On Heroes

Posted: November 5, 2017 in Uncategorized

Every story needs a hero. Maybe that’s Frodo or Alice. Holden or Gatsby. Anne or Toby. There needs to be a character for the reader (viewer, whatever) to invest in. Someone in which the reader sees some part of themselves. The best heroes are ones in which the reader invests and identifies with on many levels.

But, as I discussed in a class recently, people are stories too. More than one story, in fact. Because our lives are complicated and multi-faceted and longer than just a single novel. We, I would argue, need heroes. People to show us how to live, and how to dream, and how to move forward toward the ending of our story — regardless of what that ending is.

My first hero was a woman named Deb. If you’re a friend of mine in the real world, I have spoken about Deb many times. She was the new teacher at 1451692537.jpgmy high school when I was in junior year. The path I walk these days is because of her. Not just because I am now an english teacher, but because i’m a writer. In her class, I learned to write, wrote my first short story, netted my first publication.

But more, she was more hero because she saw me. Not just the usual teenage angst and search for identity, but because she was able to see who I was trying to become. She challenged me to “Break on through” and “get thee to a city” (quotes from my year book that year that she wrote next to her head shot, because the photograph from the picture company that did the photos wasn’t good enough.

So when you are writing, or when you are living, think about what and who your heroes are. Search them out, find out what makes them tick and motivates them. A hero changes the lives of the people they interact with–good or bad. Pushing them farther to the end goal of the story.

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The first story I remember writing was in kindergarten and was heavily borrowed from an episode of the animated ghostbusters TV show. In it, a boy and a girl went to a castle and somehow or other had cloaks that spat out fireballs. The only other thing I remember was that I forgot to put ground underneath the castle when I drew the pictures, so it was hanging mid-air.

This was, incidentally, the same year that I thought my best friend was a boy named Canyon (her name, twenty five years later is still Kenyon, and she’s still a girl), Kristina Stevens had a worm in her oreo, and I colored a worksheet about the letter K in purple so well that I decided that purple was my favorite color.

But I digress.

I wanted to talk about (write about, whatever) the idea that there are many stages of becoming a writer. There’s a whole taxonomy of evolution from the kid who did ghostbusters (TM) fan fiction in elementary school to the published novelist with a book deal (which I am not). All of those paths, and all of those stages of evolution are completely okay. In writing, and in much of life, one size does not fit all.

I fell into writing somewhat accidentally. At age 12 or 13 I found a book called In the Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. She wrote it at age 14 and it was a hit. Basically, vampires before vampires were done-to-death and sparkly. When high school hit, and I discovered the internet, I joined an online group associated with the world the book was written in, became friends with one of the webmasters of a fan site (hi Kel!) and ultimately, a friend of Amelia.

And, because we were the cool kids, everyone was writing a book. There are worse kinds of peer pressure.

My first novel, Vampire Lord, was written my sophomore year of high school. I failed Geometry and most of my other classes because I was more interested in my main character, Nathaniel Edgars, than I was in equations and classes.

But I don’t think I was a writer then. Not when I went to college and got a degree in Writing, either. And maybe not even in grad school when I got a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts in Popular Fiction with emphases in Pedagogy and Literary Theory.

There came a point where things changed for me. For a long time, I could write or not. I mean, sure, I scribbled poems or notes to myself on my phone, or on napkins or pieces of paper. But that’s writing, not being a writer.

Perhaps it was when I started writing my second novel At the Heart of the World is a City in earnest. Or when I started submitting stories for publication regularly. I found that writing had stopped being a take-it-or-leave-it activity–I couldn’t not write. Writing became how I processed the world, how I saw things, how I unwound and how I dreamed.

That isn’t to say I don’t do those things in other mediums, but my preference is to do it through writing. Even in November, when I don’t work on projects (The Curse of NaNoWriMo) I still find myself scribbling notes or thinking about stories or making blog posts. That’s how I know i’m a writer. And when December 1 hits, I’ll be back to the wordmines, ready to see what comes next.

