Writer’s block

Writing_Sunset_Roma_Italy_Italia_-_Creative_Commons_by_gnuckx_(4276946305)Special request this week – it was suggested to me recently by one of my regular Twitter pals that a good subject for this blog might be writer’s block.

I hesitated a little because it’s not something I personally tend to suffer from greatly but then, on the other hand, I haven’t written anything much for a while so maybe I have it without realising?

For me the hold ups in writing tend to come, as now, when I’m looking for a project to begin. Writing a book tends to take me the best part of two years to do the whole thing, soup to nuts, so I like to make sure I have something worth pursuing before I make that level of investment in time and effort. That’s not to say I haven’t been writing anything – I have been doing what I often do at this stage: starting something to see how it goes, getting a little way in then realising it’s not really doing it for me and abandoning it.

I see this as all part of the process however so it doesn’t worry me unduly. I’ve never really found myself  paralysed and unable to write mid-way through a book or story as some writers do.

What causes this grinding halt in the creative process? My feeling is that it might be the fear of not being perfect. The feeling that what you write might not be good enough could be enough to stop you writing anything.

In an interview I did recently with a fellow writer for her blog she asked me: “How does a writer keep from being afraid of feelings of inferiority, of being a talentless hack or stupid and just keep at it despite it all?” I think right there we see where the feelings which lead to writer’s block can come from, and if you let them grow so they become paralysing that could bring your work to a screeching halt.

So how do you mentally prepare yourself to avoid this situation?

In an interview I read once an author was asked what she does when beset by writer’s block. She replied: ‘I lower my standards and carry on.’

WriterI can’t remember who said it – but the phrase itself stuck in my mind, precisely because that’s exactly what I do. The point is to get something, anything, down on the blank sheet of paper in front of you. What helps me greatly in this is the knowledge that what I write is a fluid, evolving process. Just because something is written down, doesn’t mean it is set in stone. I know my rewriting process means that everything can, and probably will, change – so there is no great pressure to get it right first time. The pressure I put on myself is to get it right eventually.

Another top tip I think, can be found within the advice Ray Bradbury offered in the lecture of his I blogged about earlier in the year here. His cure for writer’s block was to put down whatever you are writing and write something else instead, because you’ve picked the wrong subject. I suppose that is what I’m doing with my false starts – I’m accepting that part of what we do is to search for the right subject.

I guess what wise old Ray was telling us is that writer’s block might have a valid function in a writer’s life. It might be there to tell us we are on the wrong track and urging us to follow a different path. It’s certainly a thought isn’t it?

Tell me about your experiences of writer’s block, and your tips for dealing with it – in the comments below?

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

At home with the Shakespeares

942481_10151491102348167_1511710988_nI paid a family visit recently to Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of Shakespeare, and took the kids to see the house where he was born, to a couple of other historic houses in the town associated with him and finally to his grave and memorial in the parish church.

Though Stratford’s only an hour or so from where I live I’ve not been for a while, and not done the tourist trip to Shakespeare sites for many years – so I was curious to see whether visiting these places would give me any feeling of connection to the great man or insight into what made him tick.

420104_10151491102573167_1825272178_nThe first thing it did for me was connect me with the very different times he lived in. “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” as LP Hartley wrote in the Go Between. The Shakespeares certainly weren’t working class – his dad was a reasonably wealthy merchant and the town mayor. But in those days of course even the middle-class lived a life which would seem alien to us. Rising and going to bed with the sun, going to the loo in a bucket which then had to be taken to the town spoil heap, earth floors in the house, except in the best parlour. And in that parlour the main piece of furniture, taking pride of place, was a bed – basically to prove they could afford a bed in days when most people slept on piles of straw.

What struck me was the contrast between this basic lifestyle and the beautiful poetry which issued from his pen. The poetry seems more remarkable still in this context – and perhaps it was an escape, perhaps an attempt to scramble free of the dirty, bloody, gritty reality of 16th century life. They were living in the gutter in those days, but Shakespeare showed them how to look at the stars.

S968862_10151491102428167_326866955_necondly it gave me a glimpse into the way time obscures detail about people – even people as well-known as Shakespeare. He was a writer heralded in his own time, wealthy and successful – though maybe not so highly regarded as his contemporary Ben Johnson (and how many of us go to the theatre to see Johnson’s plays now?) So how is it so little of Shakespeare remains? There are precious few written records of him, precious few pictures we can say for sure were accurate.

