Monday, November 24, 2014

A Thanks for Fewer Voices

By Rich

I may have mentioned this before -- my younger brother wasn't the nicest person when we were kids. One time, when walking home from middle school, one of his 6th grade friends asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. In a mature 8th grade voice I said I was going to be a writer.

"Yeah," my brother started. "He's going to write Space in the Head: An autobiography by Rich Keller."

On one hand, his statement stung, to the point it still resounds in my memory. On the other hand, my brother was way off track. I had plenty in my head at the time, besides the usual early-teen thoughts of female classmates. There were voices of fear, doubt, guilt, self-condemnation, and general exasperation that I would never become a successful writer.

These voices continued for decades. Some came from the continual berating and speeches of disappointment from various family members. Others came from what I would later find out was depression (something we've discussed before). An innocuous phrase from someone, the lack of a phone call from another, or a situation gone awry would start the internal meeting of negative voices in my head. And all of of them tried to out-shout each other to be heard. They would even prod me in times where quiet was necessary, such as silent prayer or meditation.

Heck, no wonder I wasn't a productive writer! Each time I would internally set a goal the voices would come around, say "Um, wait a minute there ...," and shut me down while other worried voices added to the chorus. It made me grumpy, bitter, and fearful I wasn't good at a darn thing.

Today, thanks to a medicine and therapy, it's much different, and I've begun to really notice it. Recently I've stopped what I was working on and listened. Plenty of external sounds, but in my head there was deep quiet. And you know what, it feels great!

This is why this year I confidently started my publishing company, produced so much written material, and put this column together in about ten minutes. I still have voices in my head -- mostly the characters in my stories. However, sometimes the voice of doubt or common sense will pop up to tell me not to post an anti-government, Duck Dynasty-hating comment on a discussion board or tell my wife her new jeans do make her look fat.

So, this Thanksgiving, I give thanks to the bad voices which decided to vacate my head. I don't miss you, and I truly hope that you don't come back. The place is more spacious without you.

What voices do you have in your head?

Self-promotion alert: Just in time for the Thanksmaskwanukah holiday comes my latest eBook, Santa is a Stalker! And other modern holiday stories. It'll be available on Black Friday, November 28, via Amazon. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Making Do and Giving Thanks

By Sarah Reichert

One of my earliest memories is of waiting in a dark and crowded hall while my mother picked out ‘groceries’ from piles of white and black generic boxes.  I didn’t understand at the time that the blocks of Velveeta-like cheese, powdered milk, and bags of rice were part of assistance programs that kept us from going hungry when the insecurity of the uranium mine had left us teetering on the edge of destitution.

My father is, and always has been, a hard worker.  He took whatever job he could to support us, but in the unstable energy economy of 1980’s Wyoming there was always a fear behind my parent’s eyes.  Their amazing resilience makes me tearful with pride now, as a parent myself. 

Because, back then, I never knew we lacked for anything. 

We were always fed.  We were always clothed.  We had a roof over our heads and wild game in the freezer.  We made do.  When lay offs hit, they squeezed the most out of what we had and made do.  When dad went back to college for a second degree in teaching, we lived in a small house in Laramie and made do.  When Christmas came around and three kids rushed to the living room, there was always something there to be thankful for.

I didn’t have cable as a kid; I had books.  I didn’t have a TV in my room; I had the library less than two blocks away.  It didn’t matter that we couldn’t afford vacations to far off places because I could go there in my mind.  Pages were like my wings, rocketing me towards new and fantastic horizons.  My parents couldn’t give me designer clothes or name brand shoes.  They gave me Jean M. Auel, Jack London, L.M. Montgomery, Louis L’Amour, Piers Anthony, and Jane Austen.  They gave me hours and days of uninterrupted reading time.  I still remember mom peeking in on me, sprawled out in bed, pouring over a book, completely lost to the world around me, asking if I needed anything. 

Looking back now, and knowing what I do about how much it costs to raise a child (nonetheless three), I really couldn’t have asked for more.

We made more than just meals from small staples.  We made worlds out of our love and support of one another.  My parents gave us the belief in where our minds could take us.  And we made do.

Thank you for visiting this blog and please, this holiday season, remember the hardworking families of our community that still struggle.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Never Ever Ever Give Up

by Shirley Drew

A couple of weeks ago, I read Kelly Baugh’s post titled: “Don’t Give Up.” She talked about her struggles with
writing. "I either tend to meander, going off on tangents about the scenery and side plots, or under-develop, having  played out a scene in my head so many times I can’t see it from my reader’s point of view." She encourages us to "fight, don't give up." I enjoyed that post because sometimes I do feel like giving up. With a full time job and a life outside of work, writing doesn’t always make it to the top of my priority list. My plan to become a freelance travel writer by the time I retire seems improbable. Even absurd. But Kelly’s post reminded me that we all feel that way now and then.

