Category Archives: Writing

Time to Produce

The best (and most thought-provoking) part of attending the RealmMakers writers conference a few weeks ago was spending time with Terry Brooks. He was gracious enough to read the first few pages of my fantasy (you can read more specifics here if you haven’t already).

What stuck with me was this part of the conversation:

“How much time do you spend per day writing?” Terry asked.

“About an hour.” (On a good day).

He scowled at me a bit and said, “If you’re not willing to give up everything for your writing, your writing will suffer. I’m not saying you have to, but you must be willing.”

I haven’t been able to get that out of my head, but at the same time, I haven’t yet seriously asked myself that question. Simply saying “yes” isn’t enough. I have to believe it.

I like what I’m doing other than writing too much. Note the qualifier “too much,” because I do many things that do little more than waste time; things that I can afford to rid myself of. That includes television and much of social media (not all, because publishers look for authors willing and able to market themselves via social media. I just have to manage my time on social media better [more on that in a future entry]).

If I’m serious about writing and publishing, I have to take it seriously. After all, once I get a book contract (and yes, I am assuming I’ll eventually get one), I will have to meet any deadlines. If I’m not willing to sacrifice my time now to write, how can I hope to sacrifice it later?

Just Like The Rest of Us

There’s one thing I hate about meeting with agents and editors (and a famous author this time around) is the anxiety. The fear of stumbling over my words, the inability to share my story correctly, and all-in-all making a bad impression.

Before my first appointment — a fifteen-minute mentor appointment with Terry Brooks (who wrote the Shannara series among others), I prayed most fervently to take away my anxiety. Not so much that I say all the right things (although I prayed that too, but considered that secondary). I hate being nervous, because ninety-nine percent of the time, that anxiety is in the end completely unfounded.

As I waited for my appointment with Terry, another writer was waiting for someone else to finish theirs. I mentioned how I’ve been praying for a calm spirit, she graciously (and beautifully) prayed for and with me. Her prayer even made me a little misty-eyed (and simultaneously grateful I don’t wear makeup).

During that appointment, and a literary agent appointment a few hours later, no nerves presented themselves. I was calm, confident, but also listened more than I talked. When I did talk about my story, the words flowed out of me when I usually stumble. I also didn’t hedge or try to figure out what they wanted to hear (as if I could anyway, but still I try. I can’t help it. I know why I do, but that’s an entry for another time).

The literary agent was intrigued by my idea, but as he speed-read through the first couple of pages, he said that while he’s intrigued, the jump between the prologue and the first chapter was too jarring. Still, he did ask me to send him a proposal. Not a complete rejection, but nothing to indicate he was all that excited either.

For which I was fine with, oddly enough.

Or not. Truth is, I received the score-cards for the contest I submitted it to a few days before, and although I didn’t agree with some of the comments at first, they still got me thinking that perhaps I need to revisit the story yet again. The first couple of chapters at least.

As I talked to Terry Brooks, he offered also to read my sample chapters. I had to keep it, however, because it was the only one I brought (reminder to self: bring multiple copies next time). I did give it to him during the scheduled autograph session later that evening (I was the only one in line who didn’t have a book for him to sign, but that’s because he signed my copy of “Sometimes the Magic Works” during the mentor appointment).

He read it that night and returned it to the conference coordinator with the message for me to find him so he could talk to me about it.

I attended a Q & A session with him and fellow author Brent Weeks, and hovered over him until he finished signing several more autographs after the session. That entire hour and a half of me waiting to talk to him, I tried not to worry that he would tell me to burn those pages and never write another word.

I exaggerate. I didn’t think that at all. Nor was I overly anxious, because I convinced myself that no matter what he told me, his advice would only make my story better.

He first asked if it was YA or adult.

When I told him it’s adult, he said I need to flesh it out more. Adults tend to want to read about the emotional impact of what happens–that I need to add more exposition. The prologue was powerful, but not enough emotion of the devastation the characters endured. The same for the first chapter of another character being sold as a slave.

Other than that, he said he wanted to keep reading, the bones of my story are good, and the concept is interesting. Granted he was working off a dozen pages, but experienced authors do get a sense of good or bad writing from the first few pages. That he thought the bones were good gave me a measure of relief. As long as my story has a solid structure, everything else is detail (literal and figurative), and can be fixed. A poorly structured story can’t, at least not easily and not without starting over.

All in all, after spending $500–which included the cost of the conference and one of the few Terry Brooks mentor appointments, I got my money’s worth. Not only to spend time with one of my favorite authors, but to get a glimpse into the man behind the words. I discovered he’s a delight, funny with an almost childlike gleam in his eye, a real passion for the written word, and doing whatever he can to help newer writers learn the craft to tell fabulous stories that entertain, and teach readers new things (without the sermon, of course).

Because (with God’s help) my nerves didn’t get the best of me, I was able to enjoy both appointments and discover that famous authors are just like the rest of us. They have the same desires and passions, weaknesses, strengths, humility and humor as everyone else.

Beatitudes and Woes, The Anthology

First off, to everyone, both new and regular vistors, welcome! Pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage and have a seat!