I think the answer lies in the fact that respect for the past, for holding onto tradition and history, is something we honour more now than they did then.

Take what happened to Shakespeare’s final home, also in Stratford. This was not the respectable, but far from palatial, home he grew up in – it was the house he bought when he was a rich and famous man. A testament to his huge success. So where is it?

575718_10151491102498167_797546161_nThe answer is it has gone completely – disappeared into legend. How can this have happened? Well, after Shakespeare’s death it passed from owner to owner until it fell into the hands of a fabulously wealthy protestant preacher. He didn’t much care for Shakespeare, or frivolous theatre generally. He was angered by tourists who came to gawp at the house. They took cuttings from a mulberry tree planted in the grounds by Shakespeare, so he chopped it down.

Still they would come – to rubber-neck at his home. He had an argument with the council over taxes and, in a fit of pique, had the house utterly destroyed – and went to live in one of his many other houses up and down the country.

So this historically important building, this vital direct link to Shakespeare, was gone. Are we surprised we can’t find more scraps of paper with his name on them. More paintings of his face? We have the plays, they are what matter in the end. Song of the Sea God visual

Don’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God. You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

Authors neglected in their own time

f-scott-fitzgerald-an-american-icon-1When F Scott Fitzgerald died at the age of 44 the minister presiding at his funeral described him as a ‘no good drunken bum.’ This robust approach to the art of the graveside eulogy didn’t catch on – but perhaps the most surprising thing it shows is that, though he’s now lauded as a literary great, Fitzgerald was thought of as being no great shakes at the time of his death.

This is the man who gave us The Great Gatsby – revered Jazz Age classic in which young women waft elegantly through glittering soirées ‘like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.’

Gatsby wasn’t considered a classic at the time of its publication though, and its esteemed author died in poverty.

00298290.JPGHe’s not alone. Herman Melville, there’s another. Moby Dick is such a key text in American literature nowadays that it could be considered one of the twin pillars of the early American novel, alongside Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. But when it was published it was thought confused and over-long. Its cause wasn’t helped by poor editing of the first edition which mixed up some passages and left others out entirely. Melville died in obscurity.

Imagine a world without him, no Ahab, no whale, we’d even have to get our coffee somewhere else – Starbuck is the first mate of the Pequod, Ahab’s Nantucket Whaleship.

And then of course we have A Confederacy of Dunces – now considered a modern classic it wasn’t even published in the lifetime of its author John Kennedy Toole.

John_Kennedy_TooleHaving written his comic masterpiece about the adventures of a larger than life grotesque in New Orleans he tried without success to get his work published. But it was rejected by various publishers who thought it ‘pointless’.  Dejected by his treatment by the hands of an uncaring world Toole took his own life at the age of 31.

His novel would have remained in his bottom drawer if it hadn’t been for the hard work of his old mother who touted the manuscript relentlessly round publishers until it eventually found a home – and the rest is history. Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer prize for fiction.

So, don’t despair is the message to writers I suppose. If your literary gem doesn’t capture the public’s imagination at first then perhaps it may do later. Even if that rise to prominence is not something that you, the author, are around to enjoy. And the message to readers I guess is this – if you find a novel that isn’t on the best seller lists or the review pages of national newspapers, and think it brilliant, that’s maybe because the rest of us just haven’t caught up with you yet!

Song of the Sea God visualAnd hey – if you want to do some discovering of little known novels, why not start with mine Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

Lisa Fender – Author Profile

Today it’s my pleasure to welcome Lisa Fender, fellow author and long-term friend of this blog. Lisa is currently launching a new book which she wrote with her sister and has come to tell us about it – and a little about herself. Thanks for visiting Lisa!

DSCF1119Tell me a little bit about yourself as a person?

First of all, thanks for having me on your blog, Chris. I have enjoyed reading your blog whenever I get your new posts in my inbox. I’m glad we’ve hooked up as cyber friends and I really enjoyed your book!

