Youngblood Blog

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A NewYear [2015] Epiphany of Mind

INSECURE WRITERS’ SUPPORT GROUP—IWSG January—Catchup Corner

Our star at perihelion, opposite full Cancer Moon

Our star at perihelion, opposite full Cancer Moon

IWSG FLYING the FLAG in 2015
January can often tax the kindest of our good intentions. Plus—forgive me for mentioning—an almost-75% landmass of the Northern hemisphere—E.United States hardest hit—is suffering blizzard conditions; a so-called mini-Ice Age.

NAKED IN SPACE—Comet Lovejoy in our Skies
Any emotional burdens which add to our New Year resolutions tend to throw our resolve out the window. But in the first week of the new year we are regaled by a delightful naked-eye object, to give our spirits a lift. Comet Lovejoy demands attention this week, drawing our sight heavenward. This is never a bad thing. By lifting our eyes from the computer, balance sheet, diaper drier, our thoughts get a chance to lie still for a moment. Instead, we can direct our attention to other—more dreaming musings—future successes—family changes—fame—whatever floats our boat. Our inner secrets revealed.

With our (astroLOGICAL) lives held in a 30-year Saturnine cycle, it’s nice to have a few little trifles to cheer us up when we get low: on motivation, NewYear rez—y’know—THAT time.

The Way Forward

But, thanks, as ever, to our fearless leader, Alex, who encourages us all by his supreme example: that abundance doesn’t need to mean hard slog!

Living in Present/Presence
Forget Auld Lang Syne: it’s all according to how we/you live now.

To plan y/our way forward, in life and in our day-to-day rhythm, we need to get comfortable first.

Any dream is gud! —more fabulous the better tku Aesop & all who Rock

Any dream is gud!
—more fabulous the better tku Aesop & all who Rock

Or, as the youth of 2015 constantly remind us:
NOW is where it’s at.

Within our little writerly IWSG community, fostered so well by our Ninja Cap’n Alex, I believe we writers have surfaced enough times here as a group, to understand our ‘other’ writerly silences. It goes with the territory.

I also believe, as fearless Alex constantly (gently) encourages us, that we are being asked—not just as a comfort-zone monthly moan-sharing group of Dreamweavers to open our own minds to what we can do. But to open our hearts as well.

Because soul-to-soul, we help each other connect to what really motivates us, just by holding each others’ hands through yet another (30-year wake-up call) Saturn Return.

’Nuff said.

Don’t do what I say. Do what Alex does!
Happy Epiphany & many 2015 Revelations.
©2015 Marian Youngblood

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January 8, 2015 Posted by | Ascension, astrology, authors, belief, blogging, calendar customs, culture, fiction, Muse, New Age, novel, publishing, seasonal, sun, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Journey Out and In

Monthly IWSG Corner

SHASTA: CRITICAL MASS, soon to be released through All Things That Matter Press, a Maine publisher

I’ve always been one to push it: the over-achiever in me likes to be in control. But sometimes it just doesn’t work.

We all know when the Muse is directing operations, it’s better if we just go along with her, with the tide, and allow her full rein. It’s important to give her loads of room to stir up the subconscious, and then wait and see what little miracles she has planned for us.

At other times, when the outer world directs—like editors, publishers, book-signings; that whole exciting round of putting oneself out there—it sometimes takes us by storm and we need to follow that flow, too.

But our Muse doesn’t like it; does she? Even when we tell her she needs to rest occasionally. Like her human charges, all work and no play… you know.

I wish it were as easy as it sounds: deciding when to write, and when not to. But, especially in the writing-publishing world, it’s never that simple. We writers aren’t totally in charge.

To be honest, we probably never were. We may think—especially during edit-mania—that the left hemisphere of our brain is running the show. But, even then, the direction is more likely to be coming from the reading public, what our publisher expects, what the market wants; what subjects are current darlings of the book-club circuit.

So, because I have been working flat-out—over the last month, at least—to try to get through final edits on my apocalyptic/end-times New Age novel, SHASTA: CRITICAL MASS, forthcoming from lovely Maine publisher, All Things That Matter Press, I have to say upfront I have probably let down my blogging/authorly friends in Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group. I know how good it feels to hear a word of encouragement from others in the same position—writers and bloggers and authors beginning to make a name for themselves out there—so I apologize if I haven’t had a chance to make the usual rounds of IWSG authors’ pages in the last few weeks. I promise I’ll try to make up for it, when the current push subsides.

Maine publisher of spiritual, self-help, authorly fiction and non-fiction for new ‘voices’

On the other hand, there may be quite a few IWSG-ers whose work is ideally suited to the ATTM ethos, so I’ll explain. They are a small press who like to introduce to the world of readers those authors who have a message—predominantly spiritual—to relay, a distinctive “self”, which they’d like to share. In these times where the ‘Big Five’ often have little patience with first-time authors or new discoveries, their approach is refreshing. Run by husband-and-wife team, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Phil and Deb Harris, the system operates smoothly, and the cogs are well-oiled and kept rolling by a team of editors, including the superb Marvin Wilson, himself a blogger and author of several books, including the Avatar-Award-winning novel, Owen Fiddler (2009). I couldn’t be in better hands.

For IWSG-ers, it may be of interest to point out that Marvin is also a mentor who delights in assisting writers, bloggers, other authors in the art of good writing.

That said, my Muse is feeling a little restless. She doesn’t like taking a back seat. Edits and reworked points-of-view (POV) are not what she thrives on. But I have told her that she, like me, should take a break from time to time. We all need to make the Journey Out and In. Besides, I’ve had a couple of chapter rewrites where she seemed delighted to pitch in again and throw her weight around!

And, if all goes well, she will be allowed to stretch her wings fully once more next month, when the annual NaNoWriMo marathon starts up again for all of us fledgelings to soar, unencumbered, to dizzy heights.

Until then, I hope she will a-Muse herself—sorry :(—and I have reminded her that we have even greater (Muse-ical) avatars who paced this path before us:

Gazing past the Planets
Looking for total view
I’ve been lying here for hours
Got to make the Journey Out and In

Thank you ©Moody Blues.
And thank you, Alex.
©2012 Marian Youngblood

October 3, 2012 Posted by | authors, blogging, fiction, Muse, novel, publishing | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Editing one’s Way through Writer’s Block

Monthly IWSG

Self-explanatory; though some friends say there should be a time segment for beating-head-against-wall...

Believe me, I really didn’t think I’d get hit by the dreaded Block –the writer’s nightmare par excellence— only a few months into our fun bloghopping fiesta with Alex in his Insecure Writers’ Support Group. Part of the IWSG guidelines are, after all, that we can share our insecurites, without feeling vulnerable, but if we’re feeling strong (sometimes we are), we writers who ‘have been through the fire’ (Alex’s words) should encourage others who might be struggling, by sharing the lessons we’ve learned.

“When I write I feel like an armless, legless man, with a crayon in my mouth” Kurt Vonnegut

This month the only lesson I’ve learned–blah–is that the Block waits for no man-woman-child; it can pounce at any time and, unless we can lay culpability at the door of the Muse–for her being in absentia–there’s no-one else to blame, but ourselves.

Alex and his equally illustrious-and-prolific blogging buddy, Arlee Bird, don’t hang around. They both blog and read/comment on others’ blogs daily and, instead of allowing the ‘block’ to take me over, I should probably have signed up for Lee’s amazing April A-to-Z challenge. It is, after all, one of the best ways to ease oneself out of that frozen-can’t-cope stance, because the challenge makes you write EVERY day during April: self-evidently alphabetically sequential. I recommend it to those bloggers/beginners who have the gift of writing something interesting/meaningful every day in life. [I do write every day in life–I have always kept a journal, still do–but what’s going through my head at the moment is far from meaningful]. And, for those just getting into the blogging craze, it’s a great way to start; to follow and comment on other blogs; and to emulate other bloggers. If you check out the link, you’ll find their following is massive, and if you want to make new writing friends, both AtoZ and IWSG are the way to go.

There’s an added incentive to put–just a few–words on the screen every day, because, as we all know, words on the screen are basically what this (unblocked) writing’s all about.

All writers need encouragement, because what we have in common is our (strange) lack of self-confidence. It must come from all those years of being holed up alone, writing our magnum opus. So when the day dawns for the book launch, we seem to be surprised that we pulled it off. [I am being positive, here, you’ll notice].