Now before we get into the meat of this post, I recommend you read Rebekah Loper’s entry and first installment of this blog tour. She describes best the humble beginnings of the anthology as well as the anthology itself, and I don’t want to repeat what you may have already read.

You’re back now! Great!

For my story, I was lucky enough to pick the first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3, KJV)

I’ll admit to some trepidation over writing a story about that verse, because I never studied what “poor in spirit” actually meant.

So I brought out my handy-dandy study Bible, and it referred me to this verse among others:

Isaiah 57:15: “The night and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy one says this: ‘I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.'” (NLT)

As one who has to work hard at being contrite and humble, this was double the challenge!

After three complete rewrites (and a lot of prayer) where nothing but the first paragraph made the final draft, I finally completed my story called The Promise:

Cantis promised his parents to take care of his ailing twin sister, Cathrin, before they died. In order to do that, he must take her through unknown and dangerous territory where Marauder ambushes are frequent and deadly to get her the help she needs.

He soon learns firsthand what it feels like to be “poor in spirit,” and to depend on God when all seems lost.

Intrigued? Will he and Cathrin, avoid being caught, robbed–or worse–killed by Marauders? You’ll have to read the story to find out!

But it doesn’t end there! Since my story is only the first of thirteen, I guarantee if you like mine, you’ll love the rest.

Although the official release date is July 13th, you can pre-order the Kindle edition for a mere $4.99. There will also be paperback and hardcover editions available soon!

Something else to add to your calendar: all the authors and our illustrious editor, Travis Perry of Bear Publications will be hosting a Facebook Party on July 13th for the book’s official release. Come and join the fun where you can ask questions of the authors, answer trivia, and perhaps win a prize or two.

Since I doubt Rebekah or I have whet your appetite enough, check out the next stop on this tour written by RJ Conte who “writes realistic, issue-driven fiction that explores human nature and the depths of the soul, while pointing readers to their Creator.”

A Head’s Up

Busy week y’all!

Tomorrow a short story of mine will be published on gohavok.com–a sci-fi story this time, and a bit of a love story. It’s based on a song written in the 1960s, and the first person to guess it correctly will be added to a drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card.

I will also be hosting a blog tour for the release of a speculative anthology on the biblical Beatitudes and Woes for which I wrote a story. Be sure to stop by for that, because I’ll talk about how it all started and came together in only six months almost to the day.

It’s All About The Journey

I haven’t written much lately. I could claim being too busy, but if I added up all the hours I waste on the computer or binge-watching Psych, you’d be shocked.

I also felt out of ideas, and with editing stories for Havok magazine (gohavok.com), I didn’t want to edit any of my own stories.

That’s not to say I’ve been completely unproductive. I did manage to write another short story for gohavok, but only because some days were short on submissions. There’s no guarantee it’ll be published, but if not, that’s okay. At least I wrote something.

I’ve also been bouncing a germ of a story around in my head for the last few months, and I finally started writing it today. It’s about a woman who’s imprisoned for murdering her family, and her struggle with how to prove her innocence from a prison cell, accepting that she may never get out short of death, and holding on to her sanity through it all.

Being a “pantser” writer (one who writes with no outline or character sketches, and simply wings it from start to finish), I have no idea how long this story will be. No matter. It’s the journey that excites me, not the destination.

Undisciplined Devotion

Once again my church offered an opportunity to write several devotionals for Lent. This time focuses on the book of Mark. Because I have so much reading and editing to do, I chose to write only four (I usually pick five or six).

I’m not one to set aside time for devotions, whether it’s reading the Bible, other devotionals, or scriptural studies. My faith suffers a little for it, but it’s never been enough to change my ways.

The main reason I like to volunteer to write devotions is it forces me to read and study. Even more than that, it forces me to discover how it applies to me, so the reader can apply it to his/her life also. Writing devotions requires study, but also introspection and humility.

Laying one’s heart and shortfalls on a page for hundreds of people to read is never easy. It’s a 300-word journey from ignorance to wisdom. Even more importantly, it should end with a focus on God, not the writer. A difficult task for someone as prideful as me. So much so, this time I’m tempted to tell the editor to add Anonymous to my devotions instead of my name. I want God to shine through the words, not me.

A Glimmer

Sometimes success comes from unexpected places.

On a whim I submitted a flash fiction story to Havok Magazine, and surprise of surprises, it was accepted!

I don’t have the date of when it’ll be published, but I’ll be sure to let you know so you can read it (you can even vote on it if you sign up). It’s just shy of 1000 words, so it won’t take long to read. That and it was fun to write. Having concentrated on writing novels, I wasn’t sure I could pull off writing flash fiction. I guess I can after all. At least once, anyway.

But that’s not all!

Someone posted on a Facebook group of Christian speculative writers that someone should create a speculative anthology based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, specifically the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-11) and the three woes (Luke 6:24-26).

So many people jumped on the idea, including a publisher of a small press who offered to publish it, that I barely managed to grab the first blessing (blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven). The stories need to be from 1-10k words with 7k the optimum.