And when a second career in writing seems improbable to me, I find that reading stories about successful writers who also had improbable beginnings helps me to stop feeling sorry for myself

For example, Emily Dickinson. She was all but ignored while she was alive, having fewer than a dozen poems published out of her almost 1,800 completed works. Okay, maybe that’s not the best example—at least not if you want your writing to be recognized during your lifetime.

But then most Stephen King aficionados know his story. His first book, Carrie, received 30 rejections, so he finally gave up and threw the manuscript in the trash. His wife, Tabitha, fished it out and encouraged him to resubmit it, and of course, the rest is history. King has since published 66 novels and nearly two hundred short stories. Total sales for King’s books are estimated to be between 300 and 350 million copies.

And of course Harry Potter fans know about J.K. Rowling’s tough road to success. Before Harry Potter, she was a divorced singled mother on welfare struggling to get by while also attending school and writing a novel. As of 2012, the HP franchise has made her a BILLIONAIRE.

John Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 16 publishers. When it was finally published by Doubleday in 1988, the meager 5000 copies quickly sold out. It later became a best-seller for Grisham, and the eventual combined sales was 250 million.

Jack London's success is even more surprising. Though he was an extremely popular and best-selling American author of his time, he received six hundred (yes, 600) rejections before his first story was ever published. He went on to publish 55 books and hundreds of articles in his lifetime, and more have been published posthumously.

Amazing, ‘eh?

So, to reiterate...

Never ever ever give up!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Press 1 to Hear About My Book

Post by Jenny 

Even though the recent midterm elections didn’t turn out quite the way I’d hoped, I’m nonetheless glad they’re over. So much hype, so many flyers in the mail, so many phone calls. And because my husband and I didn’t drop off our ballots early, the political propaganda in our house continued right up until election day.

It was while I was deleting yet another strident voice from my answering machine that I wondered: what if writers could use robocalls? Wouldn’t it be great if we could each get a list of thousands of people whose reading histories indicated that they would be a good match for our books? Then we could craft a fifteen or twenty second spot, kind of like a movie trailer for the ears, and blast it out to our potential readers as they were sitting down to dinner. Honestly, wouldn’t you rather have your favorite author’s voice-- instead of your least favorite politician’s--interrupt your beef stroganoff?

Okay, maybe this wouldn’t work so well, because (good news!) there are more writers in this country than even politicians, and that would mean a lot of calls. So we writers have to use other means to build our platforms.

Platform. I’ll be honest with you: that word is the biggest pin in my writer balloon these days. The mere thought of it deflates me. I would be less daunted if building my platform required actual carpentry skills (of which I have none) and exotic materials, including but not limited to unicorn hair, phoenix feathers, and sustainably harvested fairy dust. I know I need to strap on my figurative tool belt, but whenever I start thinking seriously about putting together a website, for example, I instantly fall into a coma.

If writing is my super-power (and by super, I mean average), self-promotion is my kryptonite.

But, seeing as how social media is not the "fad" I predicted it would be, I’m either going to need to change my ways or start rooting for the solar flare that is eventually going to wipe out all forms of electronic communication. I can’t in good conscience do that, though, because I would really miss the internet as a writer’s resource and bottomless well of adorable puppy pictures.

What has helped you build your writer's platform?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Creation and Destruction

by Kelly

In my brief sojourn as an author, I feel I can break down my entire writing career into a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type dichotomy. Creating and destroying.

During creation, I run to my computer whenever I have a free second, knocking the children, chores and responsibilities out of my way. As I help my characters chart their course through the plot line, I’m continually amazed and surprised by the creative process. How can I as the author both know and not know what’s going to happen? 

The only thing I can compare it to is giving birth to a child. You know it’s going to happen around month nine, and yet you are still shocked when those first contractions start and, later, when you gaze into a new little person’s eyes with overwhelming adoration. That's how I feel about my manuscript. It's the most unique, beautiful, precious thing in the universe and I am supremely happy.

When destroying (AKA editing, if I’m in a good mood) comes around, it's a very different story.

Suddenly, I cannot believe how dirty the inside of my silverware drawer is. I must remedy this immediately.


What if I quickly began a grassroots, city-wide movement to collect, distribute and compost unharvested fruit. Surely those rotting apples in my neighbors back yard could be put to better use?


I sit down to the computer with a knot in my stomach. It’s time to tear down, to rewrite, “to kill my darlings” because I’ve come to realize they’re not as great as I thought they were. But instead, I’ll play on Facebook, Youtube, and Pinterest for awhile, because that’s almost the same as working.

Creating and destroying. Why doesn’t the second one come more naturally? It’s what our muscles do to get stronger, what our brain does to re-purpose unused neural tissue and what our weather does everyday. Most human beings, however, do not enjoy the second quite so well as the first.