But I didn’t sign up, because I’m–er–editing. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Nevertheless, my editing is coming along fine. I have just tightened up (again) chapter twenty-nine; only another sixty more chapters to go…

Feeling discarded, Muses waiting in the wings, until the left hemisphere departs

What it comes down to is this: while I may LOVE the sensation of being enfolded by my Muse (when I’m in the “zone”, right hemisphere), the editor in me (left hemisphere person) that insists on inserting commas, semi-colons and em-dashes in the correct places, has a valid role to play, too. I imagine countless Muses waiting in the wings, feeling redundant and discarded, while their left hemisphere counterparts tackle the job.

I admit to struggling with the switch-over. I tried, in one earlier blog, to summarize how it feels to have plot bunnies interrupt the editing process: almost as irritating as having them try to direct the creative flow, when the Muse is in residence.

I shall have to take my own advice and try to be a little more patient with myself. The best and worst of writers have good and bad days. Philosophically, we wouldn’t appreciate the one, without the misery of the other. And it is never productive to rail against the status quo. We all know in our hearts that it is the very contrast of what currently ‘is’ that, with a few gentle strokes, helps us change it to what we hope ‘will be’. And it’s never a good idea to beat the horse we’re mounted on, and even less clever to heap criticism on the rider. If we give ourselves a hard time about it, it will take even longer to resolve..


When it comes to edits, don't rely on your Muse to help, because she'll send a minion

So, I’d better get back to that edit: my inner taskmistress is a bully. But she won’t mind if I pause for a moment to add five pieces of advice which the great C.S. Lewis gave to a young writer: they are, after all, rather more editorially- than Muse-inspired words; so, when you wake up one of these mornings in bed with Rite R. Block yourself, you may find them worth re-reading.

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
C.S.Lewis

And thanks, Alex, Lee and my other talented writerly friends (you know who you are) for letting me sound off today.
©2012 Marian Youngblood

April 4, 2012 Posted by | authors, blogging, culture, novel, popular, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Genre-Bender or just Plain Naïve?

INSECURE WRITERS CORNER

NaNo keeps one at it, leaving little room for impromptu extras

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you
~ Ray Bradbury

It’s no surprise to anyone reading this blog — and coincidentally involved with Alex J Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers’ Group — that November is a heads-down month for writers, authors, part-time-bloggers and scribes of every description. This covers those aspiring authors who blog in the bath, motived teenagers desperate to show they can break away from their school curriculum, to seasoned veterans like the icon quoted above (which, after February’s launch of his second book, CassaFire, will include our host, Alex). Hope he doesn’t mind being called a veteran, but I’m sure he won’t mind being thrown in with Ray Bradbury, 90!

This means that I, newbie NaNo-er only three years in, will make this particular blog shorter than my usual efforts — more inkeeping with my prolific (and self-disciplined) blogging buddies who seem capable of blogging day and night seven days a week for 365 days at a stretch. My headscarf is doffed to them, but I am the first to admit I usually only write when the Muse directs and, under normal circumstances — unless I’m NaNo-ing — I tend to wait for her signal.

This is probably naïve of me. But I admit to being naïve. There’s no point in pretending — particularly when it comes to writing and allowing the word to flow through the mind, down the arms, via hands and fingertips on to the blank page.

I am first to admit I still find the process miraculous. Almost like subconsciously intending to bathe, and five minutes later finding oneself soaking deep in the luxurious warm waters, without any recollection of having undressed, lit candles, found towel, shampoo and soap and turned on the taps to fill the bath. But I digress.

The same goes for knowing how to describe what I write. Naïve. On Twitter — which, as you know, requires a brief description in fewer than 140 characters to describe oneself and one’s tweets — I say I write New Age fiction. But, as far as I know, that isn’t a genuine genre. This was brought succinctly home to me when preparing my new profile and studying the genres suggested in this year’s NaNo — which, as you probably know, has put together a whole new user-friendly novel-conducive webpage, just to get us all fired up to CREATE for the next 30 days.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the genres in question — which have to be mentioned in query letters, and are important concerns to agents and publishers, the serious dramatis personae of the Publishing Industry — are not exactly well-defined. You are supposed to know. And sometimes trial and error is not an option open to you. If you have been writing query letters for the last six years and you’ve been describing your work as Sci-Fi and somebody *in the know* says they like your ‘Fantasy’ work, you swallow hard and start all over — with the knowledge that you’ve probably wasted a lot of time that could have been salvaged if you’d done your homework. Problem is, however much homework you do, it is still difficult to know the difference between ‘magical realism’ and ‘paranormal romance’. Well, maybe some of you experienced authors do know the difference. But, as I said at the beginning, I’m naïve. And it takes time — and loads of errors — to get it right.

So what do you think?

The genres which NaNo lists as ‘standard’ in this year’s contest are:

Adventure, Chicklit, Erotic Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror & Supernatural, Literary Fiction, Mainstream Fiction, Mystery Thriller & Suspense, Religious Spiritual & New Age, Romance, Satire Humor & Parody, Sci-Fi, Young Adult & Youth, and Other.

No Magical Realism, you’ll note.

When I first started out submitting queries, I was paralyzed by my inability to decide which genre my MS fit into. Being a Brit, it was, for me, even more daunting to read young American beginner writers (on Facebook and elsewhere) bandying about their knowledge of genres with fluent ease — as if I ought to KNOW. It has taken me a decade or two to calm down and use a couple of standards when querying.

Mt.Shasta's presence is awesome, even from a distance of 80miles, photo ©2008MCYoungblood

This quandary is purely self-inflicted, because I wrote historical non-fiction for years, before finding my voice in novels. Since the switch I have written not only historical romance, (Phantom’s Child, pictured below right) but also am blessed that my supernatural novella, Cockatrice is to be published early in 2012 by NetBound Publishing; and my New Age tome, SHASTA: Critical Mass, (sidebar-2, right, and pictured above) has been picked up by AllThingsthatMatterPress, also for publication in 2012. Two of my recent NaNo novels in the Green Turtle Cay series fall under the banner of fantasy, although they are borderline Sci-Fi.

So, you can see my dilemma. It might seem I have not yet honed myself — as any sensible person might — to fit one genre. It certainly makes for intrigue and change of pace. And it keeps me on my toes. But the question remains. How does one decide on one label, when so many strands and possibilities exist within a single manuscript which might make it more suitable under another?

In order to maintain my sanity — and because NaNo calls, which means I shall have to wind this up 🙂 — I blame the system that insists on labels. Bureaucracy in the microcosm. I may not like having to live with it, but live with it I must, if I wish to continue to write and be published.

Your opinions and personal experiences in this thorny field, dear Reader, are most welcome because, at this stage, I suspect I am not alone in this duel with the Publishing Powers-that-Be. Thanks for listening. And thank you, Alex, for allowing me another shot at these insecure blues…
©2011 Marian Youngblood

November 2, 2011 Posted by | authors, blogging, culture, novel, popular, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Deadline versus the Muse

A-musing, but not funny...

When my Muse is on vacation, any convenient distraction will do. But, as an ex-journalist, I find that doesn’t make filing by the deadline any easier, especially when one has committed to joining an inspiring writer and author like Alex J Cavanaugh and his ‘bloghop’ team of dedicated bloggers/authors/workaholics to write a monthly contribution.

To remind the aspiring writer who may be reading this and who might contemplate joining his awesome throng, Alex suggests we (*bloggers, or *authors-in-waiting) jot down a few thoughts every first Wednesday of the month and share our experiences, worries, troubles, elations and errors in the publishing world with upwards of 170 other bloggers/authors subscribed to his Insecure Writers Support Group [IWSG]. That isn’t counting the thousands of other bloghopper readers, not encumbered by a deadline, as well as possible wannabees who are casing the joint before making a commitment to join in themselves.

Alex suggests that on the first Wednesday of the month we can let our hair down and spill.

This is okay because all the other hoppers out there have had similar experiences. We are among friends. It is all right to express our innermost fears, our weirdest conflict, our secretest doubt, our silliest blunder. Because he is right out front there expressing these things too. If you aren’t totally comfortable with verbalizing the negative (like stage superstition covered by the ‘break-a-leg’ greeting, i.e. don’t tempt fate), you may cheerfully add your good news, your recent success, your final breakthrough into authordom…

What is clever about the support provided by his hopping bloggers is that, not only do we get to share something we may never have admitted to ourselves before, but we suddenly have a built-in audience.

