Tuesday, September 30, 2014

There And Back Again.

By Jay Stringer

About three months back my brain went boom. I was angry. I was moody. I was getting sad. A lot. For no real reason. There were days when I'd come home at the end of the day-job and not be able to talk. My chest would be tight. I'd then sit in front of the keyboard to try and write -the thing I was supposed to enjoy- and find I had nothing left. I would sit up until four or five in the morning trying to find whatever I had lost.

In short, I was not fun to be around.

I realised I'd been feeling this way for a while. That I felt like I'd been having a slow heart attack for many months and that my my brain had felt neglected and decided to get in on the act.

I went to the Doctor, after a few weeks of refusing to seek help, and he told me straight away that I was all kinds of nuts.

I joke. He didn't say that at all. A Doctor wouldn't use the phrase "all kinds."

I was signed off from the day job and I've been off ever since. I'm due to go back next week and, in all honesty, I can't afford to stay off any longer.

For the first few weeks of being off, I made the mistake of trying to continue writing. I was treating it like a holiday and doing what I always do when I'm on holiday from the day-job; writing. I was still fighting with the blank page and still getting angry over something I didn't understand. After that, my better half pointed out that the Doctor had told me to stop working and that I hadn't done what he said. I wasn't on holiday, I was supposed to be healing.

So I finally let a few people in on what was going on, and stopped writing.

I filled my time with reading, sleeping, and cleaning the flat (though I'm overplaying how much of that I did, really.) The most important thing I did was starting to ride my bike. We live only half a mile from the River Clyde, and every day I would get out on my single speed (later, fixed gear) bike and ride. Ten miles at first, then fifteen, then twenty to twenty five miles a day. Along the river or through the city. On abandoned cycle paths or in crazy busy traffic. I could do more now. I could easily do thirty or forty, but I find the current amount is what I need.

After a few weeks of that, you start realise what's important. Perspective comes back, and your priorities snap back into place.  It's going to be different for everybody. I needed to get back to writing. I was itching for it. I got back at my desk and carried on with the current book, and with work that I owed to a few people. Eventually I remembered DSD was still here, waiting.

Why am I writing all of this?

Well, I'm a writer, it's what I do.

But it's also important to say some of this. We don't talk about mental health enough in any walk of life. And in ours, in this crazy writing profession we've chosen, the vast majority of us are holding down more than one job. Some of us get to really enjoy the other job, some of us get to really hate it. But regardless, on top of that, we also have families, friends, commitments. We have skin that would like to see the sun from time to time, and lungs that want to be out in the fresh air.

As writers, we have the odds stacked against our health. Chances are you're spending too many hours of your life sat down. Too much time staring at information on a bright screen. You're also spending way too many or your waking (and sleeping) hours letting the writing take over sections of your brain.

I see it affecting friends, and I saw it affect me.

If you're feeling in a bad way, talk to someone. And if you recognise any of the signs in what I've said, then make changes. For me, I'm done writing at weekends. Once my day job is done for the week on a Saturday afternoon, I'm done using my brain again until Monday. And I'll be out on my bike every day, whatever it takes to find the time to do it.

Whatever changes you need to make to balance your life out, start them today.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Goodwill - my favorite used book store

My local Goodwill has been a source of some great book finds over the years. I've come to think of it as a good quality used book store rather then a place where James Patterson, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz novels wind up. I've found signed books and out of print books. Books by Jess Walter, Joyce Carol Oates, Ken Bruen, Duane Swierczynski, Terrill Lankford, Boston Teran, and many others.

One trend I've been able to capitalize on is paperbacks. Clearly my town is filled with guys (presumably) with large pulp, western, men's adventure, and Gold Medal collections which pass through the store a couple of times a year. This has happened so many times that I started to wonder why. One possibility is that it is a town in a rural farming county with older men whose paperback collections from 40+ years ago don't interest their kids and grand kids (those who might be cleaning out a house, attic, or garage) not interested in what is int he boxes or on the shelves.  Another possibility is that my town is more of a book town then the lack of book stores may indicate (One BAM at the mall, one used store). This could be the case because one of the main Random House warehouses and offices is here in town, employing a large number of people with access to different company functions (major authors have passed through town for some of them).

