Never Say Never

I’ve been writing for a lot of years. Way, way too many years (I’m old, folks). Sometimes it’s funny to look back on those years and reflect on the attitudes or ideas I had at any given time, and how that directed my work. I believe when you write, and stick to writing for a long time or maybe even your entire life, you’re always growing, learning, and evolving. New attitudes and ideas come along, your skills grow, and you try more new things than you ever imagined you would. It makes sense, because there’s very few creative and artistic people who stay stuck on one theme forever. You expand. You branch out. You give your ‘nevers’ a try.

I’ve had a lot of ‘nevers’ through the years. Things I said I would NEVER do. Things I would NEVER write, or try, or dabble in, or accomplish. Here’s a few of those things I said I would never do and then did them anyway:

  • Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Many times I said I would NEVER get published. Oh, how I languished, and despaired, and felt inadequate and overlooked. I’d never have a book published. No editor would ever want me. No one would ever read my brilliant masterpieces which were actually awful at the time. Well, check out the sidebar of my blog now.
  • I said I would NEVER write romance. This was back when I was younger and trying to be a horror author. Like way too many people, I dismissed romance as fluffy, silly writing that ‘wasn’t real,’ and was just trash and drivel. Never mind it’s the biggest-selling genre in books since…the dawn of time, possibly. I was young and full of myself and never seemed to realize I was constantly writing romance into my stories anyway.
  • At one point in my life I went through an intensely spiritual, religious phase and swore I would NEVER write horror again because it clashed with my moral point of view. I tried switching to sci-fi during this time and I was really, really bad at it. I don’t know what was going on with me, but eventually I moved on, or outgrew it, and got back to writing about vampires.
  • Hilariously, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group question for this month was about whether or not you’d ever gone back and rewritten an old piece of work. I said I hadn’t, and swore I NEVER would because I feel that looking forward is the best direction. Well, guess what I’m doing right this very moment? Revising an old story for an anthology call. D’oh!

NEVER is a block, a wall, a stone in the road that trips you up. It keeps doors closed and opportunities undiscovered. I’ve found that just because I have a writing ‘never’ today, it might be quite flexible tomorrow. And since I know I tend to dispose of those nevers eventually, I’m trying hard not to create them in the first place anymore.

What about you? What NEVER have you kicked aside and done anyway?

The Gang’s All Here

For most of the first part of this week, I was down with the flu. Ick. I always seem to fall prey to the flu or a cold in late February/early March. I don’t know why, it’s a strange cycle for me. Even if I do my best to avoid sick people during that time frame, it finds me. Anyway, being sick meant lots of down time, and I thought to myself since being sick frees you of all obligations, maybe I’d get some writing done. Ha!

Instead, I binge-watched the first two seasons of Shameless on Netflix. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it’s a dark comedy about a seasoned, neglectful (and wholly irredeemable) alcoholic and his six children (ranging in ages from 21 to 2) who are left to fend for themselves since he and his ex-wife have essentially abandoned them. The oldest, 21 year-old Fiona, becomes her siblings’ surrogate mother and fights hard to make ends meet and keep them from ending up in the foster system. And the show is, in a word, hypnotic. It’s also very, very adult, if you’re considering watching it, so be warned!

The thing is, I LOVE ensemble casts. Whether it’s in TV, movies, or books, I like a big, robust roster of characters who interact with each other but also have their own storylines. From the Lord of the Rings trilogy, to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, to heck, Star Trek, I love a world populated with fleshed-out characters, not just background and side characters. My own Siren Song series is pretty much an ensemble cast, but I wish I had written it in third person omniscient, so I could have followed the lives of some of the other characters more closely. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll re-write it that way.

That’s not to say I don’t like stories that focus more tightly on just several characters, because I do. But a huge cast of characters feels like I get more bang for my buck, that I get many stories instead of just one.

How about you? Do you like lots of characters with lots of stories, or would you rather write/read a more tightly-focused character study?

Have a great weekend!

The Evolution Of Writing Tools

I’ve had a lot of writing tools over the years. I started out in high school writing in notebooks. I got a manual Brother typewriter for Christmas when I was 12 or 13, but even by the standards of the day (goodness I’m dating myself, but 1989? 1990?) it was archaic, clunky, and hard to use, and the keys always stuck. The only way to correct typos was with white out paper (remember that stuff?), though you could buy ink cartridges with a correction ribbon as well. Nevertheless, I did type out a short story on it and sent it to a magazine. Hilariously, they sent it back unread because the typesetting was so bad as to be nearly unreadable. I was 14 and more optimistic than smart, what can I say?