I sometimes think that people are like sharks. Not that they have big teeth (though some do), or if they’re carnivorous (also, though some are), but that we need to keep swimming in order to stay alive. By swimming, I mean moving forward. But…moving forward toward what?

That’s a question that folks ask themselves (or at least I do). What am I moving forward toward? It’s important to have goals and things to achieve. Goal setting serves as an inoculation against ennui and stagnation. If you keep moving, you’ll never be bored.

Not that you won’t get frustrated, but that’s why the goals we set matter.

I wear many hats day-to-day. I teach high school english. I teach college english. I am a writer. I have started going to the gym. I am a dual citizen. I’m a human being. And for each of these things, I have goals. Some of them are simple and easily achieved.

There’s a new pizza place down the street from me. My goal is to have dinner there tonight. It might not be earth-shattering, but it’s been a long week and I am going to treat myself.  It’s easily achieved, but that’s okay.

Some are more long-term. I would like to buy a new car in the spring. My current car his 210k miles on it the other day and, though still going well, we’re starting to need to invest money into replacing things that are larger than windshield wipers and tires. In order to do this, I need to get my finances in order. This required calling my student loan companies, my bank, and discussing a lot of things that didn’t come with directions when I became an adult.

When you set a goal–even a medium-or-big goal–it’s best to break it into achievable parts. Yesterday was the day to call my student loan companies. And in achieving that, I get steps closer to getting a new car. Success!

Other goals are professional. I set a goal years ago to join the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). It’s the professional association for speculative fiction writers. To do so, you need to make sales to a particular level of market, being paid a particular wage. It’s a little daunting. I didn’t obsess over it. I just wrote and wrote and submitted and submitted. And, weirdly, I got to a place where I qualified for admission, I applied, and got admitted. Goal accomplished.

As a writer, I have goals. They keep me looking forward when the writing isnt going the way I want it to. When I have a story that isnt working correctly, or I get down because I havent heard back from an agent, or I get a rejection in my in-box. These professional goals are sometimes silly, or specific. For example, I want–badly–to write a story for a Mercedes Lackey anthology of Valdemar stories. If anyone knows anyone…I know a writer who’s in love with telepathic white horses.

And then there’s what I call my Bucket List. It’s things I want to do with my life. I wanted to learn to breath fire. To visit Seattle. Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Visit the Isle of Skye in Scotland. These are the things that move me forward.

By setting goals, I think about where the next step is. Sometimes that’s the next rock in the wall i’m building in my life, or the next breadcrumb in the forest. By planning and making goals, you keep your eye on the prize (and have a prize in the first place).

What are yours?

I read a story years ago (I can’t find it right now) where a novelist sold his soul to the Tenth Muse (in Greek mythos there are nine). This tenth muse was the muse of insanity. And the character was nuts, but produced One Great Novel. There’s reference to many of the “Great Writers” having been inspired by this muse–the writers who drank themselves to death, killed themselves, and went to insane asylums.

My experience has suggested that a lot of people think you need to be broken to be a writer. This isn’t true at all. But to back up my claim initially, let’s talk about mental illness. The CDC suggests that about 25% of people in America have a mental illness of some sort. This could be a whole host of things from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, to a variety of other things. There have been a ton of more eloquent posts from writer’s all over the interwebs that talk about living with mental illness, living with how it affects being a writer, etc.

When I first started seeing my therapist, one of my great concerns was that if I “got better” the words would stop. For years, I’d learned to survive everything going on in my life (a post for another day) into the writing. All the drama, love, hate, depression, all of it went into words. And, to quote Hamilton: I wrote my way out.

Many people, I think, who are creatives worry about what happens if this ever-constant in their life suddenly vanishes. Will the [insert creative thing here] be the same when it’s not fed from those things? I asked my therapist, and she said, candidly, that I would be better at the things I loved if so much of my energy weren’t deployed in ways that kept me safe, but didn’t let me function at my best.