Below the jump are some of the best of my book loot (lots of pics)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Drawing from real life

By Kristi Belcamino

When BLESSED ARE THE DEAD first came out, several journalist friends contacted me and said they recognized the pesky reporter antagonist, May, as someone we knew mutually.

But they were wrong.

While May was loosely based on a reporter I knew (and let's be honest here, disliked and was never friends with), the character is more of a composite than a real portrayal of that grabby, sociopathic, backstabbing reporter—whoops, did all that slip out?—who now is doing quite well as an extremely successful reporter.

But I digress.

What I've found is that I do draw aspects of my characters from people I know in real life.

For instance, Gabriella Giovanni's best friend, Nicole, is a loose composite made up of parts of my real life beloved reporter friends, Claire Booth and Celeste Altus. But the majority of her character and personality comes from my imagination. She is a made-up person that has some cool traits from my close friends.

Readers say one of their favorite characters is the photographer, Chris Lopez, known as C-Lo. He is a bad ass photographer who saw some crazy stuff in Vietnam and lives and breathes journalism.

Although one of my favorite editors in the world is named Chris Lopez, he and my book's photog character are really nothing alike.

I've heard that people you know who read your books will see themselves in characters who are nothing like them and not see themselves in characters you've modeled after them. Does that make sense?

For instance, one author I know based a character upon his mother and then worried when he gave her the book to read. Her response? "I loved your book and boy was that mother awful!"

Go figure.

All this came up when a journalism friend wrote me to say she enjoyed BAD and asked about the characters and people we knew. I messaged her and told her she should know that book two has a character with a similar name to hers because I wanted to give the character a cool name and do a small wink/nod to her in doing so. I sent her the passage, a few paragraphs of the character with the similar name. But after I sent it and didn't immediately here from her, I freaked out because she is an awesome reporter and cool chick and I hoped she liked what I had done with the character who shared a similar name.

Thank God, she later wrote and said she was honored because that was my intent, to give a nod and wink to my friends and those I've worked with over the years. But what if she hadn't? Or what if someone thinks a character who is awful is based on them? Then what? Tricky stuff, huh?

Not to mention in August, I told my priest friend that an entire major character was based on him and I hoped it didn't get him in trouble with the Archbishop -- Thank God, he laughed and said not to worry and then started telling all his friends that he was in a book! Then, he had his nun friend read the book and find the parts with him in it. (Which was great until I realized the first two pages alone have 15 F-bombs in them. Sigh.)

Then, coincidentally, also today, I got an email from a dear friend of mine. She said I could share it here:

"Kristi:  thanks for our 15 minutes of fame!!!   I had to read real slow to make it last that long or I guess you can look at it that we will always and forever be characters in print.  When I read Canadian with spiky red hair i wondered and then knew for sure when her husband's name is Arnt and they come to surf every year.  Thanks for thinking of us.  Made us remember our first meeting with you two when you arrived in the little bug with the little tent and camped beside our big camp."

So, dear writer and reader friends, what are your thoughts on this?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Going to School with the Self-Publishing Podcast

Scott D. Parker

If school teachers were more like Sean, Johnny, and Dave, we’d all make straight A’s.

The three amigos in question are Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, and David W. Wright. They write an astounding amount of fiction per year (1.5 million words!) in multiple genres but, more important to this discussion, they host a weekly podcast on self-publishing.

I found their podcast via Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn podcast. Hers is a wonderful podcast featuring interviews and updates on Joanna’s career. I’ve been listening to both sets of podcasts in reverse order. Joanna interviewed Johnny in April 2014 and, from there, I discovered his podcast.