Many of us took on the blogosphere with trepidation a couple of years back, plunged in naïvely, hoping against hope that we were going about things the right way, blind leading the blind, ‘building our platform’, braving the unknown waters of HTML. We scanned site stats on a daily basis, counting our hits… grateful for traffic and every new comment.

The IWSG sorts all that out with one blow: built-in support group, others’ sharing what we had not dared say out loud, and the miraculous sudden ‘following’ of a dozen comments in the feedback section we never expected in our wildest dreams. Who can resist?

...nice to have one's ego stroked occasionally...

It’s a very nice means of having one’s ego stroked. But it’s way helpful, too.

Some of us secretly longed to become recognized in our lifetime for our — Muse-directed — passion: that we have a Voice that sounds like no other; that the novel we wrote on an Olivetti portable before you had to keep changing the ribbons might finally be unearthed and shared with millions. Others see rôle models in e-book epiphanous Amanda (Hocking) or OBE-Jo, (Rowling): imagining ourselves next to hit the New York Times Bestseller List. Still others find solace simply in reading, creating and looking fondly at the written word every day in life.

I am one of the latter. I have no option. I have always written. I doubt if I shall stop now.

This only partially explains why I write New Age fantasy and historical fiction, laced with a little Sci-Fi, for mainstream publication [i.e. hard copy]; while my blogs are hardcore non-fiction, laced with an occasional crop circle!

C’est la vie.

Alex writes this month of a guilty feeling he holds next to his heart: that he did not always want to be an author; that he writes as an outlet for his creativity and it morphed into publishing success. He should not feel guilty about this.

New Age guru and Abraham-channel, Esther Hicks, says in order for us to be successful at what we dream, it’s not the long hard struggle that counts, it’s the ability to allow effortless creation to emerge through joy in doing what we do best. It may sound like a tall order. In shorthand, Esther says if we catch the dream, encapsulate the feeling it gives us and follow through with expectation, all things will come; or, more Abraham-like:

“Once you align with your desire, the Energy that creates worlds will flow through you…which means enthusiasm and passion and triumph. That is your destiny.”
Abraham-Hicks

and

“The feeling is the manifestation.” Abraham

Part of the lifelong occupation of a writer is renewing oneself, finding fresh material that inspires, and sometimes doing little exercises in writing differently. After all, if you’ve been hitting the keys for a couple of decades, you worry about getting stale.

And, if your Muse is taking a break, there’s no harm in pounding the keyboard until she gets back.

Recently I have found myself contemplating suitably short sharp bursts of chatter on Twitter, where one may only submit a total of 140 characters or fewer — to fit in the tweet-box. It is certainly an exercise in brevity. It’s also excellent practice in self-editing. There is always the (future vision/) opportunity to tweet the publisher’s link to your book when launch date arrives!

Another technique practised by those of free-associative or poetic bent, is writing to a ‘spark’ word; or making an idea into a poem. There are Flash Fiction addicts — writing a blog or telling a story in no more than one thousand words, including all dialogue, build-up and plot. There is fun in writing a snappy caption for a random pic.

And then there is the Drabble.

Part way between the tweet and the flash, a Drabble is a story — a bullet, an idea, a character outline, a work of fiction — that is exactly 100 words long: no more, no less. I assure you it is more difficult than it sounds.

I was asked last fall to contribute to a really fun drabble-thon where each person’s 100-word story followed on from the writer before. Its theme was ‘Pay it Forward‘. The result was a flight of fancy into realms of superspace and back that no one could have foreseen. If you would like to read these brave drabblers, check out The Burrow.

I append another little Drabble which I wrote for last year’s December Drabble contest also at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash. This was a sort of picture caption and drabble combined. I am the first to admit drabbling is not for the faint-hearted. It takes a lot more editing and self-control than your average flash.

NOLA HOLA

She’d worked hard — her beads sparkled in December sunshine. Farmers market always busy on weekends, the tomato and squash guy in the next stall said, selling his pumpkins for pennies. Marking ’em down low was his recipe for getting home early.

Freezing, only her second time, she gotta stay to cover costs. Don’t come back without a Franklin, or I break your arm, he’d said.

That weirdo, watching from a doorway since lunchtime, came over, handed her a 1000 dollar bill.
‘Cleveland cover it?’ he asked, picking up the jewel case.
Passport outta Dodge, she thought.
‘Sure,’ she said. ‘Thanks.’

©2010 Marian Youngblood
photo ‘Colourful beads’ by Natasha Ramarathnam
December Drabble Theme at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash

So, sorry, Alex. I cheated this month. I’m not sharing an inner woe and I’m not admitting to a fear worse than death.

Unless it’s that my Muse has abandoned me forever…

Well, blame it on my Muse. She’s on vacation, and I’m having a hard time remembering when she’s due to get back!
©2011 Marian Youngblood

October 5, 2011 Posted by | authors, blogging, culture, fiction, Muse, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Going it Alone: the Self-Publish Author

First printrun in 1450 using wooden blocks and metal lettering: Gutenberg's Bible

When I decided to go the self-publish route for my historical ghost novel, ‘Phantom’s Child’, I really thought I was venturing alone into an uncharted wilderness. A few months down the line, I now realize I was mistaken. Where writers and authors in the past had to navigate the choppy waters of the publishing world on their own, often (if they were compulsive enough) without the support of family and friends, now the world of publishing has had to open its doors to contemplate other ways, wider avenues of communicating with its public. The internet has moved the goalposts.

With this more immediate form of communication come angels-in-disguise: I mean writerly sites in general (AmWriting, SheWrites, Facebook, MySpace, OmTimes, Google-plus) and the brilliance of sci-fi master Alex J. Cavanaugh in particular.

Alex Cavanaugh’s monthly sharing platform
Alex is the proud author of space adventure CassaStar, published by Dancing Lemur Press, with its sequel, CassaFire being launched early next year. But his heart goes out to those of us who haven’t yet made it in the Big (publishing) World, or who have struggled long and hard to jump through its hoops.

So he has initiated a ‘bloghop’ combined with an Insecure Writers’ Support Group, just so the rest of us can benefit from shared information, dos and don’ts of fellow authors who have been there, done that, and most altruistic, a network of help and moral support for those (recurring) moments when we feel like throwing in the towel.

His Insecure Writers Group page gives a full list of 121 authors already participating. I am just thrilled that I find myself no longer alone — that others have trodden this road before me and we are all together treading it right now.

So, Alex wants us to reveal — on the first Wednesday of the month — what troubles us most in these tricky times where publish-or-die is the option chosen by only the most crazy among us.

I admit to such crazies.

Releasing one’s inner fears
Having written for years (and continuing to follow that route dictated by my taskmistress, the Muse), I no longer have a choice in the matter. My fear is that, if my success as an author depends on my being agent, marketing director and girl-in-the-street selling my books, I shall fail miserably. There, I’ve said it. I know writers (according to Myers-Briggs) are perennially better bloggers than self-promoters, but I believe I must be the worst. I just can’t get the words together to say: ‘look at me; look what I’ve done’.

So is there hope?

With Alex’s new support group, I believe there may be, and I welcome his wonderful new arena.

While I am several years down the road taken by all serious authors: trawling the world of submissions, query letters and pitches to agents, editors, and publishers; entering publishing contests; I have only a little to show for the hard slog. One fantasy novel of mine has currently been accepted for publication by a Michigan publisher; I wrote a small history years ago which has had some success, but my current projects (my WIPs) are all still out to tender. From that perspective, and given that my educational background was historical mixed with linguistics, I braved the self-publish world.

Only to discover that my worst nightmare — my lack of marketing skills — would return to haunt me.

Paying it Forward
Alex wants us to share our deepest doubts. Because I had already worked on this blog to share my experience in the self-publishing arena — something which many contemplate but perhaps need a little extra shove to make them try — I’ve chosen to tack on my blog below, because it seems to fit the bill his group describes:

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Alex J Cavanaugh

Please check out his page for a complete list of all the other authors participating. If you fancy, you can join in, too. It is an awesome throng.

Self-publishing: the Go-it-Alone route
Much has been said already about traditional publishing by bloggers more prolific and more regular than I. But there would seem to be a nouvelle vague in do-it-yourself. Dry-walling and combustion-engine-tinkering are so passé. The future is staring us in the face. They say anyone can do it.

It’s called Self-Publishing.

But it takes stamina. It takes drive–like nothing you’ve ever summoned before. And it takes time and patience.