My first ‘technological’ writing tool was a Brother word processor. MUCH better than a manual typewriter, but by today’s standards still a cumbersome, difficult piece of equipment. They keyboard part (which was also a typewriter) weighed about seven hundred pounds, and the cables to hook it up to the monitor were plentiful. Despite it being a huge advancement over a typewriter, its technological capabilities were limited. Printing anything took years, as it printed by literally typing out everything on the screen (and to print out an entire book took about six ink cartridges). It did take 3.5 disks though, which I saved tons and tons of stories on. I can no longer access those disks because the files on them can’t be read by newer technology. Nevertheless, I wrote many stories and books on it and submitted them to magazines and contests. I even got a short story published. I also had a ‘laptop’ word processor, but I didn’t have a printer to hook it up to so I mostly wrote fan fiction on it.

And then, in 2000, we got our first desktop computer. Oh, the ease of writing! The technology! The mountains of stories and books I wrote and submitted and had rejected! Truly astounding. The internet also enabled me to become a hugely popular fan fiction author, which is where I cut my writing teeth to full sharpness (I won’t tell you the fandom or my screen name, to spare my dignity, but there’s a few friends who read this whom I actually met through that writing).

And then on to laptops, eventually. With each new machine came better technology and a better version of Word. Just recently, I replaced my old laptop because I’d had it nearly four years and it was getting to the point it was usable, but not very efficient. Kind of like that one light switch in your house that’s wired backwards so you have to turn it off to turn it on, or the toilet handle you always have to jiggle. It’s comfortable and you know the workaround by heart, but why not fix the issue and do it without the unnecessary jumping through hoops and voodoo spells you have to cast to make it work right?

My new laptop types beautifully, has more memory, better graphics, more storage, and Word 2016 runs as smooth as butter, the words just flowing from my fingertips onto the screen like the technology is right inside my head. I’ve come all this way from pounding sticky keys and cramping my hand with a pen and notebook. Do I miss the old ways? No, not at all. But nostalgia isn’t always about wishing you could do something the hard way again.

How have your writing tools evolved?

A Memorial To A Friend

Six years ago today, a friend of mine named Chris passed away. We met when I started working at my very first serving gig in a restaurant that doesn’t exist anymore. Everyone there was like family, and until this day, at all the places I’ve worked, I’ve never found friendships or bonds like the ones we created there. If the place was still around today I’d probably still be working there. I keep in touch with a lot of those old friends via Facebook and meeting up from time to time.

Chris was a wiry, scruffy guy who looked like John Lennon (though he hated when people pointed this out). He was a true dank hippie, loved jam bands, was a huge fan of Phish and The Grateful Dead, and did all sorts of drugs not to get high, but for the existential experience. That sounds like some old stoner who was a teenager in the 60’s, but he was actually only 30. He could tell a story like no one I’ve ever met, and his tales of ‘enlightenment’ were so mesmerizing I believed that I, too, could drop acid and see the face of God (I’ve never done acid, btw). He had an incredibly interesting life and had done so much in his short thirty years it boggled my mind. He also had so many friends it was surreal–and not just acquaintances, honest-to-God friends. He was known and loved by everyone, a truly gregarious and outgoing person, and he always made everyone feel equally important.

He was spastic, a prankster, and loved to make people laugh. He was a trickster with a heart of gold. He was one of my best friends, a brother to me, and we had so many good times together. One of his last pranks, which will live on forever, is that he would change his birthday on Facebook every day so it would alert all his followers that every day was his birthday. Because of this, some people now believe December 27th is his birthday (his real birthday was in July, like mine). It’s bittersweet, because when I see that notification pop up on Facebook it reminds me of his humor, but it also reminds me what the next day is.

He was a writer, too. He was working on his memoirs, Triumphs of An Open Mind, most of which contained stories I’d already heard from his mouth. Since I was a writer too we constantly shared ideas and advice. He was my writer friend and everyone knew us as ‘the writers’ where we worked. He hadn’t gotten published yet, but he was working on it. We both had big dreams of bestsellers and stardom.