The Self-Publishing Podcast is chock full of camaraderie, fun, information, and a palpable zeal for writing in the 21st Century. I listen to their podcasts at the day job--you can see them live on YouTube--and they help me get through my workday. I make notes throughout the day just listening to the three of them talk and banter about the wide world of indie publishing. It’s like a college lecture only with more speed. And laughter. And swearing, so if that’s a thing for you, well, get over it and still listen to the podcast.

The latest episode is #125 so, if you are just discovering them like I am, you have over 100 hours of lessons to learn. But it’s fun learning. They just talk and I absorb. Most of the hour-long episodes start with general chit-chat about the week’s work, maybe a voice mail from a fan, and then an interview with a guest. For the past two weeks, I’ve basically listened to nothing else but the SPP, the Creative Penn, and Ace Frehley’s new album, Space Invader. (Excellent LP, by the way. Dude can write some wicked licks.).

A few highlights:

  1. Any episode with Tucker Max

I’ve learned lots from these three, but if there’s one underlying philosophy, it’s this: write what you want, write it as fast as you can, make sure it’s good, get it out in the world, and then do it again. If you fail, so what? You’ll learn from it and get better.

If there’s such a thing as required listening for tips, tricks, pitfalls, and successes in indie publishing, then the Self-Publishing Podcast is required. To paraphrase their book on publishing, Subscribe. Listen. Learn. Repeat.

Friday, September 26, 2014


By Russel D McLean

Since we moved into the Gothic Monstrosity last year, we have tweaked and adjusted the interior in many ways. The Literary Critic has gone to town painting and restoring furniture while I have mostly got out the way and focussed on the office. Its now finally getting to where we want it, but while the office was almost complete, something was missing.

And now its here.

A typewriter. From what I can tell this one's from somewhere around '53-'57 and still in great working order. I have in fact now put in a piece of paper with the opening paragraph to The Big Sleep typed up. And it works. It is the missing piece of the puzzle for me. Suddenly the room feels right. And in the few days since adding that last piece, my productivity seems to have increased.


I think there's something to be said for mascots and tokens. I think that some things can help to focus the mind and serve as a reminder of what you're attempting to achieve. I learned to write on my dad's old typewriter. Having one of my own even if its purely decorative reminds me of why I'm still doing this in a way. Its a connection to what's important to me about writing. Even the years in which the typewriter was created matters, too. I had expected to find a piece of old junk that didn't work. When I picked up that beauty (at a bargain price, too) I felt better about the fact that it worked, that it was in perfect condition. Its too loud, of course, to use regularly, and I'm very happy typing at a computer, but I think there's something quite beautiful about typewriters of that era; a kind of slick hope for the future that has vanished from design.

Or maybe I'm just mad. Maybe I'm just filled with a strange nostalgia for the past. Might explain why I also have a vinyl player, why most of my music is from the 60s and 70s, long before I was born.

All writers have habits and tokens and things they keep around when writing. For me, the typewriter is something I've yearned to have for a long time and now that its here, I feel like my writing space is complete; other things will be window dressing but I now have something there that reminds me, every day, where I've come from and what I'm hoping to achieve.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What Fitbit taught me about writing

By Steve Weddle

In an attempt to get my cholesterol below 350 and my resting heart rate under 90, I’ve moved from a breakfast of bacon and egg croissant to bacon and egg on whole wheat bagels. Additionally, I got a Fitbit thingy to tell me how many steps I’ve walked and how many times I got up in the middle of the night to pee.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned from this: never stop to count your steps. I mean, you’d think I’d have learned this from the Kenny Rogers song, but I’m thicker than a hamburger patty from Eddie’s Oklahoma City BBQ and DVD Rental Shoppe.

If you stop to count your steps, you’re asking for trouble. Maybe you’re close enough to your goal to stop. See, they give you some crazy goal of 10,000 steps a day, which is something like 50 miles or so, I think. So I lowered mine to 1,200, figuring that was more achievable and a nice round number. 