This is one author’s small attempt to defuse and demystify the ‘rules’ of the game and to shed a little light on a brand new wave which is sweeping the Nation. Nay, I say it louder: It is sweeping the English-speaking world.

And while some say the e-book will eventually replace the old faithful hardbound or paperback novel, I believe the Jury is still out on that one.

There is something compelling about holding a favorite book, lovingly turning crisp pages to check out a piece of dialogue you may have missed, or — dread the thought — sneaking a peek at the end, that will always have more ‘reality’ than digging in your beach-bag for the Nook where you uploaded Amanda Hocking’s latest effort.

However, there is room for both. That’s the beauty of the new technology.

Merely ten-twenty years ago the publishing world on five continents went through the motions — much like newspapers and magazines before them — of typesetting, formatting, reformatting, checking ink supply and — usually with a sigh of relief — cheering when the first printrun came out all right. I used to work in that ancient industry. It had hardly changed since Johannes Gutenberg felt that first thrill of seeing his Bible come off the press in 1450.

I must still have a little Gutenberg in me, because I delight in choosing a new book from the shelf, smelling the quality of pages and ink (it’s still there), comparing page layout and print styles. It’s an artform. Academic monographs differ from fiction. Non-fiction has a different approach from poetry anthologies — but it’s the stuff of dreams: the miracle of writing and the printed word.

You don’t have to take my word for it. We have a classic rôle model to look to.

Leonardo's Notebooks --Codex Leicester, named for its patron-- one of the world's most sought-after books

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) kept notebooks of his inventions, his scientific theories and his sketches and in 1717 one of these — a 72-page Notebook — was acquired by Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester. When the Leicester estate was wound up in 1980, the Notebook moved on to a collector. That collector sold da Vinci’s Notebook to Bill Gates for a fabulous sum in 1994. He renamed it the Codex Leicester, after its original rescuer. It is refreshing to know that the founder of that electronic marvel, MSWord –like it or loathe it– takes delight in a unique manuscript dating from the 15th Century.

And, bottom line, as all writers know, there is something magical about seeing oneself in print.

Print-on-demand books
So, first the bones.

Old way: galley proofs checked before the print run

The Old Way
You were chosen by a Publisher in the Real World who screened you (with or without the help of an Agent) who has asked you to send in your completed MS to them. Your (approved) MS is run by the in-house Editor, the art department prepares artwork for your cover and the whole thing is sent to be printed at a Printing House of the Publisher’s choice and a print-run agreed upon by you both in a Contract is given the go-ahead. You may or may not receive galley proofs. (In the old days, galleys were always sent out before the final agreed version was run). The Publisher then markets your work at their expense to libraries, bookstores and chains, devising and orchestrating all publicity for your book. You are given a (negotiated) share of the sales of your book. You may or may not be offered a number of ‘author’s copies’ or ARCs (advanced review copies). You get to see your book on the shelves in mainstream bookstores. This will probably include a listing on Amazon.

The New Way
You do all of the above –yourself.

Let’s say you have completed your novel of 50,000-70,000 words, edited out all the passive voice, extra adverbs, made sure all the sentences end in a period, and generally done great re-writes, versions 1 and 2. You’ve had an editor friend read it and you’ve got a great cover design you want to use and you’ve gotten tired of the agent-reject circuit anyway, and still think you’ve got it in you to go it alone — because you love your main character and the storyline just ‘fell into place’.

That sounds about the right mood to approach one’s first self-publish (ad)venture.

Front cover, back cover all uploadable along with internal text: 'Phantom's Child' via CreateSpace POD

I decided first to try the CreateSpace route. The POD arm (‘print-on-demand’) of Amazon.com. To be honest, I was new to POD and had not yet heard of Smashwords.

I have subsequently done my homework on the Smashwords method. There are several positive points to both systems, depending on what you want for your final product; what computer you prefer and comp.language you are happy working in; also, how fluent you are in internetspeak.

It goes without saying, that afterwards you have to be a pretty good salesman of your own work.

Basically — while there are other systems out there, like Lulu — what appealed to me was that I thought I could get my head around the system.

Like Alex’s initiative, it was an experience in joining a community.

Plus Points
They offered help at every juncture along the way. You keep ahead of the learning curve and you’re mostly all right. The mechanism includes an author page where you upload your document in their specific (pdf) format. Your chosen cover design is uploaded separately. They approve these and you’re ‘live’ within three days.

Minus Points
CreateSpace is tailormade to fit into the Amazon.com system (but NOT into the Amazon.co.uk system except if you choose to publish in e-book format), so best to figure in shipping costs beforehand — if you live abroad — because your final books will only be shipped from the USA. International shipping, while offered in three forms (regular, superfast, and economy — superslow) adds quite a bit to shelf price.

You write your novel in a text document– .rtf or .pdf for CreateSpace; MSWord .doc for Smashwords.

Both systems have marketing support — nominally a List of recommended publications which they distribute to bookstores, libraries and wholesalers as part of their commitment to you. They do no active promotion on your behalf. That’s for you to do.

CreateSpace issue you with an ISBN in return for a share of any profit you make from sales of the book. The ISBN belongs to them. But this should not be a problem if you do not plan to sell your book commercially!! Beware of any company that asks for a set-up fee (some companies can charge hundreds of dollars), as you are unlikely ever to recover this money through book sales.

Lulu is upfront about what they do but they will charge $99, if you want your own ISBN.

If you can’t design your own cover, cover design assistance and marketing are offered for a fee. If you want to offer your book additionally in Kindle format, CreateSpace will charge you $69 to do this for you, but if you do it yourself on the Amazon interface, it is free. However the payment/banking/remuneration systems are held separately, so you have to enter your bank details individually for both systems. Mind boggles. It helps enormously if you already have an American bank account.

A friend used Lulu for a small project and found their interface simple, the cover designer easy to use (though not suitable for a large review on the back-cover). They were prompt and their delivery was affordable. Because Lulu has affiliates abroad you do not pay or have to wait for international shipping. However, she found paper quality not as high as CreateSpace or Smashwords.

Thanks to Alex J Cavanaugh for this helping hand along the way

If you don’t chose their inhouse help, both Lulu and CreateSpace encourage you to format the book yourself. This can be done in a text file and then converted to a .pdf file. These are also suitable for converting to an eBook. Smashwords e-book format is converted for you by them, but you must submit to them in MSWord. If you are an Apple-lover, like me, this may not be as easy as it sounds.

A few words of encouragement: the process is relatively easy if you set your mind to it — not daunting or over-techhie, or I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish it. For those who want to see their work in finished, tangible form, it can be a revelation.

We probably all agree that the ultimate dream for a writer is to be snapped up by that great Publisher-in-the-Sky who will get us on the New York Times Bestseller list.

But, hey, we all have to start somewhere.

A big thank you to Alex for making the road-less-traveled a little easier.
©2011 Marian Youngblood

September 7, 2011 Posted by | authors, culture, fiction, Muse, novel, popular, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Writer’s Muse and Humanity’s Oversoul

Om, Omega, Oversoul

VERSOUL: that Unity within which every man’s Being is contained and made one with all other; that common heart
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yesterday was Emerson’s birthday. He and his fellows would have celebrated in style. He and his contemporaries, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and others of the American Transcendentalist movement, believed in

The writer (in his ‘right state’) as an expression of Man Thinking; in degenerative state as a parrot of other men’s thinking“.

“It is the essence of poetry to spring, like the Rainbow Daughter of Wonder, from the invisible, to abolish the past, and refuse all history” Emerson, Representative Man

A clergyman, but one whose words are sometimes more Gautama than Goethe, Emerson, 1803-1882, had great fondness for the Oversoul, whom he called the Rainbow Daughter of Wonder.

He was first to concede, however, that she is fickle.

Rainbow Daughter of Wonder
Writers have it hard — they have to maintain focus. Whatever is going on in their own private, particular world, they have a daily obligation, an assignation, to tune in and connect with their Muse.

I speak with especial deference to those writers who blog frequently and find consistently interesting subjects to blog about, without losing touch with their own reality. I am in awe, for instance, of the blogger-author-writer capabilities of The Burrow consortium, who blog far more prodigiously than I and have a composite following of thousands. Their 2011 June writing contest, BuNoWriMo –filled with supportive banter and genuine writerly urgings– is imminent (June 1st). I have featured some of their writerly profiles here in the past — and shall again.