Then, a few months before the end of 2010, he was diagnosed with Graves Disease after suffering heart palpitations and weakness. I was adamant that he was fine, and reminded him of this when he’d get down on himself about it or start feeling hopeless. I remember saying “You’re not going to die!” about a hundred times. I was convinced he wouldn’t, that he’d have a long happy life telling wild stories and bouncing off the walls.

A few days after Christmas, he proved me wrong. (Some of my friends still joke ‘he died to spite you’ because it’s the sort of joke HE would make.)

I’d worked an early shift that day and came home, turned the ringer on my phone off, and took a nap. When I woke up I had about 16 voicemails and missed calls from different people, and none of them said anything more descriptive than “call me.” I knew something was horribly wrong. I picked my friend Jodi as the one to call back, and when she answered she was crying and said “Chris died.” He’d passed away in his sleep the night before, from heart failure, at the age of 30. I remember being so disoriented I got up and tried to get dressed and couldn’t figure out how to put my clothes on. Absurdly, Jodi and I went shopping and called everyone we knew before they got the news second-hand. We didn’t know what else to do.

His funeral was massive. I had never seen so many people at the funeral of a person who wasn’t famous. We actually closed the restaurant that day so everyone could attend. I remember thinking ‘I want to live my life in a way that I end up having a funeral like this.’ The place was huge and they still couldn’t fit everyone inside.

A few months later, I had the opening line of his novel tattooed on my arm. I think he would appreciate it, and it gets me through the dark times in my life.

I had a dream about him Monday night, amazingly. We were sitting and talking like we used to, and suddenly I said, “I know this isn’t real, but can I hug you? Because it’ll feel real for a minute.” And of course, it did.

We were both huge fans of Carl Sagan, and so I post this today in honor of him, our favorite essay by Mr. Sagan:

I hope you’re still out there jamming across the cosmos, Chris.

The Language Of Writing

Many years ago, I wrote under a different pseudonym, in a somewhat different genre, and had a modicum of success. The name was Lydia Nyx, if you’re curious, but it doesn’t matter because everything I had published back then is no longer in print/distribution and some of the publishers are defunct. I ended up eventually shifting genres and reinventing myself as Megan Morgan.

However, despite the fact I didn’t write fantasy/sci-fi, I somehow ended up being a panelist at 2011 Penguicon in Detroit (which is a sci-fi/fantasy con). It’s a funny story, and what I learned from the experience–that we, as writers, no matter where we are on our path or what we write, are all in this together–was invaluable.

I ended up at the convention because I made a comment on a blog post of a fellow author who was published in an erotic horror anthology with me. He mentioned Penguicon and that they still needed panelists (I believe he worked for the organizers? I can’t remember clearly.) and I looked into it, despite the fact I didn’t fit the demographic. When I contacted the organizers, they said indeed they would like to have me, and didn’t care what I wrote, they just wanted published writers to speak. I was scheduled for not one, not two…but SEVEN panels. Keep in mind, I had never spoken publicly on writing before, ever.

The convention ended up being a blast. However, on three of those panels, I sat alongside sci-fi/fantasy authors Jim C. Hines, Stephanie Osborne (who had the coolest NASA ribbons), and….*GULP* Brandon F*kin Sanderson. Needless to say, I was way out of my element and way nervous. I was terrified to sit with multi-award winning, bestselling Mr. Sanderson, who, let’s not be modest about it, 90% of the convention goers were there to see. What’s more, I was expected to sit with him and talk to a huge audience about writing, intelligently.

I had no idea what to do, so me and my son just got Steampunk’d.

What did I learn from those three nerve-wracking panels? I learned that despite the fact Mr. Sanderson was at the top of the food chain and I was way down at the bottom, in the swamp, and that we write in radically different genres, our love of writing, the way we talk about it, and the techniques we use to evoke creativity are exactly the same. He was a tremendously nice and polite man. He moderated all three panels (basically directing the flow of conversation/controlling the subject matter/provoking the rest of us to speak) and he was extremely pleasant, encouraging, and helpful. I realized despite our different points on the spectrum we were both writers, and we both thought like writers. We could discuss it on the same level, all other things aside. It was incredibly comforting as a young, floundering author.

Jim C. Hines is also a darling of a man. I sat directly beside him for all three panels and he was just a great conversationalist and gentleman. He eased my nerves greatly before each panel.