Deep thoughts, but some of it sounded a little pretentious. I should probably … oh look! A Youtube video of funny cats.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

This is the Story of A Happy Life

Last evening in my little hometown as snowflakes drifted down from the frozen night sky dusting sidewalks and fallen leaves with a fine powdery white, I had the enormous pleasure of tucking into our civic auditorium and settling into a talk by Alexander McCall Smith. I had gone somewhat grudgingly into the cold with middling expectations hoping to glean a few nuggets of wisdom about writing. And so it was that I was totally unprepared to find myself entranced by this delightful scotsman sporting a kilt and matching hose whose enthusiasm for writing and for life was readily apparent and utterly infectious. 

Prior to last evening, I was only vaguely aware of Mr. McCall Smith’s work. I knew about The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, having tried and failed to read it not once but twice. The writing was fluid, robust and acutely descriptive, but the storyline was simply not my cup of tea. I was pleased, therefore, to discover that this prolific author who, by his own account, writes 1000 words per hour and publishes 4 to 5 books a year, (a YEAR!), writes a lot. He must, in order to keep pace with the four separate series, children’s books and various other works he has on the front burner at all times. That’s a lot of front burners. He must have some kind of industrial Aga hidden away in his castle. 

Alexander McCall Smith always loved to write but never intended to make a living as a writer. Having already forged a successful career as a solicitor and legal scholar, he certainly didn’t need the work or immense riches that naturally follow from a writing career (because that's what always happens, right?) He wrote because ribbons of stories and colorful characters jostled about in his head demanding release. 

The thing that struck me most about Mr. McCall Smith aside from his keen intelligence, warm visage and wicked wit was that he seemed to be in love with life, his life to be exact. He was an entertaining and gracious speaker who clearly enjoyed himself which made each of us enjoy him all the more. He read some of his writing aloud and, try as he might, he couldn’t suppress his own fits of laughter at some very funny material. 

I don’t picture this writer slogging through each day putting in the hours trying to churn something out for publication. This is not someone who is desperate to find an audience or concerned with what any one else wants him to write. This is a man in touch with his inner-muse (I expect they dine together three or four times a week). He writes for himself, to entertain himself, to explore the interior lives of his beloved characters and the exterior places that have colored his world. He is not writing to impress anyone with his vocabulary, wit or wisdom, all of which he possesses in abundance. He writes for the the pure pleasure of the art form, to tell a story that pleases him and makes him feel something poignant.

Before he left the stage, Mr. McCall Smith read a poem that he penned backstage before the event. It was a love letter of sorts to our little town and I am sure he writes something similar for all of his engagements. In any case, it was very sweet and greatly appreciated. To show my gratitude, here is a little love note in return.

Dr. Mr. Alexander McCall Smith, 

Many thanks for traveling to our humble town, a location that is surely far out of the way from anywhere you are near. Thank you for regaling us with droll stories and whimsical bits that made us all laugh and feel happy to be together. Mostly though, thank you for helping me remember that writing is suppose to be fun and fulfilling and energizing and that if it is not all of these things then I am probably doing it wrong. This was, perhaps, the best gift of all and for that I will be forever grateful. 

Best Regards, Sarah 

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Sound of Creativity

By Rich

At the start of November, NASA added 60 space-related sounds to SoundCloud for free download. Some of them, like rocket test fires, Neil Armstrong's first steps on the Moon, or the real "Houston, we have a problem" announcement could be considered common. And then there are those which you'll probably listen to over and over again, such as lightning on Jupiter, a passing comet, or radio emissions from Saturn. Those snippets are both fascinating and somewhat chilling to listen to, especially in a dark and quiet room.

In examining these samples, I wondered about the sounds of creativity. Sure, you could point out the clacks of a keyboard, the slurp of a coffee, and the screams of anger followed by the crumpling of paper, but these are heard on a regular basis. Like NASA did converting interstellar plasma into a series of soundwaves, how would some of our creative instances transfer into audible samples?

Let's take success as an example, because this is what many of us want to achieve in our lifetime. Does his transfer into a John Phillips Sousa march, fireworks, or a huge sigh of content? What about failure? For some the sound would be a deflating balloon or the Wah Wah heard when a contestant doesn't win a The Price is Right game. For others, the sound of failure is the continuous rolling thunder of frustration.

Then there are the sounds an individual hears during the creative process. Of course, since a good many of us are from the Saturday morning cartoon generation, a brilliant idea is signified by the ding of an illuminated light bulb. However, it can also be signified by a crash of glass, or a pop, or a heavy gust of wind clearing the baffles of the mind. On the opposite end of the scale, those who can't think of a new concept hear the sound of steel gates crashing all around them. Think the ending credits of Get Smart.

The fact creative people can match hundreds of sounds to their successes and failures means they are truly creative and have an endless supply of material to work with. And for that we hear nothing but applause.

What sounds to you hear in your creative process?

Share a Post