hmmm)




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Monday, May 18, 2015

A GUEST POST by the spectacular C. Bryan Brown

Why I Need Strong Women

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about diversity in storytelling. There’s not enough LGBT characters, non-white characters, or strong female characters in our fiction. For that reason I’m quite nervous. My newest novel, “They Are Among Us,” features a strong, female protagonist.

Now, I’m not going to go all Melvin Udall and say that strong women make me want to be a better man. Instead, I’m going to take it a step further and tell you strong women make me a better man just by being who they are. They make me think more, react differently, and best of all, see the world with different eyes. Strong women elevate me, not by bending their backs so I can step on or over them, but by taking my hand and leading me on a multitude of journeys I’d otherwise never make.

But I’m not a strong woman.

In fact, I’m an extra-large, corn-fed Midwestern man. Still, writing about a strong woman only seemed natural to me. This wasn’t done by any conscious decision on my part (the first draft of this book was written years ago, before the gender gap in fiction became a thing), but because I’ve always been surrounded, and shaped by, these strong women from my grandmothers to my mom, my aunts, my sister and my wife, down to my women friends. I don’t always agree with them, and we often have robust (sometimes even rancorous) discussions, but that’s par for the course. I’m like that with anyone I respect.

I can’t speak for everyone, so I’ll speak for myself and admit that I need these strong women. Not only in my life, but in my fiction. Fiction is supposed to challenge our perceptions, show us people and places and situations we might not normally encounter; fiction creates empathy for others, and expands a reader’s emotional base. I’m quite proud to join the ranks of authors who’ve written strong women, and hope that anyone who reads “They Are Among Us” finds inspiration and education from Alexandria.

But that doesn’t stop my aforementioned nerves from rattling.

Why? Because I want the women in my life to be proud of how I’ve portrayed them in my novel. I want them to say that Alexandria Maxell is a good example of how women should be written in fiction. I want them to give my book to their daughters (age appropriately, of course) and say, “You can be anything you want, including an F.B.I. agent that helps shape the world.”

Women don’t have to be perfect, no one is. And it’s those imperfections that make people stronger, more so women than men, because they have to fight for what’s right and humane, instead of having it handed to them over a penis. Since there’s an obvious disparity in how women are portrayed in current fiction, writing strong, determined, and kick ass females is empowering, not only for the author, but for women. The more writers that illuminate women in engaging, thoughtful, frightening, and dramatic roles, will continue help bridge this gap between women and men in our society, until finally, they’re where they belong, which is side by side with every man. I know my side is where I want the women in my life to be. Holding my hand, guiding me, helping me, and letting me do the very same thing for them.

Women deserve that, and so much more, from any author that writes them into a book.

About the Author

C. Bryan Brown has been hit in the face with a dirty plunger, run over with his own car, and even lived in a haunted house. Now he's in corporate America with debt up to his ears and he's happy to be living the dream with his wife, kids, and grandkids. He writes to avoid going to jail and keep his sanity, though he'd love for you to add to his paranoia and stalk him at http://cbryanbrown.net

His latest novel, They Are Among Us, was released on April 14th by Post Mortem Press. You can purchase a paperback or Kindle copy by clicking here!