It was an eye-opening weekend. I also made several fans at the time who were pleasantly surprised to find an author so radically out of place. I met author H.B. Pattskyn there, before she was published, and she was so wonderful and supportive of me on those days when this young author was so scared. I even had her sit with me on some of my other panels!

The thing I learned that weekend, and I still carry with me to this day, is that we’re all in this together, no matter where we are on the ladder, no matter what we write. Writing is a universal language!

Look how well I fit in! I apologize, my son could only seem to take pictures during earthquake tremors.

A Writer’s Gratitude

This week is Thanksgiving in the US, and for that reason it’s time to reflect on what I’m thankful for when it comes to writing. Feel free to tell me why you, too, are thankful to be a writer! You don’t need to be from the US or be celebrating Thanksgiving to share your joy.

I’m thankful to be a writer because:

  • I get to make up stories and share them with others–and sometimes, they even like them and want me to share more!
  • Writing is a form of therapy for me.
  • I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since a young age. It always gave me focus and direction, and a dream to follow.
  • Language is fun to play with.
  • I love the stories that others give the world, and I love being part of that community. Being one of them.
  • If there’s a story I’d love to read, I can write it.
  • Writing is an ever-growing skill and there’s always something new to learn. It’s never boring.
  • As a writer, I can understand the structure of and what goes into making some of my favorite stories and entertainment. Knowing how it works doesn’t ruin the magic, quite the contrary!
  • I have a ‘calling.’
  • Though I don’t make much money from writing, the fact that anybody pays me at all to do what I love is a miracle.
  • When I’m screwing around on my laptop, I can still pretend I’m working. 😉

Those are just a few of the reasons I’m thankful to be among the ranks of those who create stories for the enjoyment of others, and just as importantly, for themselves. What about being a writer makes you thankful?

The Creative Type

This post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. The first Wednesday of every month is Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. The awesome co-hosts for the November 2 posting of the IWSG will be Joylene Nowell Butler, Jen Chandler, Mary Aalgaard, Lisa Buie Collard, Tamara Narayan, Tyrean Martinson, and Christine Rains!

November 2nd Question: What is your favorite aspect of being a writer?

This is a kind of difficult question to answer. I mean, there’s so many great things about being a writer it’s hard to pick just one thing. From the millions of dollars my books makes me, to the yachts and mansions, the shopping sprees in Paris, always being invited on TV talk shows, the hunky male models feeding me chocolate…

Oh wait, let me come back from dreamland now!

Really, I don’t write for money, and if you start out writing to become rich, boy, are you in for a disappointment. The goal of being a writer, of course, should be the writing itself. That’s where the joy is. You may or may not make money writing. If you do, that’s great! If you don’t, writing is still a pretty awesome thing to do. Most writers will tell you that they don’t really have a choice about writing–it’s something we’re called to, and if we don’t do it, it will eat at us and wake us up in the middle of the night until we pay attention to the urge.

I’ve always been a writer. I’ve always known it was what I wanted to do with my life. It took me a lot of years to get it right, and I’m sure there’s still more I need to learn. But that’s the great part about it, is that I’ll never stop improving my craft and understanding it better. The journey doesn’t end with one book, or a hundred. It goes on and on. Writing is forever!

So–my favorite aspect of being a writer? It’s the writing itself. It’s the knowledge that I was called to this and that it’s my life’s purpose. Nothing feels better than writing and being involved in the act of creation. I wouldn’t trade it for all the chocolate-feeding male models in the world (okay, I might give up a couple books for Luke Pasqualino…). Writing is awesome!

Going to Chi-Town!

Next weekend I’m going to Chicago with my best friend! We always seem to end up going there at least once a year. It’s only a six hour drive from where I live (Cleveland) and we have friends we usually stay with there, so most of the time it’s a relatively cheap trip. We’ve taken Amtrak there as well, which was lots of fun. We both love Chicago and I’d really like to live there someday.

Me and the bestie all dressed up to rock Chicago!

So it’s probably no surprise I write about Chicago a lot. It shows up either directly or peripherally in a lot of my writing. My entire Siren Song series is set there, and even in my upcoming Kentucky Haints series, the main character is from Chicago (though the series takes place in Kentucky). Every time I visit Chicago I discover some new thing and I try to include it in the next book I inevitably write that’s set there. I think the best compliment I’ve ever gotten was from my best friend–last time we visited Chicago, we were out at dinner and she brought up a description of Chicago from one of my books and said it was the best description of the city she’d ever read. I might be a little obsessed!