For now, let’s take a look at the science behind the Spirit/Muse: They say that as a writer, all you need is a rhythm –the habit– of making time every day to sit down and write. That the Muse, hovering entity that she is, knowing that you are down there, sitting –plodding sometimes; at others racing ahead with ideas pouring from your fingertips– will take pity and come down and join you.

And then there is the growling anti-Muse: the Musebloc, the Great Doubt. But we won’t go there. I have spent the last month in the arms of Rite R. Bloch. He’s not my favorite companion. I am the first to revel in the relief at the end of the tunnel where light as a chink is merely spied — because at least you know the great black hole of negativity does indeed have an event horizon, a finite edge. The cloud of uncertainty and hesitation is passing. Will soon pass. One can hold one’s head up again.

BuNoWriMo, design by Joris Amerlaan

In the case of BuNoWriMo, I am certain their joint Muse — their Oversoul — is watching and will oversee a hugely productive month (followable on BuNoWriMo”>Facebook) from their respective pens/keyboards. We shall await amazing results.

They say the Oversoul/Muse is energized by positive encouragement. Just like the individual who uses positive affirmation to get out of bed each day, spurring her/himself with thoughts of creating something new, building a world never before imagined; the Oversoul is there –omnipresent– waiting for a chance to pop into our conscious mind and guide us to a more-inspired place.

In Emerson’s sense, then, I may be blogging as the parrot, but I do it with the sincere intent to clear a way for the intellect of one of humanity’s great Men Thinking to come through.

Terence McKenna was a Muse unto himself. Permanently connected to the Oversoul through a lifetime habit of listening to the Voice Within, he had a phenomenal hold on Humanity’s future — and its past. He foresaw the times we live in now –the speeding up of time and all experience; the overwhelming of numbers; the love-hate relationship between science and spirituality; disconnection between Individual and State.

He had himself experienced firsthand the fantasy worlds which the human mind is capable of entering, manipulating, accepting, and reinventing. He had little faith in the machinations of ‘mindless’ men, but he had ultimate belief in the presence of an Entity, an Overbeing/Overmind — his ‘Novelty’ — known to Emerson, Hermann Hesse, Aldous Huxley and Sri Aurobindo as the Oversoul; and to Carl Jung as the Universal Unconscious.

To McKenna it was both Oversoul and Eschaton: it is the Intelligent Design of the Universal Mind.

In his view it has tricks up its sleeve.

McKenna died in 2000, as world population reached the six billion mark. A year before he went to the Great Amusement in the Sky, the ‘altered statesman’ revealed a semi self-deprecating tale of his version of humanity’s love affair with the UFO phenomenon.

Oversoul as Saucer
“There is building in global society an increasingly intense expectation of the intervention into human history by UFOs: that is very similar in tone to the buildup of expectation in the Hellenistic world in the century before the birth of Christ. The leaders of Roman society might have been caught off-guard by the appearance of Christ, but they had no-one to blame but themselves, as millions of people in the ancient world were expectantly awaiting the appearance of some kind of Messiah.

“So today, science and government poo-poo the idea of world contact with UFOs, but the contact cults grow ever larger and more insistent that contact is about to occur.

“Imagine, therefore, what you may never have seriously imagined before: imagine what would happen if UFOs were to appear. Imagine a spaceship of the Close-Encounters-of-the-Third-Kind variety suddenly appearing in orbit around the earth.

“Television and mass media would carry this image to every man, woman and child on the planet. Governments would be paralyzed, science would be helpless to explain where it came from or how it got here.

“Millennarian hysteria would break out everywhere.

“The UFO would be hailed as savior, and denounced as anti-Christ.
The end of the world would appear imminent. And all this would occur before the contact of more than a visual image.

Saucer cult: 'Science would be helpless to explain where it came from or how it got here'

“Then the UFO would begin its revelation: vast displays of benificent power can be expected; perhaps it would mysteriously neutralize all weapons of mass destruction or it might use some sort of ray to cure all terrestrial cancer. Whatever it does, one may be sure that its actions will be impressive: its actions will convert millions to the UFO religion in a space of hours. Indeed, its actions would be specifically designed to overwhelm us with the reality of its power and presence. That will close the first phase of the revelation.

“The second stage would be the ‘teaching’. Telepathically imparted, the specifics of the teaching cannot be anticipated, but they will urge love, voluntary simplicity, concern for one another, renunciation of war, perhaps the renunciation of the destructive application of science. Whatever the teaching, the UFO will promise immense rewards for those who follow them and dire consequences for those who do not. The teaching will be delivered in so poetically-perfect a way, so rich in understanding, and appealing nuances, that no-one will doubt their origin in a being so wise and good –and immensely superior to ourselves.

“The delivery of the teachings will set the stage for the third and last –and most shocking– phase of the revelation: the departure.

“The saucers, promising vaguely to return, will simply disappear.

“The entire process could take less than a month. If this seems a short time, recall that the entire public career of Christ lasted only three years. Christ’s career occurred in a world where information could move no faster than a horse’s gallop. Yet three years in one small part of the world was all that was necessary to launch a world religion that remained vital for 1500 years.

“In a world of electronic communication the impact of the Saucer’s arrival, miracles, teaching and departure would be incalculable, even if it all occurred within a month. The Saucer would leave in its wake a science utterly unable to provide any answers to the important questions the event had brought on. The vast majority of people would be fanatical converts to the teachings of the Saucers and any institution in opposition to those teachings could expect to be swept away almost overnight.

“The departure of the UFO would create a sense of abandonment, the agony of which would be expected to echo in the human psyche for centuries.

“The only panacea would be the religion of the Saucer, the religion left behind. Science would be discredited and soon abandoned in favor of a thousand or more years of exegesis of the Saucerian message.

“Is this not a familiar pattern we see in our lives with events happening right now?”

“What will never be said in the wake of such an event, and so must be said now –while there is still time for all of the above to occur and yet still be deception — of a non-deception designed to save us from our advanced science and infantile efforts, but a deception nevertheless:–

“The Saucer –no matter how alien the theory, no matter how advanced its demonstrations of power– is not a vehicle from some other star system.

‘It is the Oversoul Of Humanity– up to its oldest tricks.’

“If one knows this, one can live through the revelation and the destruction of our scientific world, and thus evade the immense power of this most powerful of all transparent phenomena, and thereby maintain integrity of one’s own soul and spirit.

“Remember, I am not a debunker of flying saucers or a defender of science. I am a contactee and this is the painstakingly-told story of my own involvement with the UFOs. I am one of those pinpointed as being a carrier of ideas that paved the way for the scenario I have just described.”*
Terence McKenna

“Yet, from it all I have learned that there is no religious revelation more satisfying than the hard-won food of simple understanding.

“And there is no liberation to compare with seeing oneself as the illusions and delusions of the Age in which one lives.

*”I reached these conclusions in my encounters with psylocybin and psychedelic plants. They immerse their users in the world of the Oversoul and make one privileged to have reached at least a part of the tectonics of operation.” TM

“They allow a private dialogue with the Oversoul that is outside the context of the struggle between science and revelation –that leaves no choice between the alienation of the rationalist and the pious formulae of the fanatical believers. These mind-expanding substances hold out the possibility of healing the breach between science and morality at the level of the individual, thus freeing one to evolve, independent of the chaos and transformation the UFOs may seem to bring to humanity.” ©TMcKenna

“[UFOs are], in other words, something which in order not to alarm us has disguised itself as an extraterrestrial being, but is in fact the collectivity of the human psyche signaling a profound historical crisis.” ©TMcK

If you thought that was a tale worth telling, McKenna is capable of much, much more. Along the way, you may have watched part one (above) of his great vision from the Oversoul: Storytime story of how we evolved through science. It is a tale of parallel universes. Here is part two.

The Crop Circle Connection

May 4th 2011 crop circle at Barat Cikarang, Java, photo courtesy Nur Agustinus

Contemporary news reportage worldwide includes UFO sightings over metropolitan areas; with video footage and recordings corroborating each other. Recent disclosure announcements by US government sources relate to alien craft, formerly denied. Indonesian news services speak openly about current and earlier (January 2011) crop circle appearances in ricefields in that country as UFO-related phenomena. This was most recently reinforced when aerial footage of the May 2011 crop design in Cikarang was taken from a small craft whose instruments suddenly failed in the electromagnetic surge over the formation and it crashed.

While this blog was being written, Peruvian television showed footage of a ‘breaking news’ craft in their airspace.