Now, a little about me. Well, I probably could write a soap opera about my life, but the important stuff is, I’m married to the most awesomely supportive man on the planet. I get to stay home and write and not have to wait tables anymore, (which by the way, is a major plus!). I have two grown children, Travis and Brandie, and Brandie has given me two beautiful grandkids which I cherish with every part of my being. I love to go hiking in the Rockies every chance I get, and my other favorite pass time is going to the Hot Springs pool in Buena Vista, Colorado. Living in the state of Colorado has a lot of advantages. You can drive 20 minutes into the mountains, and if feels like your on vacation. there’s lots to see and do.

Tell me about your journey as a writer – how you started and how you have developed?

I started, as a little kid, reading anything I could get my hands on. I love to read. When I was in grade school, I wrote poetry and short stories. Not that I was any good at it, but I enjoyed doing it. From the time I can remember i always said I wanted to write a book, but there was so much always going on in my life that I let the time slip by. I would still do some journal writing, but that was for myself. Once the kids grew up I finally had a chance to do the things I wanted to do. I got laid-off from my job in 2009, along with half the country, and I decided to take advantage of my extra time. I knew this was it, my chance. I sat down and came up with this world, Djenrye. I wrote it all out on a slip of paper, including a little (awful depiction) design of what you see on my front cover, the Orteh, Tecton.

My sister, Toni, came over that evening and I told her about my idea and she loved it! I wanted to stay away from the ‘A’ typical fantasy writing, such as Vampires, Werewolves, and the like, so I thought I would do a take-off of the Jinni. Not the Genie in the bottle, but a race of beings living in another dimension, parallel to ours. I had asked her how I should spell Djenrye, with a G or a J. She’s the one that came up with the Dj, since it is about the Jinn. But mine are spelled the Djen.

After that, I wrote the rough draft in about 3 months. I sat back and read it and realized I needed a lot of help. Something was wrong. Not realizing at the time that the whole manuscript was “telling, not showing”, I ended up hiring a writing coach. After working privately with her for 9 months and then joining in on her Meet-up group, I finally saw my book turning into a novel. I had asked my sister to work with me on editing. When she did, the two of us found we were learning creative writing together and really enjoyed it. I asked her to be my co-author and the rest as they say, is history! We love writing the book(s) together, and are now working on a novella, which one will be in between each novel. The novella’s go into the history of the world and the different races there.

How would you describe your work – it‘s themes and the important things about it?

I guess I would say that the main theme is about taking care of our planet. I decided that my main character would be a strong female, who doesn’t know it yet, who’s whole life has been revolved around endangered animals and Green Peace type organizations. She finds out that she’s a part of Djenrye and that’s why she has always been drawn to saving the planet. That is the purpose of the Djen, taking care of the 5 orbs (Orteh’s in the Djen language) which keep the planet in balance. I have also created a language for the Djen, and will for the Androne Elves as well. That’s a challenge all by itself!

COVER 6_FRONTTell me about your current book – what is it about and what makes it a great read?

It is fast paced, action, very imaginative, fun, a journey and a quest, and of course, Stevie and her friends lives are in danger from a group called the Rebellion. Stevie even falls in love. Stevie grows up by the end of the first book, and accepts that she has to go into this world in order to save the one she grew up in. so far everyone who has read the story tells me they really enjoyed it and can’t wait for the next book!

Where can I buy a copy of your book?

You can purchase Fable – Book 1 of The Lorn Prophecy on Amazon. The link is :

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1484143515

I hope you take a chance and purchase a copy. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

My other links are:

http://www.lisafender.com

http://www.facebook.com/fablebookI

Http://www.twitter.com/lisafender1

And I understand you are having a prize draw for people who comment on this post?

Be sure to leave a comment and you will be entered into a drawing for a copy of my book and a 10.00 gift card for Starbucks. If there’s no Starbucks in your area, we can talk about something else, like maybe a Visa gift card! The winner will be announced by me in the comments of this post.

Dr Who, Ponyo and The Wicker Man – all in one book!

greatbigjar

I have finished my latest read. Songs Of The Sea God is a brilliant tale of woe, island life and death all rolled into one neat package. It’s not a very long book compared to others I have read, so in my usual alien speed-reading ability I reached the end this afternoon.  I was left feeling slightly forlorn for the people inhabited with all that mess but what a way to end it all.