Anyway, if you stop and look, you’re doomed. Like the cartoon of the coyote who looks down walking across the chasm. Or the Andrew Hudgins poem that mentions the cartoon of the coyote who looks down walking across the chasm. Or the blog post that mentions the Andrew Hudgins poem that mentions the cartoon of the coyote who looks down walking across the chasm.

As a writer, you should follow this advice. Never, ever send your work to anyone until you’re done. Never. It’s asking for trouble.

In my younger and less-middle-of-the-night-peeing years, I’d sometimes finish a chapter and immediately send it off to fellow writers asking what they thought. All I wanted was for them to say, “Golly, you’re pretty amazing. This is some fantastic writing. I’m so jealous of your skills.”

But my friends are complete assholes.

Instead, they’d say specific things. “Oh, I like how this is going. You plan to have the two of them get together later in the book?”

What? I hadn’t. But now should I? Or if I do, is it obvious that it’s coming? I mean, I shouldn’t because I hadn’t meant to, but maybe I should because it would be a good idea? My lord.
Or they’d make more pointed suggestions. I lost them because I didn’t explain the multiverse well enough. Was the cat talking or just thinking about a Rimsky-Korsakov-themed restaurant. Maddening, I tell you.

When you’re writing, just make up things to tell people. When they say, “How’s the writing going” just tell them it’s going fine.

Don’t tell them anything you’re really doing. Don’t share anything.

Most people just ask about your writing hoping you’ll ask about theirs -- like when people ask about your kids.

Don’t tell them. Don’t say anything.

Just write. Just keep taking your steps.

When you hit your 100,000 words or your 1,000 steps, then you can talk to people about it.

Never talking about the doing. Only talk about the done.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Which Way is Up?

by Holly West

My life feels crazy right now and I'm not sure how to handle it.

I just had to put that out there, you know?

My husband and I are contemplating a major move from Los Angeles to the area in Northern California where I grew up. We spent last week up there looking at houses and feeling overwhelmed. We did end up putting an offer on something but it wasn't accepted. I was disappointed about that at first but now, back home in Venice, I'm kind of glad we don't have to pack up and leave just yet.

None of this really relates to writing except that for me, everything relates to writing. In this case, it's my identity as an "LA" writer. The thing is, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who thinks of myself as an LA writer because A) I don't generally write about LA and B) who cares anyway? If I can write about London sitting in my office here in Venice then I can certainly write about LA while enjoying the lush landscape of Northern California.

I've only recently become really involved in the LA writing community, primarily through our local chapters of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Both groups have become important to me and while I know LA is just a quick plane flight away, there's no question it will be more difficult to participate if I'm in Northern California. I plan on becoming involved with the NorCal chapters of these organizations but establishing myself in these new communities feels daunting.

Ultimately, I know this potential move has less to do with my writer-self and everything to do with the fact that I've lived in Los Angeles for over 25 years and I'm reluctant to move on. This city is a part of me. We've looked at the pros and cons of moving and in so many ways, the pros outweigh the cons--much more house and land for the money, a more relaxed lifestyle, and proximity to family and friends that we don't currently have are just a few of the reasons we're considering this change. But in the face of my uncertainty, the cons loom large, taking on much more significance than they deserve.

It sounds like I'm trying to talk myself into this, doesn't it?

I don't know what our final decision will be, but as far as the immediate future is concerned, I have a book coming out. Mistress of Lies will be published on September 29, just six short days from now. It's hard for me to believe that at this time last year, I was still writing it.

It's also a good reminder about how fortunate I feel to be a part of the writing community at large. Deep down inside, it doesn't matter where I'm located and you can't say that about every job. It's good to have some freedom.

Finally, I've found that the one thing that calms me when all of this indecision starts to rage inside my head is writing. Immersing myself in my work. This is the first time that I've ever truly found solace in writing and that's comforting.

I'm guessing a lot of you out there have made a major move at some point in your life. Care to share with the group about how that turned out? What about moving from the city to the country? How did you cope with the drastic lifestyle change?