The Sanctuary, Avebury crop image late May in early barley, photo Stuart Dike

Through it all, and curiously, the British crop circle season has been slow to start, its symbols sporadic in appearance and design and leaving the conviction of its followers seriously dented. Some have even suggested the Indonesian designs are more advanced than the British 2011 season, so far.

Perhaps our communal doubt is being reflected in McKenna’s trickster Oversoul. As he would say, we shall have to wait and see.
©2011 Marian Youngblood

May 26, 2011 Posted by | Ascension, authors, belief, consciousness, Muse, New Age, New Earth, spiritual, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

ABNA Minefield after NaNo Haven?

2010 ABNA winner in YA fiction category: Amy Ackley's 'Sign Language'

I, along with several of my writerly-and-blogging friends, entered ABNA 2011 last week. The two-week entry period for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, sponsored by Penguin Group USA and presented by Amazon.com, with Publisher’s Weekly as Review Sponsor, closed last weekend.

The contest’s aim is to ‘publish and promote a manuscript by an unknown or unpublished author’, the winner being awarded a publishing contract with PenguinUSA, including a $15,000 advance.

That’s the carrot.

There are, however, several sticks that drive this donkey forward.

They’ve devised some unexpected hoops for us ‘unknown’ authors to leap through. And to brave those fiery hurdles, you need an iron-clad constitution, or at least the ability to meditate yourself out of those stress-filled moments of Angst before and after the contest’s several stages. It also helps if, in addition to your flair for putting pen to paper, you have a background in agenting, query letters, publicity and self-PR.

Which a lot of writers don’t.

Some of my writerly friends have been so psyched up –nerve-endings shattered, normal life relegated to broom closet– that we ended up sharing some inside information which may be of use to someone thinking of entering future writing and publishing contests. Though, the way I feel right now, I could be wrong.

If I write these lines BEFORE the judges read the ABNA entries and eliminate (most of) us from Round One (announcement due February 24th), then my comments can’t be seen as ‘sour grapes’, either by my writing friends or the judges.

As I see it, compared with the safe haven of NaNoWriMo, the annual creative writing competition which has run every year since 1999, ABNA is a minefield. It’s not difficult to see why. It’s not being run by writers or authors, but by the ‘Industry’.

"Off with her head" -- Disney Queen or ABNA reviewer?

O, skeptical veteran author who has ploughed her way through the mire set with explosive devices designed by agents and publishers to restrict the floodgates of queries and unsolicited MSS to a manageable flow, a readable number: you need read no farther. I commend you, but am not addressing you in this blog.

My thoughts are instead directed to the unsuspecting budding ‘unknown’, author of a work which may have been written in an ecstatic rush during last November’s NaNo, or one which took years to write, hours of editing, polishing and resubmitting; even a work you’ve already self-published, because nobody else seemed interested. These words are for the novelist who at best isn’t sure s/he has written something good, at worst wants to burn the MS; but in her heart –and in hazy days and insomniac nights at the keyboard– believes it will be the next world bestseller.

I’m comparing and contrasting. But I know I’m also talking apples and pears.

After the NaNo experience, you emerge feeling glued to the keyboard

NaNo was conceived 12 years ago by a non-profit group, the stellar Office of Letters and Light in San Francisco. Run by and for writers, NaNo loves its contestants, encourages them with profile pages which fellow participants can access, community posts that share tips and hints, and it stirs them up with frequent email encouragement. It even persuades volunteer group leaders –MLs (stands for Municipal Liaison, but means Motivation Leader)– to keep writers in geographical groups hard at it during the month of November. In essence, it succeeds in inspiring a large majority of its 200,000 participants (2010 figure, a phenomenal number) to write a novel of at least 50k words in thirty days. Those that make it –writing an average of 1667 words per day– are declared winners.

You emerge from the NaNo experience feeling your fingers are permanently glued to the keyboard.

Even if your family and friends have deserted you and you have forgotten how to cook, clean, or sleep, when you’ve written a NaNo novel, you feel you’ve accomplished something. You suspect you might just conceivably –with a little tweaking, triple edits and a couple of final rewritten chapters– throw your baby into the shark-infested waters of the real world of publishing.

ABNA –now in its third year– comes along conveniently in January (humanity in northern hemisphere at a low ebb, dreams in hibernation). It offers a brief window of opportunity for entry into its two fiction categories, young adult and adult, and you, the revved up, rewarded and real-world-rookie writer go for it. After all, you’ve got a new novel in your pocket (or hard drive), so why not?

If that describes your feeling of euphoria, beware: there are pitfalls.

There are several holes in the 2011 competition –not least the fact that 5000 adult fiction authors and nearly-5000 YA fiction contestants have now entered ABNA and been left hanging. No profile page like the friendly NaNo interface, no sharing. Not even a taste of comparing one’s entry with the other 4999 contestants in the same genre, no personal touch, no encouraging emails. All right. It’s a competition to promote professionalism in writers and project two of them to stardom. The contest homepage suggests you join numerous discussion boards and help groups if you need to know more. And the entry format is simple: an upload page for submitting your MS, its description (which goes on Amazon.com if you win), a 5000-word excerpt along with your author Bio, contact details and the pitch. That’s it.

Ah, there’s the rub. The pitch.

A pitch (as in ‘sales pitch’) is a series of short paragraphs which grab the reader/reviewer/listener and give a punchy version of your plot outline: not necessarily in any chronological order, so long as it ‘grabs’.

Round One, which closes February 24th, eliminating 4000 of those aspiring entrants in each category, is being judged solely on the pitch. A group of editors chosen by Amazon will select 1000 pitches they judge most likely to reveal an exciting new concept in the novel beneath. Not the excerpt, not the description, certainly not the author’s past achievements. A 300-word pitch.

And, as we all know, novelists are traditionally lousy at writing their own PR.

Most of the feedback I’ve heard is from (accomplished and innovative) writers who are placing little voodoo dolls of themselves on the desk next to their laptops and sticking pins in them.

‘My pitch sucks,’ ‘I can’t write a pitch for love or money’, ‘I’m going to fail Round One because I don’t know how to pitch my story’ are a few of the comments I’ve read. Sixteen pages of commentary and shared suggestions exist on the NaNo web community helping 2010 NaNo novelists to overcome lack of faith in their 2011 ABNA pitch. These are not first-time writers, not amateurs tossing a ball in the air to see where it lands. These are dedicated, passionate authors throwing themselves and their lovingly-crafted characters (MC, protagonist and supporting cast) to the wolves, oops, sharks.

Because, unmasked, that is what ABNA is. The publishing industry’s undertaker: the smiling, cravatted, pin-stripe suited facilitator, helping put the last nail in the coffin innocently provided by 8000 novelists. Some of last year entrants were so deflated by the reviews they received from ‘industry expert reviewers’ that they will not enter again this year. Some will never try another contest.

According to personal testimony, a few of this year’s potential entrants were so daunted by the prospect of writing a snappy bullet for their pitch, only to be turned down before a single actual word of their novel was read, that they decided against entering ABNA altogether.

They say only the strong survive.

Round One, above, eliminates 90 percent.

Round Two offers a little ray of hope to those 1000 lucky survivors. That’s when Amazon/Penguin editors and reviewers will get to read the fortunate contestants’ excerpts. Not the MS yet: just the first chapters. ABNA chose this to mean not a random excerpt which to another writer might show individual flair, style and voice, but the first 5000 words, i.e. the opening chapters, of your novel. This, they say, gives an insight into the novelist’s grasp of how to hold a reader from the outset. We’re getting closer to the agent-query process. Round Two will be judged on a scale of one (poor) to five (excellent) on ‘overall strength, prose, style, plot, hook and originality’ of the excerpt. Then on March 13, 2011, 250 novels will be chosen in each category to progress to the Quarter Finals.

Round Three: Publishers Weekly reviewers select 50 entries to move forward to the Semi-Finals. Announced April 25, 2011.

Semi-Finals April 26 – May 23, 2011
At this stage top excerpts in each category will be posted on the ABNA homepage where the public may view and vote for their favorite entry, but also where each contestant will be reviewed by a celebrity panel, ‘each consisting of at least one well-known author, one agent, and one editor’. That rather sums it up. Now the truth will out.

Finals May 24 – June 1, 2011
Three finalists in each category will have their complete MSS read and chosen by this select panel and excerpts of these six novelists’ work will be displayed on the ABNA homepage. The public get to vote for their own chosen winner –one finalist in each category. Panel reviews of the finalists’ work will also be posted.