It’s important to write what you love, though. That’s the lesson to be learned here. When you write what you love, and you write it joyfully and honestly, the result is going to be something that you just might get a compliment on. Also, writing is going to be a lot more fun, and even the days when the words feel more like work than play, you’ll be creating something that feels right to you.

What’s your Chicago?

Write More! Do More! Moooore!

I have a bad habit of overwhelming myself with projects. I try to work on multiple stories and usually end up scattering my brain because I’m going in too many directions. I know I need to write or edit one thing at a time, but my mind starts hopping around going “if we write MORE things though, we’ll have MORE things that will get finished quicker!” Only, that’s not really the way it works. I end up taking much longer to complete things than if I had just concentrated on one project at a time.

I’m sure there are some writers that can work on multiple projects and bring them to successful completion. However, I’m not like that–or, I haven’t taught myself to be like that yet–so the overbearing anxiousness to complete a bunch of stuff all at once is counterproductive for me. I’m dealing with that this morning, as I have several projects started and I’m trying to organize which one I’m going to work on when. The only thing it’s doing is making me feel overwhelmed and keeping me from writing anything at all.

I don’t know why I insist upon trying this route over and over when I know it doesn’t work for me. Maybe I think someday it will? Maybe I think my laziness and procrastination will magically disappear so I can create from the time I awake until the moment I go to sleep? Maybe I think I’ll actually stop being distracted by the TV, internet, and a million other shiny things and get more writing done? HA!

As I move into my self-publishing ventures, I find myself even more anxious. I thought the opposite would happen, that I’d feel more relaxed without the pressure of publisher deadlines. Instead, I realize I’ve put the burden entirely on myself to create and produce and I need to do so much. Write more! Edit more! More projects! I’m going to try to calm down and focus on one thing at a time instead.

There’s a million ways we make ourselves crazy as writers. Do you find yourself trying to do too much and overwhelming yourself?

Ch-ch-ch Changes

I’ve made a big important decision about my writing career, and I thought I would share it with all of you today. After much thought and consideration (and a lot of research), I’ve decided to make some changes that feel right, and I think I’m finally in a good place to make them.

I’ve decided to become a hybrid author.

What the heck is that?

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, no, I won’t be splicing my genes with some other author to make myself into some sort of weird book-writing chimera. A hybrid author is an author who is both traditionally and self-published. It’s something a lot of the hip kids are doing now, as it gives an author more creative options. I am currently only traditionally published, but that’s about to change.

Why have I made this decision? Here are a few reasons:

  • I have an established readership/following now. It’s small, but it’s mine, dammit! Hopefully through my already established social media presence and this blog, I can show up to the self-published party without worrying that not a single person will have any idea who I am. I’ll have a few people to mingle and eat cake with in the corner.
  • I want greater creative and career freedom. I don’t just mean with what I write (I’m still sticking to largely paranormal romance and some smutty stuff here and there) but also as far as covers, distribution, and promotion. I have some graphic design ability (check out my Twitter, Facebook, and G+ accounts for my graphics-making chops) and with a stock photo account in hand and some visions in my head, I think I can make myself some pretty killer covers that I’ll cherish.
  • I’ve gotten better at writing. I’m not as green in the self-editing and plotting arena as I used to be when I was a wee writer. This does NOT mean I won’t still make use of beta readers and professional editors, but I think (or hope) I know enough now not to make a fool of myself.
  • I know the business side of writing a lot better than I used to. I also learned all I could about self-publishing platforms, pricing, and formatting.
  • Even if the whole venture flops, I’ll still be ahead. My income from writing now is minimal, so even if the response to my self-published work is lukewarm, I’ll probably be making about what I am now with traditional publishers. But if it does even slightly better than lackluster…I’ll be ahead!

I’m excited about this experiment. I want to be my own boss, so to speak, even if my employee is a pain in the butt. Will I continue to publish traditionally? Of course. I just want to open my options.

Additionally, I’m going to be making a major overhaul to my woefully neglected newsletter. As soon as my first self-pubbed book comes out (details soon) I will be offering free stories as an incentive to those who sign up. Those kind few of you who are already signed up, I will make sure to contact you to offer you these free stories as well!

I’m a little nervous and a lot eager. Watch this space for lots of news in the near future!