The main character, a mute dwarf called Bes’ twist at the end was one that I did not see coming I actually had Tyrion Lannister, the hard-done by wayward son in Game Of Thrones in my head all along, only to be thwarted by the last few pages. A fantastic way to end a dark and yet endearing story of life on a remote island subject to the enchantments of the sea and what might end…

View original post 105 more words

A chat with publisher Skylight Press

Skylight_smallsquareThis week I’m delighted to welcome my publishers Skylight Press to my blog. Daniel and Rebsie from Skylight have kindly agreed to answer a few questions about what they look for in manuscripts and give a few words of advice to aspiring writers who are looking to get their work published. I feel I’ve been very lucky to work with Skylight as they clearly really care about the books they publish and are in it for the right reasons. If you want to find out more about them check out their website here. Also – if you want to see what type of book they publish, then why not read my book Song of the Sea God.

What motivates you to be a publisher, and why do you publish the type of books you do?

Quite simply, we do it because we love it. It is our shared dream to make beautiful books, both in design and content. It is a lot of work and it takes a great deal of our time but we are wholly committed. A lot of presses go by the way because they take on too much, try to grow too fast, or have not converted to a more cost-effective mode of publishing.

While we love to publish new and exciting works we also sensible in what we can and can’t do, sometimes having to painfully pass on opportunities for purely practical reasons. But our vision is simple – we are looking for books with a spark – whether literary or esoteric. While the genres we publish are wonderful in their own separate way we love to explore unique overlaps. We have a wonderful line of creative esoteric fiction – many of our esoteric titles are scholarly with literary appeal – our visionary poets and experimental novelists often cross over into the esoteric realm with incantatory language and bardic vision. As Alan Moore often likes to say – Art is Magic and Magic is Art

We love making beautiful print books – but we also provide Ebooks and try to maintain a presence in the computer-based world. Perhaps we are the only press thus far to specialise in both literary and esoteric texts but we’re not really concerned with classifications and pigeonholing – we do what we do for the love of it – and if that represents something bold and new, so be it.

Why do you feel it important to publish the type of fiction you do? Why do novels matter to you?

As our website states we publish literary novels rather than commercial or genre fiction novels but we appreciate that the definitions of such are often subjective – and distinctions between the three aren’t always clear and concise. Loosely, we value fiction that prioritises voice, language or literary device above plot, setting and lowest common denominator marketability.

We feel that there are hundreds of presses that publish commercial plot-driven fiction, whether big publishing houses or small ‘vanity presses,’ but far fewer that dare to publish challenging literary works, often from lesser known and harder to market authors. Most commercial presses are overly concerned with the quick and viral impact of an author over a wide demographic, whereas we are less concerned with such an explosion of initial sales but rather the staying power of good writing craft and a unique voice.

This aesthetic allows us to explore visionary poetry and interesting hybrids, as well as experimental or avant garde fiction. Although we are an international press with authors around the globe we especially look for British fiction, as there are far fewer opportunities for British authors compared to their American counterparts.

Tell me about the submissions process and the type of  submissions you get – are they from authors directly or through agents?

We do deal with agents – but whether a writer has one or not just doesn’t make any difference to our decision to publish something. The writing is all that matters in our decision making process – agents, credentials, academic standing, beautiful query letters, self demagoguery, etc., are of little to no concern to us. In this aspect we might represent a departure from the norm in the publishing business but we are only concerned with good writing and the qualities of the text in question.

Despite making this clear on our website we still get inundated with all sorts of submissions well outside of our remit. This can be time consuming but we are hip to all the tricks and can separate the chaff quite easily – but always taking the time to offer a personal response to serious submissions. It really is quite a collection: pure spam, mass email pitches, real and fake agents, dubious middle-men merchants, self-publishers, re-issue requesters, translators, real and fake academics, self-help copyists, school children, pseudonyms, prophets, manifesto writers, authors of the not quite written yet – just to name a few.

The texts are all over the place too – sometimes little to no editing, poorly translated, utterly inappropriate, or just too long and sprawling beyond the practicality of publication.