My therapist, Hannah, is a rock star. I also thought she was full of it at the time. But, after almost ten years in the Social Services field, I was jumping at bangs. I was almost unable to enter a room full of people. Unexpected physical contact got me ready to throw and grab and punch. It would have been hard, I decided, to write in prison for smacking someone who spooked me, since I don’t write by hand much.

So I did the work. I worried that the writing would suffer. This is, as I suggested, the myth that sometimes comes to us from seeing other “artists” in action. Does every van Gogh need to cut off their ear, or every Zelda Fitzgerald need to be a drinker? I don’t think they do.

 

As I crawled my way from where I started to these days (about a year later) I think about my writing process now and how it was and how its changed. Much like when I was in high school, writing my first novel powered by teenage angst, and my second novel fueled by college angst, as I’ve found myself less angsty the words come better. I have more “spoons” to write, to consider what i’m doing. I’m not writing to keep from drowning, I’m writing because I like to swim.

So, as we look down the barrel of the holidays, be gentle with yourself. As you work on your creative projects (whatever those are) perhaps also think about yourself as a creative project. How might you make yourself better, and in turn, allow that to support your art? Just a thought.

For most folks, the day after Halloween is about nursing sugar hang-overs, taking down the pumpkins and bracing for Thanksgiving in three weeks. For a crew of writers, it is Day 1 of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in which folks write a 50k word novel in a month.

For me, it’s the beginning of the down season. Because, dear reader, I do not write in the month of November. Sure, there will be Tweets, and perhaps some blog posts here (that would be a change). But no major work, unless I have to. Why, you might ask? Because my participation in NaNoWriMo is cursed.

Many moons ago, I thought about doing it. I love challenges and creativity and time constraints. I wrote Conner Chant in 5k word bursts, the second half of the book in ten days. Crazy times. But whenever I think about NaNoWriMo…my computer crashes.

Four times. This has happened four times.

Explainable issues with the mother board. A broken screen. A power cord that exploded when it was in the wall. So, for the last several years, I complete my last addition to my serial story, Peter Price the Pumpkin Prince on Halloween. I back up all my writing. And then, I settle in for the month of November.

So, a little bit of superstition to go along with your holiday 🙂

Patreon Launch

Posted: July 9, 2017 in Uncategorized
Hello Gentle Readers,
 
I am very excited to share that after a lot of thought, i’ve decided to open up a Patreon. What is Patreon? It’s a monthly crowd-funding source that allows Patrons (that’s you) to sign up and offer a little bit of funding to support my creative work.
 
At the moment there are three support levels.
 
At the $5/ month level, you’l have access to a Patreon-only serialized story, which will go live every Friday. If we hit some targets, the stories will morph into a novel.
 
At the $10/ month level, you’ll have access to the Patreon-only serialized story, and also be able to command my services. I will write a for-you-only 1k word flash fiction story. It will be yours forever.
 
At the $20/ month level, you’ll have access to the Patreon-only serialized story, but you will also be invited to work with me one-on-one with your writing. We’ll spend the month tackling a specific craft issue you identify. This will include some work shopping, some reading, and collaboration.
 
Patreon support levels can be changed at any time (so if you want to workshop one month, but only want the story the next, that’s fine!). As this will not begin until the 1st of August (or be charged until August), folks who sign up now will recieve “Fever Dreams” a sampler of some of my favorite published short stories. At just over 14k words, this collection also includes a previously-unpublished short story “Emily of Oz” which is a personal favorite of mine.
 
Please consider becoming a patron, the process is very simple and every little bit helps me bring my creative work to a larger audience.
 
Here’s the link: patreon.com/Kesterian
Very happy to share that my flash fiction piece, “Spindle Talk” is out from The Future Fire. It’s about Sleeping Beauty and Narcan. Let me know what you think! Share, comment, spread the word.