There’s a catch, though. It has to be finished by February 7th. He’s in the military and deploying this spring, so he wants everything completed before then. Plus there’s no guarantee he’ll publish it if he doesn’t think it’s good enough.

How’s that for a challenge? So far I’ve written about 800 words. I don’t know if I’ll reach the optimum of 7000, but I figure I’ll reach at least 3000-4000.

Agendas in Stories. Good or Bad?

When I first started writing, specifically Christian Fiction, I went to many Christian writers conferences. Out of all the classes I attended, one piece of advice was stressed above all others: Don’t preach. At the same time, many agents and publishers ask one question about the story: What’s the main message or take-away?

It seems like a contradiction, but it’s not. As I’ve written previously, stories matter, not because of the message, per se, but because they’re engrossing, entertaining, and sometimes terrifying. Stories immerse us into worlds and cultures we’ve never experienced, and give us characters we can love, hate, and everything in between.

Should all stories contain a message? No, but I also think few stories don’t have a message, however subtle. Like it or not, writers can’t help but bring their own biases, and yes, agendas to their stories.

For instance, I wrote my first novel because I was frustrated with the current selection of stories in my favorite genres. At the time (the early 2000s) I found little to no Christian science fiction, and few science fiction stories where God played any role at all. Most science fiction, in fact, was by and large hostile to any religion or idea of a higher power beyond a Force or ethereal Universe.

As I was silently lamenting my frustration, a little voice in my head said, “Then you write it.”

I doubt I’m alone in writing certain stories out of similar frustrations.

Plus it’s difficult to find stories without some message, even (perhaps especially) a lot of classics: George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984,” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Charles Dicken’s “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol,” and Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” I could name a hundred others.

While many of the messages the authors sought to convey shined through, I doubt many readers would call them preachy. The plot, setting, and characters always came first.

All that said, a few days ago I saw the following conversation on Twitter (with permission):

“The best stories have no agendas. They’re not shoving social justice down our throats or giving us a limited narrative to make us learn. They just grip us with their excellence and beauty, the thrill of their surprises and the poignancy of their narratives. #books #writer” ~ Jessi Lyn Robbins (@jessilynrobbins)

And:

“I think I can safely say I’ve never learned anything from a book that set out to make me learn a lesson. Well, maybe I learned never to read anything else by that author.” ~ Gillian M Kendall (@GillianMKendall)

Does that mean I disagree with them both? Based on what I’ve written so far and my response below, you might think so:

“It depends on the story and how it’s written. I read a book where the MC struggled with clinical depression. I used to silently scoff at those who suffered (I’m a pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of person). I’ve never scoffed (silently or otherwise) at sufferers since.”

Ms. Robbins graciously responded: “From the sound of it, I’m not sure that book has the kind of agenda I’m talking about. It sounds like it’s extremely well-researched and well written with serious subject material that made you really feel something. Agenda books are not written like that. They’re not genuine.”

To which I added: “Perhaps. I agree too many books have “social justice” agendas. They make me leery of reading newer books. When I want to be preached to, I’ll go to church. Then again, if someone wants to add a message, write it in a way that I find it on my own. Don’t bust my head open with it.”

So no, I don’t disagree with either Ms. Robbins or Ms. Kendall. They both are expressing the same frustrations I have with so many newer books. The authors writing agenda-driven stories haven’t learned the lesson that I learned so many years ago: Don’t preach.

Their — and my — complaint is when the agenda or message becomes more important than the story. Too many seek to convert the reader through intellectual and emotional force instead of inviting the reader to see a different point of view through the plot and characters.

Stories should be an invitation, not an invasion, because the former shows trust in the reader whereas the latter does not.

UPDATED: “Moby Dick” was written by Herman Melville (I accidentally attributed it to Charles Dickens).

An Update on Story Matters

If you haven’t read my previous entry, yet, I recommend you do before continuing (http://almarquardt.blog/2018/10/22/story-matters/).

I have since discovered that the last books will be completed by another author.

In the meantime, if you enjoy fast-paced epic fantasy with science fiction elements, and with deep, colorful characters struggling to find their way in worlds they never before imagined, I highly recommend you check them out. The first novel can be picked up on Amazon for a mere $0.99.

To find out more about Brandon Barr and his “Song of the Worlds” series, check out the attached link.

My thanks to Brandon for writing such a fabulous and memorable story, and to #BrandonsBuddies for taking up the torch on his behalf.

https://www.facebook.com/EpicFantasyFanatics/posts/569164893515956

Or if you don’t use Facebook:

http://epicfantasyfanatics.com/brandons-buddies/

October Write Fest

Last year a fellow writer decided that writing a 50k novel in November just wasn’t feasible, mostly due to Thanksgiving. We decided that October would work better. Fewer holidays other than Halloween, and one more day than November.

I created a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/118124512172076/) so myself and others can participate, and hold each other accountable. We also don’t hold to the 50k rule like NaNoWriMo, but state our goal at the beginning and hopefully stick to it. I failed last year. I had hoped for 50k, but I barely passed 10k.

This year I hope to hit the 50k, or at the very least finish a dark fantasy I started about eleven years ago. I keep putting off finishing it because it is so dark. The darkest story I’ve yet written.