Having said this, we do get wonderful texts and hear from a number of diverse and interesting people, whether we take on their work or not. We also realise that the publishing industry is itself mostly responsible for many of the negative trends noted above. Authors are inundated with poor and outdated advice from a growing number of middle-men resource sites on the internet, some of which mean well and others of which just take advantage of the natural uncertainty that comes with being an author (often with a hefty fee). As authors ourselves we have a great deal of empathy for those seeking to publish and keep that at the forefront of all our dealings with them. Of course, we can’t be all things to all people and there are some authors looking for something beyond what we can offer as a small press. We completely understand this and do not try to sell ourselves to authors that clearly desire a bigger and more commercial press.

However, the internet has been a great equaliser in the publishing world and our distribution is on a par with many larger presses, allowing us to attract writers that we perhaps wouldn’t have been able get in an earlier era. The authors that do publish with us seem to appreciate our publishing model for what it is and the honesty with which we present ourselves.

What advice would you give someone looking to get published – what should they do to improve their chances?

It’s always a precarious business giving advice to writers aspiring to be published – for various reasons. Firstly, there is the danger of adding to the plethora of readily available bad advice being tossed around the internet. Everyone and their dog seems to do advice lists like “10 things you must do in order to get published.” Also, stock advice does not normally speak to the minor differences between presses – or in fact the massive chasm between commercial publishing and small press (or Indie) publishing. We can only advise from the standpoint of our own press aesthetic, which may or may not represent that of other small presses.

The most important thing – and this is something that many advice lists overlook – produce a work of excellence. This seems obvious but as we are hammered with substandard, poorly written, badly edited and technically dubious scripts – anything less than excellent is going to be dispensed with very quickly. Specifically for us, the work must contain a “spark” of some kind – so voice is everything – even more than content, plot, setting, etc. We look for inspired voices – particularly with fiction and poetry – or work that achieves something unique through experimentation and risk. Straight ahead narratives with simplistic language are a penny a dozen – and so many books with wonderful subject matter and plot are undone by dreary and uninspired writing. This is why we specify “literary fiction” – and while we gladly admit that such a characterisation is debatable and largely subjective – “literary” usually alludes to something unique in the voice, in the language itself. For the same reason we generally shy away from conversational or what we sarcastically refer to as “shopping list poetry.” We look for some thing powerful in the poetic voice, something incantatory or shamanic in the language which sparks the imagination and gives poetry a catalytic function. This is not to say that other forms of poetry or fiction are bad – there are thousands of commercial or genre fiction presses that go for straight narrative fiction – and lots of poetry publishing houses that endorse the conversational or confessional style of poetry.

So our ethos follows Derrida’s famous line – “there is nothing but the text.” Therefore, an author should make the text or manuscript front and central in their initial contact.

While they may be important to other publishers, we are not impressed by degrees, academic standing, formally perfect query letters, promises of monetary success, literary awards or even how many books an author may have churned out. We assess the manuscript and the manuscript tells us all we need to know.

Of course, we appreciate meaningful introductions and some background information – but so many people waste their time with long CVs, references, or letters raving about professional standing. We live in an age where there are thousands of dubious literary prizes, where anyone can obtain and MFA in Creative Writing, and where the term ‘published author’ does not necessarily mean talented writer – so we ignore all the platitudes and assess the text only.

This all can be known if an author takes five minutes to look at the submission guidelines on our website, which points to another important point: Know your press. Almost every press has some sort of website with listed submission guidelines and yet 90% of submitting authors clearly haven’t read those guidelines. This is an immediate turn-off.

Beyond this, it may help to show a reasonable standard of grammatical proficiency, particularly with non-fiction submissions where a command of the subject matter is also necessary. As many genius writers throughout history have come with technical flaws, we may be willing to overlook errors in fiction or poetry manuscripts when the writing is clearly inspired or advanced.

Having said all this, there is also a large element of luck and timing involved. Most small presses can only produce so many books a year and have to make tough decisions over manuscripts of merit. We at Skylight have had to make many a painful decision due to time constraints or other parameters like book-length.

This is especially true of presses that become established, whereas new presses that need titles will tend to take more risks.

So an author seeking to be published needs to become thick-skinned and not take rejections personally, although we know that’s easier said than done. Remember some of the greatest books were rejected many times before someone dared to take them on. In the case of rejection we would advise an author to either improve their manuscript – or keep seeking publishers for whom it might be better suited.