Amazon celebrates the winners in both categories in an awards ceremony at a venue yet to be named after an announcement on June 13, 2011.

One blogger estimated the chances of being chosen as the publishing industry’s next top author as 0.02%.

It’s not as bad as it sounds. As the final rounds progress, others will be scanning, not just the ABNA website but the weblogs of entrants who made it through some of the hoops. These are themselves agents, editors, publishers representing other institutions, aware that ABNA may be missing out on some unique talents whose gems are slipping through the cracks. That raises the odds to at least 0.06%.

So all is not lost.

I say this vehemently to absolve any and all of my scribefriends who may or may not mention ABNA in their blogs this month. Nobody wants to bite the hand that (potentially) feeds. I take full responsibility for this blog opinion. Their blogs, here, here and here are talented, informative and mostly talk of other things. But IMHO the odds need to be counted, the truth told.

Agents whose blogs share an industry perspective on the current economical difficulties facing publishers are quick to assure us that, if our work is superb, our concept original and our writing has an individual ‘voice’, it will be heard by the right ear and our work will reach readers.

Readers: ah, them. The reader is, first and last, the audience we really write for. If we forget that amid the media hype, the punchy pitch, we forget who is really important. Without the reader, dear Reader, our writing is just tapping electrons into the ether.

NaNoWriMo helped me create something from the bosom of my Muse which surprises and delights me. Even if it needs another three months to develop it into something readable by another, I love it for the stretching effect it had on my psyche. I may be wrong, but the ABNA setup seems geared to do the opposite: to shrink and contract that flow of inspiration that lies within.

I am certain I shall be a NaNo participant next November. I am not so sure I feel like braving another ABNA in 2012.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | authors, culture, fiction, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Displacement Activity during NaNo month

FEATURED WRITERS CORNER

November is NaNo writing month

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by
– Douglas Adams

My last two blogs have featured talented — and busy — authors: the GuestBlog is such a boon when you’re feeling not quite writerly yourself.

Er, well, it’s not that I haven’t been writerly, I have. Just otherwise focused.

NaNo started on November 1st and won’t stop until November 30th and we’re not quite half way through the introductions yet. NaNo is when you abandon all hope of having a life, get up each day knowing you have an obligation to fulfill, fall into bed far too late into the wee hours because you know you won’t get a good night’s sleep otherwise, and generally find it difficult to communicate with your family — unless they’re on Facebook for a couple of minutes. Did I say eat? Whatever’s within reach. So long as it’s quick.

By now all leaf color is a leaf carpet

But November is also the month of Scorpio. That black and white personality, do or die, and if you die, don’t expect anyone to come and pick up the pieces — kind of month. Winter approaches. You can feel it in every breath. Watery autumnal sunlight, and where I live up here on the 57th parallel (cf Juneau, AK), light is gone from the day by 4p.m. Leaves are no longer pretending to cling to tree branches because most of the colorful ones are now carpeting the driveway. That kind of month. A time when one should be out there making the nest ready for hibernation through the next three months of dire weather and even direr temperatures.

And yet that’s the month a small group of writer-stroke-genius displacement activists chose to nurture the NaNo Bug.

Those of our critics who aren’t writers themselves say writing is ‘displacement activity’ from Life with a capital L. As a child, were we encouraged to write or were we encouraged to get an education which would slot us into a ‘good job’?

No displacement activity

Nevertheless I am writing. It’s what a writer is supposed to do.

NaNo was founded in 1999 by a looseknit group (I like the picture that conjures up, kind of like a quilting bee) of writerly types in San Francisco, CA. They chose to set aside the month of November — all 30 days of it — to create the bones of a novel. The ‘bones’ amounts to 50,000 words. Or writing a minimum of 1667 words every day. In order to nourish, challenge and encourage each other, certain perks, ‘gifts’, achievement stickers and carrots are used.

While the pain and self-immolation this exercise invokes might seem to be some people’s idea of lunacy, the Nano idea grew.

Gradually a body of supporters, themselves plunging into writerly waters for the marathon type-in, brought Nano fame. And purpose to November for writers. The month made the real world go away. Instead of the world of lethal freeze outside, your world turns inwards, into the novel or what the novel will become. You hand yourself over to an overlighting presence. You become just the fingers on the keyboard. The body on the bed.

NaNo’s acronym grew from the idea that November is now National Novel Writing Month and a website encourages the cotidien and foolhardy habit, suggesting you upload* a daily wordcount, so as to see your own (growing) stats and feel you are accomplishing something. There are free stickers and website widgets to egg you on, should you feel in need of a boost. And at the end of it, when you’ve passed the 50,000 word mark (some achieve 70,000-100,000. Hey, let’s not knock it), they proclaim you a Winner and you get a purple ‘winner’s’ accolade; plus the offer of a proof hardcopy of your book in print from Amazon’s CreateSpace.

But what happens to this human being who has committed her/himself to such a daily chore (sometimes a pleasure, sometimes a chore)? Does the Muse** visit every day and hold her/his hand through the ordeal?

Even if you don’t feel the Muse holding your hand every day, there are a couple of NaNo folks who do. They’ve taken on the volunteer job of keeping you at it. Been there, done that. They too, most of them, are sitting at their laptops in Peoria Illinois and Ashland Oregon and Walnut Creek California and (Rome, Madrid, London and Skye) pitching in again this November to finish writing their very own ‘new’ idea, plot, adventure, MS, WIP, exercise in writer’s-block-removal.

First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him
– Ray Bradbury

At the end of the 30 days, if you drag yourself kicking and screaming to the keyboard every day, and create a piece of work, long or short — ignoring edits, spelling errors, lack of thought-flow; just get it out there — there’s one thing you’ll have achieved. A 50,000-word story. It may feel awful, scratchy, patchy, unformed or uninformed, and half the characters may have glaring holes in their back-stories, but it’s the bones of your next novel, your very own WIP — the Work in Progress that will make you feel a teensy bit achieving.

It may take another year before it becomes fit to print, but that’s not the point. During the process, and especially in the middle doldrums — Week Two Blues — it’s the vision of a completed task that draws you on when you tell yourself the last thing you want to do today is sit down and write a chapter about some silly characters that won’t talk to each other.

That’s part of the clever NaNo trick. They must have learned it from Jack Kerouac. He pasted sheets of copier paper top-and-tail together and fed the roll into a typewriter carriage, stocked up with coffee and ‘uppers’ and wrote ‘On the Road‘ in three weeks.

I’m not suggesting the ‘uppers’. Besides, NaNo ‘writing buddies’ are quite good at keeping you going if you flag. Or Facebook. Remember what they say: if your Subconscious has been alerted and informed by your Will that it has to regurgitate something every day in November, believe me, the Subconscious does.

And it sends in the Muse.

You may not like Her. You may not even be able to identify with Her, but at the end of 30 days, you will have Her staring you in the face, handing you a story. And when you really have something finished — I didn’t say polished: that comes after — you really feel you have to do something with it! Because it’s your WIP and it’s all yours.

They say writers are the least likely people to market their own wares. Isaac Asimov said:

Rejection slips, query and form letters, and synopses, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil, but there is no way around them.

2010 NaNo in progress

Which brings me back to Displacement Activity. What NaNo does for writers is just such a way around the roadblock that Asimov thought inevitable. It physically takes over space and time and allows the writerly urge to come through. Displacement activity is put aside to make way for words. That means life functions, regardless/oblivious of eating, drinking, sleeping, making love, shopping, paying bills or stoking fires — or any other life chore, for that matter — take a back seat, offering space for the writer and Muse to get to know one another all over again. And ideally during the process, all distractions, such as rejection slips, plotlines, query letter seminars, agent/ editor suggestions or even how the story’s going to end (along with cell phones) fall into the file drawer below the supply of tea/coffee, twinkies/cookies, cheese bits, and granola.

The rest of the world can criticize you for making writing your Displacement Activity from Life. But by the time you’re past Week Two, the halfway hurdle, and you find you’ve got a story going, your characters are coming alive, even if you’re not quite on the home stretch, you (hopefully) don’t believe your activity is displacement at all. You’ve found a new friend.

So why am I here writing this blog? Must be Nano Displacement Activity. Sorry, dear readers and fellow writers, I got to get back. My NaNo Muse is calling.

* An exciting widget until year 2010 was the wordcount widget. You copy & paste your daily output as input to the NaNo page and it counted the result for you and pasted the glorious total as part of your personal and site-wide stats. In 2010 this feature will only become available to site visitors after November 25th when the widget will be available to participants to ‘verify’ their (completed) output/MS/novel.
**Some days She does; some days She doesn’t.

Ed. As evidence of Marian’s supreme NaNo Displacement Activity, she wrote the following little Drabble for entry in the December Drabble contest over at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash.

NOLA HOLA

She’d worked hard – her beads sparkled in December sunshine. Farmers market always busy on weekends, the tomato and squash guy in the next stall said, selling his pumpkins for pennies. Mark ’em down low was his recipe for getting home early.

Freezing, only her second time, she gotta stay to cover costs. Don’t come back without a Franklin, or I break your arm, he’d said.

That weirdo, watching from a doorway since lunchtime, came over, handed her a 1000 dollar bill.
‘Cleveland cover it?’ he asked, picking up the jewel case.
Passport outta Dodge, she thought.
‘Sure,’ she said. ‘Thanks.’

©2010 Marian Youngblood
photo ‘Colourful beads’ by Natasha Ramarathnam
A Drabble is a story — a bullet, an idea, a character outline, a work of fiction that is exactly 100 words long: no more, no less.
December Drabble Theme at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash

November 13, 2010 Posted by | astrology, authors, culture, novel, seasonal, winter, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Energy, Intent and Writing by Jim Vires

Featured Writers Corner

The allure and magic of the printed page

When I first got the idea to feature some of my struggling author friends, it was a seed kernel: a tiny cell in need of germination: I have quite a few writerly friends in various guises, on a couple of continents, some friendships generated through the miracle of electrons… all extremely busy at what they do. The writerly occupation, after all, as we’ve said before, is not something you can pick up and put down. It lives inside. It has its own form of development, its own pace, its own drive. We, the hands on the keyboard, the implement allowing it voice, are merely facilitators.

So, when some of my author friends agreed to write a guestblog for me, I was over the moon. Every writer sees the Muse differently. Every one of them has a unique perspective on our communal pursuit.*

All of them are busy, as I say: as a writer, storyteller, blogger, novelist or journalist, you have to keep at it or you’re doomed. So it was not a surprise when some of my friends said they’d do it, but it would be a while.

Jim Vires, my column guest today, said: ‘when do you want it?’

Jim is just as busy, just as motivated, just as obsessed as the rest of us.

Evolution of a Conceptual God by Jim Vires on Amazon

He has just launched his phenomenal ‘The Evolution of A Conceptual God’ on Amazon – subtitled: ‘Navigating the Landmines’. It is a collection of powerful stories, both fiction and non-fiction in a life curve designed by the author to overcome adversity and his gratitude in being able to do so. Jim arranged for all profits from the sale of his book to go to Salvation Army Homeless Shelters.

He’s moderator/group leader Yinseriv of the NonFiction writers group on KPN Network (run by KeyPublications guru Damian Gray); he’s a video wiz, photographer and music buff; and he writes — and helps others to write — in his so-called ‘spare’ time. He also dashes about the country helping others get their books launched, but we won’t go into that this time around… in short, he’s an inspirer, as well as being inspired.

I am therefore honored — and delighted with his speedy response — to be able to present the spiritual view of storyteller, ‘teller-of-tales’ Jim Vires on writing as a medium to inspire others.

Energy, Intent and Writing by Jim Vires

Often I hear from other writers that they have succumbed to Writers’ Block. To be truthful, these words have passed my own lips. I suffer from this self-imposed malady when I think of writing as a craft, or as my job. For me, there is a cure for the condition, but I never learned of it in any college classroom. The glossy paperbacks touted as ‘How To’ by bestselling authors fail to mention it either. I remind myself that writing came to humankind as a gift.

Before I continue, allow me to address any readers who may bring up that language preceded writing as a gift to humankind. As a member of a tribe with a long history of storytelling, I do agree that language is a gift. I also see the gift of language shared by other dwellers of our planet. To the best of my knowledge, so far, only humans have mastered writing with purpose.

‘Purpose’ is the key word I want to focus on about writing. Often as writers, we start with a set purpose in mind as we put words to page. Our cerebral cortex starts firing as we set our awareness to a task. When all works well, we find that we enter an altered state of awareness as we write. The distractions of outside influence fade as we focus on the words imparted from our brain to the world. You may call this altered state by any number of titles depending on your frame of reference. In the end though, it becomes one writer acting with purpose, to place format to a thought using one letter at a time.

Are you aware of the purpose of your words? Many of us have used the written word to influence, or at times, manipulate the thoughts and emotions of others. When we do this well, we transpose our intent to the will of our readers. This is never ‘bad’. Without the phrasing of a thoughtful love letter, our reproductive prerogative never would have evolved from who is the best physical suitor. Wars have started and ended over the words written on a page. These are just three examples of the power behind the purpose of words.

What happens once the words leave my brain and enter the domain of the reader? All control of my purpose, intent and meaning default to the experience of the reader.

Shall we try an experiment?

Smile.

Jim Vires - perennial optimist, author of 'Evolution of a Conceptual God'

Five simple letters form one word. What did you think of as you read the word? Each of us filtered that one word through our experience. Did you smile at an innocuous request? Perhaps you came from a background where you learned that a smile is a mask. The word smile may signal a harbinger of deceit. The point I make is that as I typed the word there was one meaning in my mind. One purpose. Through the act of reading, we all share the word. It has become our word. This is the Spirituality flowing underneath writing. We connect in a shared experience.

As a writer, I am all too often forgetful of this on a conscious level. Until I enter an altered state while writing, I am imposing my will, purpose, on the reader. Once I do enter that state, words flow from my fingers in an attempt to connect with my projected reader. Instead of imposing, I strive to connect with you, the reader. You become the focus of my being. This is the joy of being out of myself and fully alive in this moment. This is the gift of writing.

Does this seem a little too ‘New Age’? Allow me to challenge this. What is the power of any classic literature? The writer has taken us outside of our existence and placed us within a frame of reference we may never have lived. The writer places words in a careful arrangement that allow us to travel inside of the written word and give life to the words. The words become living words. In a transcending of time and place, we enter into a contract of writer and reader. The writer wrote with purpose. At what point though, did the purpose leave the intent of the writer and become part of a greater purpose? This happens the moment there is a reader.

While in the process of writing, the writer owns the words, and it is the writer’s job to bring meaning to those words. A thoughtful writer always considers the intent of the words. The writer considers the thoughts and emotions that the reader will experience by the selection of the words.

This again brings me back to purpose when writing.

The written word can wound and it can heal. Rarely when writing are our words a null void. Why would we write if they were? Granted, most of us write without intent to hurt others. How often has your intent been to heal? I dare to guess that it is not often enough. When we use our words to educate, lift up, or bring a smile to our readers, we are engaged in healing work. As we enter an altered state while writing, we become funnels for the energy that surrounds us. The words become a balm freely given to the writer with the understanding that they are to share with readers. If we allow the process to shine through us, at the end of the job the words turn into a paper, story, poem, blog or a book. The writer gives up ownership of the words.

At this point, the reader now owns the words.

As stated earlier, we can never tell with certainty the perception that a reader is going to bring to the page. It is now on the reader to take the words to a new sphere of influence. The five minutes a reader spends reading on work break eases some of the tension and worries that are common to so many. The reader interacts with coworkers and family, now infused with the purpose, power, of the words he read. A classic energy string radiates within a community and quite possibly returns to the writer.

I wrote this blog with intent and purpose for you, the reader. As I distill final words to an ending, I understand that my part of this contract ends. Now the contract rests with you when you continue your life.

Smile.

It is a simple word, the word smile. Such a simple word holds so much transformative power.

© Jim Vires 2010

Ed. Thank you Jim for a sidestep into the cosmic realm of dreams, belief, heart and soul and for bringing us back to earth too: because this is where we all have our work cut out for us!

*My other writerly cohorts who have appeared or will appear again in this conspiracy to collude in the crystallization of seed-words on the printed page include:

Cathy Evans
Hart Johnson
Pete Madstone (May 2010)
Natasha Ramarathnam
Genie Rayner (October 2010)
Rob Read
Mehal Rockefeller (April 2010)
Catrien Ross of Energy Doorways
Tara Smith (September 2010)

And to Jim: bless you.

October 5, 2010 Posted by | authors, consciousness, culture, Muse, publishing, spiritual, Uncategorized, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment