Jeff’s Pep Talk: The Big C(riticism)

Jeff's Pep Talk2

The Big C(riticism)

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

I don’t think there’s a soul on earth who likes criticism. There’s just something about it that can cut to the bone. Human beings have such fragile egos anyway, those pesky little conscious seats of individuality that get bruised and battered when others make us feel small, less talented, less competent, perhaps even less valid as people. Some more than others, right? I’ve had writers tell me they never feel offended, angry, upset, or in any way discouraged after a round criticism. I don’t think I believe them. I mean, not at all? Even just a little? Really?

And of course, if you’re checking out this blog, odds are you’ve seen your share of creative criticism. It’s essential to the process, right? Every writer can benefit from it, from the newest of newbs to the most seasoned authors. And a change in attitude often occurs once a writer actually gets neck deep in a viable career. At that point, criticism has become just another part of the job, kind of less of a hassle than, say, making deadlines you have no hope of making or enduring long, drawn-out revision cycles.

But there’s another dimension to writers that’s so common it’s a cliché. Many of us suffer from mental illness. I know I do, and lots of my associates and acquaintances are in the same boat. Most of the time their personal stories boil down to a bit of depression here and there, but look, there’s something about a creative profession that requires long periods of solitude that seems to attract folks who are maybe a bit less emotionally equipped than the rest of humanity. Plus, you know, the ubiquitous link between genius and madness. Some of the greatest writers in history should have been in the nut house. Some of them were.

Now there’s a big difference between getting your feelings hurt over some bad comments from a crit group and losing your mind completely. We subject ourselves to the honest (and often brutal) opinions of our colleagues because we understand in the end criticism will make us better. Especially when we’re just starting out. If we can find a few people who really get what we’re all about and who consistently offer good feedback, we’re wise to consider them valuable resources. The fact remains, writers pour ourselves into our work. In many ways, stories and novels, articles and memoirs, they’re like our children. Sometimes it’s hard not to take criticism personally. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong in admitting it.

So as a writer who’s had one or two creative outbursts himself (sorry about that black eye, prof), here’s a few tips to soothe the wounded beast. Number one, and going back to the crit group thing, it really does help to know a few people who are on the same page as you creatively. It’s old advice, but it is enormously beneficial. Also, try not to work with writers who aren’t quite as skilled as you are. Likewise, learn to recognize when you’ve gotten in with folks who have a lot more ability and experience. Writers who punch in above your pay grade aren’t going to be able to help as much as you might expect, and you may even struggle trying to understand and disseminate their feedback.

Next tip: always keep a few pots on the fire. Okay, this new story didn’t work out for me, but at least I have that other one that shows way more potential. Dive into this process head first, if you can. Conceive, draft, and revise in cycles. Nothing blunts criticism like a sense of forward momentum. Keep an idea notebook handy. Never miss an opportunity to dream up something new and play with it a little. We’re still growing here. Got lots and lots of stories to tell in the future. Stagnation sucks. It crushes the life out of creativity. Avoid it if at all possible.

Tip number three: make sure to honor your private life. I mean that. Some people throw themselves into their work at such high velocity their relationships and daily routines suffer. You’ve got friends, right? Hang out with them, have some fun. While we’re at it, don’t neglect your romantic life, either. Seems like kind of a toss-off to some people, but look, you’re human. Biology is a factor, and it’s just a basic fact that people tend to be happier when they consistently engage this part of their personality. Family, hobbies, even other, more practical career goals, these can all serve as a refuge when your creative mind is battered and tired. Conversely, writing itself can act as a pretty powerful refuge from things like, oh, family, hobbies, career goals, romantic life, friends…

Fourth tip: don’t worry about developing a thick skin. Focus more on developing a keen critical mind. Say someone tears your latest to shreds. You can either A) get emotional about it, B) decide this loser doesn’t know what the hell he or she is talking about, or C) penetrate the matter a little more deeply, choose which criticisms are valid, discard everything else, move on to the next thing. Your lizard brain is your lizard brain. It’s a given. But your analytical mind, that you’ve got to hone. So get clinical if you can. Easier said than done? For some it really is. You’re not a robot. At least I don’t think you are. I mean, you haven’t blinked in several minutes. I’m watching you…

Do the best you can to stay neutral during and after a round of feedback. Or if not neutral, at least receptive and pragmatic. This is a process. Repeat it to yourself if it helps. This is a process. This is a process. And don’t forget to ask plenty of questions. Stay engaged. Again, criticism affects people differently. I imagine some will read this blog post and think, “I don’t see what the big deal is. This Jeff Bowles guy must be a total train wreck.”

To which I might reply, “Stop staring at my mangled caboose!”

…Ahem, yes. Anyhoo, there’s no accounting for temperament. Look, it’s always seemed to me writers just aren’t honest when it comes to these things. And why should we be? Nobody likes a hot head. No one’s particularly desperate to work with a soppy, spongy mess. But there’s always the case to be made for blowing off steam when necessary. Never let it jeopardize your work, your reputation, or your sense of professionalism, but don’t bottle it up, either. If you find the situation becomes chronic, do a little soul searching. What’s really bothering you here? Why does criticism seem to affect you so much? Self-analysis, some say, is the path to divinity. Not that divinity has anything to do with the life of a writer.

Speaking of which, and if all else fails, there’s still good old-fashioned counseling and therapy. It might sound dopey and overwrought to even remind you of it, but sometimes in life, it helps to get serious about ourselves and consider our own triggers and shortcomings. No shame in it, and never let people tell you there is. Mental health is extremely important, much more important than the modern world ever seems to recognize. And even simple depression can become dangerous if left unchecked.

And now to spoil the mood completely, some depressed writer jokes!

“Well doc, I guess it all started when they said my steampunk riff on The Notebook was even lousier than my 50 Shades of Grey fan fic written from the whip’s perspective.”

“Really? And how did that make you feel?”

“Like we should have used a safe word.”

Why did the anxiety-riddled writer cross the road? Are you crazy? I’m not going outside. That road is clearly a death trap.

[end of joke digression]

Ready to tackle another round of critiques? Well, in a perfect world, I guess you would be. Do what you need to do to combat discouragement and self-defeatism. One of the healthiest attitudes we can adopt as professional writers is the macro, career-long perspective and an abysmal memory. If the fates allow, you’re in this for the long haul, so just remember this or that little hiccup will mean nothing in the end. It’s a basic fact that we learn more from failure than success. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and fail as hard as you can!

Pep talk concluded. Feel better now, don’t you?


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Video Games – Music – Entertainment – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Pep Talk segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


Jeff’s Pep Talk: Permission to Quit Granted – Alternative Means of Expression: Part II

Jeff's Pep Talk2

Permission to Quit Granted – Alternative Means of Expression: Part II

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

A couple months ago, I talked about YouTube and alternative ways writers can express themselves in order to clear out writer’s block or perhaps simply gain perspective on career or creative issues. I consider the writer’s life a long-haul experience. Very often, we go through bursts of creativity and sheer writing bliss, only to end up in a long, slow burn of doldrums and low output. The first five to ten years of any writing career are all about figuring out our voices, our skill-levels, our likes and dislikes, and most importantly of all, our individual thresholds for, let’s say, soul-crushing rejection. After that, ultimate longevity is kind of a crap shoot, right? Well, sort of.

The workhorse model for professional writing doesn’t suit everyone. You may not believe me on that, but trust me, pragmatic holistics matter. Yes, in general it’s best to stay productive and avoid periods of low output, but it’s also a bare bones fact people seek and find inspiration in their own unique ways. For instance, it’s not uncommon for some very successful authors to disappear from the literary scene for years or even decades at a time, only to return in incredible, blinding flashes of brilliance. What do they get up to during those so-called creative droughts? Mostly, on an internal level, they live and experience a few more things until they feel they have something new to say.

If you’re the kind of writer who must hit the brakes every now and then, and by the way, I count myself among you, it may come as a surprise that there doesn’t exist a whole lot of information and support for your way of doing things. The workhorses of the world would have you believe you’re failing if you don’t put down your 2,000 words every single day. But you aren’t. Trust me on this. You’re still doing the job. Even quitters are doing the job. You’re smelling the roses, paying the mortgage, getting married, divorced, remarried, having kids, whatever it is. In essence, you’re telling the story so you can, you know, tell some more stories.

Quitting is a misnomer anyway. I’m not sure good writers ever actually quit. We say we want to, go through the motions, but sooner or later, the bug bites us again. Shamefully, we may disappear into our little domiciles and caverns and pine away for all the stories we never got to tell. But this attitude is borrowed, I can assure you, from a culture that sees reflection and seclusion as things slightly lower than sin.

Just quiz yourself for a moment. The last time you got yourself into a writing funk, wasn’t it because you had something bigger to do? You had to work on your insecurities or your fear of success, or maybe your great aunt died and left you a billion coupons for that buffet place she loved so much but that only serves your favorite brisket on Sundays. An unlikely scenario, sure, but you get the point. Writing doesn’t occur in a vacuum. As much as we may dislike the idea, every word we lay down reflects who we are, who we’ve been, what we believe and value, and the places we yearn to go.

It all depends on your purpose as a storyteller. Does anyone really have a purpose in this world? Yes, I believe we do, though you may feel free to disagree. As an avatar of the workhorse archetype (Family: workhardimus, Genus: unflappabilititus), your purpose may be to write whatever, however, whenever, and for as much money and prestige as possible. A worthy fate if there ever was one. If, by way of alternate example, your countenance and mean represent the BIG IDEA archetype (Family: trickleinspirationmaximus, Genus: deletekeywornout), you may make a habit of cooking a single manuscript for fifteen years before realizing it was good enough to show people eight years ago.

Is there a wrong or right answer here? I don’t think so. Is one of these writers lazier than the other? Arguably, but I don’t think dedication is the ultimate watch word. We’re looking at the sum rather than the parts here, and that makes all the difference.

Art, like life, is a product of time and gestation, and some ideas simply can’t be rolled out in the span of a few months or a few years. Let’s say all you want to write about is a clan of trolls that need to hatch a plan to infiltrate the King’s armory (why not? Substitute a diatribe for or against the Trump Administration, if you like). Every one of your writer friends tells you to plug away until the damned thing is finished, but instinct screams at you to put the story away because you don’t fully understand family dynamics during wartime, social patterns in relation to ground-dwelling malcontents, or the trials and tribulations of Diet Coke-swilling Presidents. I’m telling you to follow the instinct.

The relative complexity of the story you want to tell and your ability to execute it depend entirely on where you’re at as a person and a creator. An eighteen-year-old could write her magnum opus as easily as a fifty-year-old, it’s just the soul of one finds itself prepared many years prior to the soul of the other. So prep your soul a little. Here’s my recommendation if you’ve tried the 24/7, 365 model and found it wanting: live a little between projects. Forget what you’re working on right now, shelve it; yes, I’m giving you permission to quit. Here’s a real test of mettle. Can you forget all about your big dream? Can you go back to being a regular civilian non-writing-combatant? Knowing in the back of your mind when you return to work at some distant point in the future, you’ll be changed, the world will have changed, you’ll have packed on a few years, losses, wins, regrets, and that your stories will thank you for it?

Sometimes alternative means of expression require us to express nothing at all. To me, making something from nothing is a lot like breathing. The inhale, the brink, and then at last, the release and relief of a nice grateful exhale. Take in oxygen like a prize fighter or a Buddhist monk. Breathe until your belly fills with all the desire and longing you can stand, and then let it rightfully explode. Awaken to the possibility of laziness. I mean that. Sit on your butt and watch The Price is Right, or go to work every day and pretend to care about earning a living. In one hundred years you will be dead. Sorry if that’s a bit of a spoiler. Now did you write two books or forty? Would you rather have written fifty? No doubt, but tell me, was it your role to do so? Were you driven to do it? And can you really call that life of yours a waste because you lived how you were compelled to live?

To be blunt, don’t live by other people’s standards. Just in general, don’t do it. If you’ve got the drive and the nerve to chase your star, chase it as hard as you can. But if survival and struggle are all you know and you’re damn tired of it, understand there’s nothing to be gained by producing a mountain of crap for your name to sit atop as you relax into a neat pile of old bones. Individuality is far more central to our world than most people have the ability to recognize. One-size-fits-all only works in plumbing fixtures and baseball caps. Don’t knock yourself out with this story or even the next. Put it down if you need to. Put it down. Put it down. Put it down.

Then go for a walk and pick up a winning lottery ticket, meet the love of your life, or get an autograph from the leader of the free world that sends you reeling back through space and time to meet the man who invented Diet Coke. Stranger things have happened. I’m sure of it. Until next time, everyone.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Video Games – Music – Entertainment – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Pep Talk segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


Rumi, Spirituality And Poetry

Ego within the Ego

The oldest poetry of all is in the Holy Books. The Rig Veda, The Maharashtra, the Buddhist Sutras, The Old and New Testament. Then there are the extended legend/poems that have become embedded as virtual racial memories of mankind. The story of Beowulf, the Icelandic Eddas, The Iliad and The Odyssey. It seems as if poetry came first, was the primal form of literature, handed down from The Gods to human beings.

More familiar to us today is the work of the Sufi mystics like Rumi. I know that Rumi’s poetry has become a consumer commodity. His work is immune to vulgarization, however, so I’m not worried about Rumi. He is said to be the most widely read poet in the world. His work has survived eight hundred years. He nearly vanished to the western world until Sufi scholar Coleman Barks translated Rumi into English and it took off…again!

Rumi addresses himself to God, to Allah, as if to an intimate lover. He gives all of himself to the Highest because he is in love with the Highest. Rumi is also very human, rooted and ordinary. He offers us practical insights on daily survival. He writes, “Don’t worry about what doesn’t come. By not coming it may prevent disaster.” He may as well have been speaking directly to me. I’ve waited for a lot of things that haven’t come.

Poetry and prayer are inseparable. Isn’t every poem really an address to the Divine? Isn’t it laden with hope, desire, confusion, supplication and maybe even surrender? Rumi’s poetry attracts modern readers because it retains its purity, it can’t be trivialized by the consumer paradigm that dominates our world. It doesn’t matter that Donna Karan uses Rumi to sell fashion. Or that rock star Chris Martin uses this poem on an album by Coldplay.

 

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

I can’t think of any more appropriate response to the maladies that afflict us in these times.

This, then, is my poem, a poem very much influenced by Jalalladin Rumi of The Mevlevi School of Sufism.

A Worthy Destination

I haven’t found peace.

I don’t own peace,

rent peace,

buy or sell peace,

though I do encounter peace

from time to time.

Peace is like a friend

who comes for a surprise visit.

As my life takes on a shape

in which peace feels comfortable

I see peace more often.

Peace is not easily found in this world.

Peace comes like an accident,

a good mishap.

Peace lands in my heart like

a bird that’s raised its young

and is looking for a new place to nest.

I thought I would know peace by now,

but it’s taking longer than I expected.

The biggest problem is my mind.

It’s like a bag turned inside out, its contents

are the world, spilled and crazy.

Peace is not comfortable

in the world. When I’m with peace, I feel as though I’ve brought a guest

to the kind of party

that’s broken up by the cops after midnight.

I need to make peace more welcome here.

I should send peace an invitation, find a good solid tree

where peace can perch and sing

before taking flight

to a more worthy destination.

 

To see more of my writing, photography and music I highly recommend that you take an excursion to

http://www.artrosch.com

email writernuts@gmail.com

 

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A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography.  In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders.  The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression.  He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy.  It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience.  He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Jeff’s Pep Talk: Always One More Story to Tell

jeff black and white

Always One More Story to Tell

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

I’m good at giving pep talks. Sometimes I wonder if it’s not my life’s purpose to encourage others to success rather than to achieve a huge amount of it myself. If that’s the case, I think I’m okay with it. It’s not in my nature to divide or mislead people. I’ve got a slight carnival barker element to my personality, I suppose, but other than a little ill-timed self-promotion every now and then, it’s never gotten me into much trouble.

In this world, in this day and age, contention and cultural separateness are extremely popular trends. It seems folks today are primarily interested in defining themselves by what they are not and what they dislike, abhor, or disagree with. Maybe my personal philosophy comes from some other time, some other place. I’m more interested in the things that unite us, that remind us just how similar we are; I’d like to see people come together and acknowledge the good in life rather than the bad.

I’m an optimist by nature, even and especially when things in my own world seem askew. In grad school, I adhered to a certain ethos that served me pretty well. It became popular enough among my classmates I heard it repeated back to me more than a few times, especially as my academic cohort entered the home stretch of thesis prep. That ethos is simply this: there’s always one more story to tell. It actually applies to more in life than just writing, but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll narrow its definition to its most literal meaning.

There’s always one more story to tell means a good writer understands a career is not built on a single world, character, or narrative. It means no matter how hopeless or defeated you feel, your imagination and will to create are completely under your own power and can therefore sustain you through the hard months and years. There’s always one more story to tell implies none of us should ever stop dreaming. Dreams are the stuff of joy and expansion, not cold, hard, practical facts. Cold, hard, and practical wants you to see a slew of form rejection letters as a personal condemnation from the universe. “How dare you try to be a writer? Don’t you know you’re lousy at every single thing you do?”

I believe it’s possible to see through the illusions of life. Here’s the biggest illusion for writers who have yet to realize their goals: no one’s believed in me yet. It’s safe to assume no one ever will. Contrary to what you may have been told, belief is not required for success. There’s no secret recipe for super-stardom containing one part perspiration and nine parts yeah, but I believe so much. It’s not a badge of honor or a sign of a superior mind to keep the faith even when you’re feeling battered and bruised by every creative endeavor you’ve failed to launch. The truth is, there’s no room for belief in always one more story to tell. In fact, it’s antithetical to the entire basic philosophy.

Choose to be rather than to become. Were you born a human being or did you choose to become one? Did you draw your first breath naturally, or did it just seem the most prudent thing to do at the time? Oh, well I guess oxygen is a thing here in this hospital room. Didn’t seem to need my lungs down in that womb, but what the hell? I’ll play along with everyone and just breathe.

What is a writer? Honestly, have you ever stopped to ask yourself that? A writer is a person who writes. That’s it. You either are the thing or you aren’t. So in acknowledging you always have one more story to tell, you’re giving yourself permission to screw up a little. Or maybe even a lot. Man, that last story was a real loser. Well, so what? Remember that idea you had the other day while you were driving to work? The one about the race of rat-people who secretly control the international rat poison industry? Didn’t that excite you to think about? You know, excitement is the one and only key signifier of a creative avenue worth walking. Enthusiasm carries, after all, so ditch the last story that didn’t work and start crafting a new one. You’ve got to learn to harness your creativity before you can engage it with discipline. In a perfect world, a writing career would contain plenty of both, discipline enough to get the job done, creativity enough to ensure the stars in your eyes rarely dim.

So how does always one more story to tell work in practical application? For starters, don’t wait to start dreaming up your next masterpiece before you’ve finished with your current one. In fact, don’t ever stop dreaming, not if you can help it. Also, never stop watching, reading, playing, or listening to the types of stories that really get you going. Every single storyteller on the face of the planet was a fan before they were a creator. Never stop being a fan. You very well may become a huge success one day, which means you’ll meet some of your heroes. Don’t lose interest in their work once you discover they’re human, just like you. Know and understand the kinds of stories you enjoy most and devour them whenever you can. Don’t lose perspective. You’re a storyteller because you like being entertained and wish dearly to entertain others. That’s a noble goal. Really, it is. Writers are folks who allow others to be someone else for a while. We help people dream, just like other very noble writers helped us.

The dream is the thing that binds us. The dream is elemental and necessary. Rather than showing us who we aren’t, it defines us deep down to our very cores, who we are–or rather, who we’d be if we could take off our disguises and dance, as they say, like no one’s watching. I love to dance. You know how kids need no prompting when it comes to make-believe? It’s because no one’s taught them yet to avoid dancing at all costs. Above all else, writers are individuals who never fully integrated the lesson that adults do what they have to do 100% of the time and nothing else, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. And the world needs people like us. Perhaps now more than ever.

I recently went through a period in which I stopped writing completely. I had a few pretty major personal setbacks, and I needed time to recoup. I don’t regret it one bit. The me that worked my butt off in grad school would have told this other me to soldier on, work through the pain, never stop writing. That old me would’ve been dead wrong. Always one more story to tell also accepts the fact that sometimes there’s no story to tell right now, but that this won’t always be the case.

I always preach self-forgiveness to budding authors. I think it’s paramount. Writers are often a depressed bunch. Sometimes I think it must be the key to our tenacity, that we couldn’t do what we do without a little self-doubt. Writers are perpetually Linus clutching his security blanket. We need a hug and a little friendly reassurance from time to time. But then, well, who doesn’t? Be the storyteller who’s willing to cut herself or himself a break. You won’t forget how to write, not ever, not as long as you’ve still got a pulse. The lessons you’ve learned, the work you’ve put in, they won’t suddenly disappear overnight. Uncertainty will always be a factor. It’s probably best to get used to that. There are things you can control and things you can’t. C’est la vie, right?

Do yourself a favor and keep a running ‘story ideas’ notebook. I’m a digital guy, so I use an app called Evernote. It’s a pretty helpful tool, because it allows you to save and sync individual notes across all your mobile devices and then backs them up into the cloud. The next time you’re watching an old favorite movie and one line of dialogue gets you thinking about some great new concept, write it down and save it for a rainy day. You’ll be glad you did.

The best thing about collecting ideas is that the process is cumulative, which means one idea lends itself to another, lends itself to another. One good concept can change your life. Dr. Martin Luther King knew that and spoke highly of it when he told us about his dream. His vision of an America, a world, in which all people were truly thought of as equal was perhaps the best conceptualization in human history. It was so damn good it seemed like a no-brainer and still does, even if we’re still fighting to see it realized. I suppose that’s another thing. Bringing something new into the world will always be a fight. Remember, enthusiasm carries (as in, it can help carry your lazy butt to the door). Never underestimate your ability to conceive and create the future. MLK didn’t, and nor should you.

It’s natural to doubt yourself and your abilities sometimes. Everyone has done so at least once in their life. And really, the work of a creative soul is doubly hard, and fraught with personal perils deeper the the Grand Canyon and twice as cleft. “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.” Indiana Jones said that, and he hated snakes and had a thing for whipping the competition.… Okay, maybe that’s not the greatest motivational allusion, but you get the idea. Take a breath, do something fun for a while, come back to your work, start again, knowing with certainty you never really stopped anyway. Life’s a continuum, a big lopsided wheel bouncing through space. One day you’re on the bottom, sure, but guess what? That’s only a prelude to being back on top again.

You’re reading a blog post written by a guy who dislikes divisiveness. The pendulum, it seems, has swung in that direction. But it doesn’t mean any of us has to like it. It also doesn’t mean you have to accept it in your own creative endeavors. Competition is everywhere in the writing world. Don’t play that game. Honor the success of others, and feel and express gratitude for your own, no matter how humble it may seem. Sometimes choosing to sit down and put one word after another is the biggest victory you can claim. So celebrate your abilities and your work, and get excited for your future. Whatever you do, remember the following: there’s always one more story to tell, there’s always one more story to tell, there’s always one more story to tell.

Like the one about the garden fountain that pitches quarters at people to make wishes. Or the cybernetic super-being who wants to trade his metal heart for a plastic one that can break. Or the…

See what I mean? Until next time, people. ¡Viva la creación!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Black Static, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Video Games – Music – Entertainment – So Much More!


Jeff’s Pep Talk: Learning to Let Go

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Learning to Let Go

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

To tell you the truth, I never wanted to be a writer. So many authors–successful and unsuccessful alike–seem to have been aware of a certain literary calling from an early age. Stephen King began telling stories as a kid and never stopped. One of my personal favorites, Frank Herbert, creator of the Dune series, told his parents when he was little, “I want to be a author.” Adorably so, I’m sure, even if in basic syntactic error.

I had precious few moments like that. At the age of eight, I began an ambitious Star Wars fan fiction novel in which Luke Skywalker was forced to confront an evil dark Jedi clone of his poor dead Uncle Owen. I never got off the fourth page. When I was a teenager, I wrote about seven chapters of a complex space opera. But even though I showed clear aptitude, the process was long and boring, and I had better things to do, like playing music with my friends and spending hours on the couch in front of my PlayStation.

I didn’t decide to devote myself to writing until I hit my mid-twenties, by which time the life of a coffee-house-playing singer/songwriter had lost its appeal. Nobody listened to me when I performed. They were too intent on their dark roasts and shallow hipster conversations. I reasoned that even if I someday made it as a musician, I’d have to spend all my time on the road touring, and I’d just gotten engaged to a wonderful woman and had future plans to start a family with her. It made sense at that time to go after a new dream, and I’d always liked telling stories, even if I’d never demonstrated the necessary discipline to actually finish them.

Like so many young hopefuls, I was convinced literary success and stardom would be just around the corner. Ehem, they were not. What can I say? If you’ve been at this thing for any length of time, you know well the real hard work comes in the form of keeping your head down, applying butt to chair, and pounding out thousands of unsuccessful words before a single one catches the eye of an editor or an agent. Maybe you’re just starting out, in which case you might be wondering what the long-term odds of your success are.

Sad to say, but instant recognition is pretty rare. I know some very talented but also very lucky writers who hit it big their first time out. Ultimately, their jobs and their lives haven’t been made any easier. Sometimes the work is actually harder for them, because big success comes with big pressure. Each morning, they still have to make that basic choice: to write, or not to write. And that isn’t easy. Nothing about this job is. Anyone who tells you otherwise … actually, I seriously doubt someone with experience will tell you otherwise.

If you’re like me, your first stabs at storytelling were bad. Like really, really bad. I wrote at least thirty short stories before I snagged a single decent pub credit. I had a couple things working against me, and so did you. First off, I had to learn to write. And I don’t mean in the general sense; writing a blog post like this and writing a fully realized novel are two incredibly different beasts. That probably goes without saying, too.

Secondly, most of us have to build a name for ourselves slowly and over time. Many of your favorite authors didn’t get anywhere near success until they’d generated an incredible amount of published content (that’s published content; the unpublished stuff doesn’t count). The difficulty curve inherent to all this is enough to derail the majority of us. Everybody wants to write a book at some point in their life, but actually finishing one, submitting it through the proper channels, and receiving scads of rejection letters … well, may I just say, fresh meat, welcome to the great literary meat grinder.

At this point you may be asking, “What gives, Jeff? I thought you were going to give us a pep talk. This is more like trash talk.” Well, yeah, I guess it is. But it does no good to approach creative writing as a profession with anything less than a level head. You’ve got to know the odds. Or at least, I feel you should know the odds. The truth is–and this may seem counterintuitive–recognizing your likelihood of failure is just as important as having your writing dream in the first place.

I’m a dreamer by nature. Most creative types are. When I close my eyes at night, I’m just as likely to see book signings and red carpet movie premieres as blank white pages with blinking, unfulfilled cursors … taunting me, taunting me … the horror, the horror. Just because I recognized a long time ago instant success would never be mine doesn’t mean I no longer do what I can when I can to get there. Actually, and this is the important part, the slow and steady nature of my career thus far has allowed me to let go my prodigious and unproductive white-knuckle grip, helping me at last to relinquish just enough control so I could, say, have a life outside of my stories.

That’s kind of the point. Failure teaches us more than success. Failure hurts, no doubt about it, but it also heals. Failure is not a four-letter word. Count ‘em, seven letters, not even close. Nor is it some cosmic slight. Don’t be afraid to fail. In the grand scheme of things, there’s no difference between the careers of a thirty-year vet who hit the mark right out of the gate and a thirty-year vet who had to slowly build an audience with each successive work. In other words, it isn’t the destination, it’s the journey.

Here is your pep talk in four simple words: learn to let go. Seriously, that’s it. Let go of your need for recognition, for validation. Let go the desire for royalty checks the size of the annual Defense Department budget. Letting go doesn’t mean giving up. Far from it, in fact. Some very big writers love to spoil it for newbies. Gleefully, they hand out advice like, “If you can quit, you should,” implying of course this job sucks so bad you shouldn’t even bother.

I’m not that guy. I like to build people up. Learning to let go of your expectations, your insecurities and personal timetables, it’s actually a cure-all for life. The day-to-day of a writer really can be challenging. There are just so many lows, sometimes more than there are highs. You’ll have days you want to give up. Heck, you may have entire years or decades you don’t write a single word. So I find it’s better for the mind and the soul to consider writing a lifelong journey rather than a pass/fail vocation. Do you know what happens when you let go? You actually start enjoying what you do. Some time-tested philosophies think of this as living in the now, embracing the flow of life, or choosing to let the stream carry you rather than fighting its currents. It’s a healthy attitude to cultivate, especially when you’re in a creative industry that hands out disappointment like local discount car wash flyers.

Don’t give up. Don’t do it. And don’t let anyone, including yourself, tell you that you should. If you find you’re getting frustrated with your progress, take a break. That old chestnut, writers write, applies only to very unhappy people and very well-adjusted robots. Writers are just average folks, and like every other warm body on this planet, you need a life that’s fulfilling on more than one level. You know what you can do instead of pounding out words until you tear your hair out? Fall in love. Go see a movie. Have kids. Start a stamp collection. When you let go of the desperation, the incessant need to be somebody, you can be anybody, and that, my friends, is freedom itself.

You know who you are. You know you love to write. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here on this blog. So why not trust yourself? Trust life. Tell a story for the joy of it. One moment, one second, one word at a time. If you worry too much about the future, the next rejection, the next failure, if you obsess over the past and all the ugly moments still living there, you’re doomed to forever hate right now.

It’s okay to admit you’re no superstar. At least not yet. Trust me, it won’t hinder your ability to create awesome stuff. I’ve met some big name talent. Many of them feel imprisoned by their careers. The grass is always greener, right? So while you’re busy fuming with jealousy over their magnificent sales figures, they’re busy resenting you for what they perceive as your complete and total freedom. The joy of writing is in discovering what’s just around the corner. Imagine if a new entry in your favorite book series telegraphed its epic ending on page one. Wouldn’t that be disappointing? Life, like any story worth reading, works best when you don’t know what comes next.

So don’t try to predict the future. Live free, focus on today. And that’s your pep talk for the month, folks. Read ‘em and weep! Just don’t weep too hard.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Black Static, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Video Games – Music – Entertainment – Fun!


The Many Faces of Poetry: The Importance of Poets

Ego within the Ego

Poets are more important than the poetry they write. Imagine a world in which there are no poets. How dismal! The poetry, though…that’s merely a by-product of what work is done by poets. The work of being a poet is the act of being different, unique, distinct. That’s what poets are for. They represent the odd, the inspired, the depressed, the struggling, the eccentric. They do this work with language, with words. The poetry may rhyme, have meter, or be abstract, modern, free and strange. No matter. Poets are like Christians or policemen. There are times when we need them, desperately. We count on Christians to keep promises. We count on policemen to help us when our neighbors get into a fight that’s keeping us awake all night. We count on poets to be slightly off-kilter, to be weird and unique. Their weirdness gives us permission to also be weird, because I’ve never met a human being who isn’t….weird.

If poets are weirdlings, madmen, people who view the world through a creative filter, then we must sustain them. Losing poets would be a calamity, an apocalypse. It would be like having all the glaciers melt. Where will our water come from? Where will these pieces of verse that are of little utility, yet so necessary, where will they come from?

Dewdrops on spider webs;

sit lightly with life.

That’s the shortest poem I’ve ever written. Or this one, also eleven syllables:

So coos the mourning dove:

come to me, my love.

I began reading and writing poetry because my girlfriend in high school loved poets. It came easily to me. I am, after all, one of those weirdlings, a true eccentric. The poetry has far outlasted the girlfriend. I’m still interested in poetry. I still love this ability to take a virtual word-photo and bring life into its papery texture. Okay, okay, I’m done. Now I’m reaching, I’m crossing that thin membrane between inspiration and bullshit. We don’t need to do that, not with poetry.

The poets will take care of poetry, hopefully for as long as humans exist.

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The greatest thing that ever happened to Arthur Rosch was his awful childhood. Growing up in a dysfunctional family he had no choice but to get angry, rebel and follow his path to becoming an artist. His first duty as an artist was to cultivate obsessions. He proceeded to do this with gusto and learned that there is no substitute for a good obsession, compulsion or addiction to gain insight into human nature. It was a girl who inspired him to write poetry and novels. Writing is  the refuge of his later life, after forty. It took him that long to wear out the obsessions.  Rosch believes that part of a writer’s apprenticeship is to spend at least twenty years being mentally deranged. He loves jazz, science fiction, literary fiction, Rumi’s poetry, travel, history, dogs and cats and his wife, who is half Apache.

His multi media blog can be found here: www.artrosch.com

Visit his photo blog at http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv

 


Interview with Independent Author Chele Pedersen Smith

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Our guest today on Writing to be Read is a newly blossoming independent author of two very different books; the first a spy romance and the second a collection of inspirational stories, Chele Pedersen Smith. I recently met Chele through a Facebook book event in which I was lucky enough to win a free copy of her spy romance, Behind Frenemy Lines. After chatting with her, I see many ways in which she and I are kindred spirits, including that she also put off pursuing her passion until our later years, and also in her enthusiasm for the craft and the many creative ideas she has for getting her works into readers’ hands. I’ve enjoyed interviewing her and I hope my readers will enjoy it to as I share it with you.

Kaye: In On Writing, Stephen King talks about how he started his writing career with his brother, printing news on an old printing press, using grape jelly for ink. You have a similar start. Would you share the story of your author’s journey?

Chele: Sure! I’ve been writing since the bicentennial, which sounds really ancient and colonial. Ha-ha. In sixth grade when my best friend Debby and I won the school’s first annual hobby contest with our collaborated mystery booklets. We were totally shocked because a classmate entered her motorcycle and we thought for sure Annette would win. It just goes to show that sometimes the best things are simple and come in small packages!

In junior high, I wrote a teen mystery series my friends loved to read, sometimes before the ink dried on a chapter. I’d fold bunch of unlined white paper and staple it. The plots revolved around protagonist Sherri Whitman and her friend Anna Daine. Anna was more like me, the ordinary girl with ironic luck and Sherri was my alter ego— pretty, more daring and often accomplished what she set out to do. There are 17 books in this series, mostly short booklets until high school when I switched to writing on notebook paper fastened in folders. A bridging symbol between the booklets and the note books is book nine written in a blank journal. Now, that felt like a real book and I think it was the beginning of a serious dream.

With more room to write in the folders and a little maturity, the stories morphed into multiple, more complicated plots. In high school, I took all the writing electives and was on the school paper senior year as well as my first semester of college where I started to major in communications.

One day watching Romancing the Stone, Kathleen Turner’s character was a writer and I noticed she typed her books on a typewriter off the top of her head. I thought, “That is what real writers do!” so I started writing that way too. It was hard to think that way at first, and typewriters did not have the ease computers have today when it came to errors. Now it is second nature to write this way. I still use journals to jot down ideas and I have a separate document on each book called, “Notes for Behind Frenemy Lines,” etc. That way I can cut and paste dialogue if I want to save it for another place, or remind myself what I want to include in the story.

At 21, I tried my first stab at getting published. It was a Sherri manuscript about an amazing mystery that happened to me during my first semester of college. I sent it to a publishing house for young adults and got my first rejection! I was bummed but proceeded to send it to several young adult publishers who said it was too short. So I added other mysteries and back stories from previous Sherri books, but it still got rejected. Only Scholastic gave me detailed criticism and sent me two paperbacks to use as examples. By then I was a newlywed and put it aside to figure out later. I was focused on writing short stories and sending them to Redbook because they use to have contests. I never won but I still have those and other short stories from the 80s, as well as most of the Sherri series.

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After years of hiatus, I got back into fiction writing the summer of 2013. An idea for a story kept circling my head like a vulture. It would not go away. Characters formed, names were tried on for size. The perfect first hook crafted itself. Finally one morning, I made coffee, opened a Word doc and then typed out that sentence. And just like that I was writing again! The story is called Confessions of a Goody-Goody and is a bit of a struggle at times because it is based on real life juicy events. I thought Goody-Goody would be my first book, but I got stuck halfway through. It got too personal and I didn’t know how to proceed.

In the meantime, I enrolled in college so I set aside. I took creative writing courses and the writing prompts helped me take Goody-Goody to a higher level. Plus I am adding in a lot of fiction, so I do plan to finish it! In fact, a chapter excerpt appears in our latest literary magazine to set my goal in ink!

Kaye: You gave up a promising career in the health care field to become an author. How do you justify that? Any regrets?

Chele: I had quitter’s remorse at first. I rarely give up on something, but after bailing after just one week in the dental hygiene program, I cried hysterically. What had I done? I felt lost. Did I just make the biggest mistake of my life wasting all that hard work, all those sciences, maintaining A’s to get in?( It wasn’t really a waste because exercised brain power and I made a great group of friends my age and we rocked!)

After waffling on other majors, I ended up in communication because it was the closest thing to a writing degree available. (It’s funny, coming full circle from my youth.) The electives included two creative writing classes, which I loved, and two journalism levels.  I lucked out because the spring J2 involved a trip to NYC media writing conference and that was a blast. The good news is, just this the fall, the school branched communications into concentrations and voila–professional writing materialized! It was like the movie Field of Dreams: take writing classes and the degree will come!  So now, I’m there with just four classes left.

At this point, I’m mainly getting the degree to complement my novel writing. I’ve recently received fantastic validation through the English department via several professors and have just won two awards for my writing! So I definitely feel I made the right choice. But as for making moolah, if a job in the field isn’t feasible, I will probably fall back on my pharmacy technician training and write novels in my free time.  I’ve kept up with my pharmacy certification just in case.

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of being a writer for you?

Chele: The writing is the fun part, compared to formatting paperbacks and self-promoting. But I’d have to say it is a toss-up between finding time to write and my husband giving me a hard time about it. Since he went to the awards night with me, he seems more impressed and realizes it is more than just a hobby.

I mostly write during semester breaks which isn’t very long, unless it is summer. (Although most summers I’ve taken classes, too.) I have all these book ideas and half-finished projects. I’m afraid I’ll lose steam or the muse will leave me before I get them done. And I’m a revision queen so even after I do finish a book, it takes time to patch plot holes, paint in more details, and weed out never-ending typos.

Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?

Chele: I’m corny and get excited over little things. I never lost my childhood wonder. I love word play so much, maybe I should’ve gone into advertising. The corniness may not come as a surprise to anyonewho reads Behind Frenemy Lines. Lee has some punny lines.

Maybe a more of a shock is that in the 80s, I wanted to be a radio DJ. 1984 was so “outrageous” as Lionel Richie exclaimed at the music awards that year and I remember thinking music would never be as good it was then!  We had Michael Jackson at his peak, Kool and the Gang and Madonna, and the British bands! (Little did I know a guy named Adam Levine would arrive on the scene and swoon me in the 21st century.)

In my late teens, I’d play DJ in my room with my little brother, practice queuing up and spinning records and timing announcements with my stereo. Well, it paid off, because the first year at the college, they had an opening for DJ at the school radio station and I had a stint for about a month. It was fun to live out a brief dream, even though I’m not sure anyone actually listened.

Kaye: You have plans for a sequel to Behind Frenemy Lines, and several other writing projects for 2018. Would you like to tell us a little about what’s in store?

 Chele: I’m working on a romantic comedy novella. I don’t want to give the premise away or the title just yet because it is a unique way to meet a date. When I needed character names, I turned to classic Hollywood starlets so that was fun. I hope to finish it this summer. I already have the cover made to inspire me! By the way, my covers are made by graphic designer Steven Novak. He has the knack of turning my visions into fabulous covers! I also have two other romance novellas started. Maybe I’ll offer them as a tri-pack.

As for the BFL sequel, Galaxy’s heritage has Russian connections and it falls nicely into current events. But I have some comedic moments and surprises up my sleeve too. And of course it will follow the trysts and trusts issue like the first book.

I write off the cuff, so I don’t know what will happen exactly in each work. In that novella, will Viv’s stalking of her crush win him over? Or will it make him mad? I have no idea yet. Maybe the characters will take over and surprise me.  I also plan to revamp and publish the Sherri Whitman series, maybe as a whole unless I lengthen each mystery, and the one that got rejections—Will the Real Green Phantom Please Stand Up— is on my list too! Currently I am compiling the 80s short-stories into a speculative fiction book. So the muse needs to stick around.

Kaye: How did your blog start and what’s it about?

Chele: I have a blog on Goodreads.  I’m still experimenting with to get it just right. I try to keep it about topics related to my books and writing, mainly romance, but have also ventured off into pop culture ponderings. It may just become the life of a writer.

Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?  

Chele: I like the solitude of morning home alone with a cup of coffee and my favorite songs blasting. No one interrupting me except Penny, the golden. I love the night too; it is mysterious and brings out the muse, but it is not usually practical to write then. Except for an odd summer night last year I was not sleepy at all, so I got up to write in the living room. I sat in the dark by the glow of the laptop with a happy golden retriever curled by my side until 4 am! That was when I wrote the last scene of Behind Frenemy Lines—the prologue!

Kaye: If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?

Chele: I’d jump for joy and thank God. He gave me this talent and being able to make a living on it would be a pinch- me moment! Then I’d hire a housekeeper because I hate cleaning and clutter. It would be amazing to go a book tour and be a guest on Ellen. Being in the spotlight would feel awkward though. Being a writer, it would be nice to have my name known. But I don’t want to be famous exactly; I’d love for my characters to be. When I got my first review from a Goodreads giveaway and the reader fell in love with Lee, I was ecstatic! It was what I hoped would happen. When reviewers mention Galaxy, I’m thrilled. I made these guys up and now people are getting to know them.

Kaye: In a story we are often asked to create images for the reader that we may not have experienced ourselves. When have you had to do that?

Chele: I write what I know, but I also Google a lot! There is a scene in Behind Frenemy Lines where Lee and Galaxy go to the White House to interview Anita, the communications director, about the threats made. I’ve seen the outside of the White House from a park gate, but have never been inside. So, I scoured virtual tours online and described it from there. After the meeting, the spies go rogue exploring the place, so I had to look up different rooms and recreate the experience the best I could.

I’ve also researched Russian Heirloom furniture, so I could describe some antique pieces in Galaxy’s apartment. Soon after, I received a brochure in the mail about Russian art and heirlooms.  I couldn’t believe it!

Kaye: You’re a mom as well as being an author. What are your secrets for juggling writing with family?

Chele: My kids are grown now—my son is 27 and daughter is 19 — but they were still young when I was writing the spiritual stories. I only wrote sporadically then, mostly holiday newsletters, and I would craft those when they were in bed. When I got back into writing four years ago, my daughter was about to graduate from 8th grade. So it was easier then. I write while she sleeps in. As for writing around a husband, I like my free time during the week when he’s at work.

Kaye: What is the one thing you hope to have taught your children?

Chele: I hope they see I’m accomplishing my life’s dream, and dreams don’t happen by themselves. You have to put the effort in and seek out the opportunities and avenues to get you there. My daughter is an amazing artist and she is going to school for an art degree. I don’t tell her she has to be a doctor or lawyer. Art is good therapy for her. My son is great at math and has a business degree with a math minor. He’s still trying to find his degree job, but in the meantime is advancing in a job he’s had for 10 years. He likes to do creative writing as a tension reliever after work and my daughter just got public praise from her English professor for a creative angle in her final essay. As a writer and mother, that makes me both proud and relieved. I love that they have writing skills but mostly they are doing what they love.

Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?

Chele: At a Disney resort three years ago, the maintenance crew knocked on the door and were swapping out tree plants. I hadn’t noticed ours and it looked fine when they carted it away, leaving a fresher one in its place. I thought, “how strange.” It seemed suspicious to me, but we were busy and I didn’t think much more about it until we got home. I knew I wanted to work it into a story someday. It happened to fit a scene in BFL, so in it went. What happens in the book  is much more exciting than in real life. Also that summer, we received an automated call from our electric company about a 3 am power outage planned to replace transformers. I thought, wouldn’t that be a perfect cover-up to commit a crime? So it found its way there, too.

Every day events make me suspicious now.

Kaye: Your two published works are very different genres. How do you get from inspirational nonfiction to a romantic thriller? What other genres might be in store for your readers?

Chele: Behind Frenemy Lines, is a tasteful spy romance, and was my first published book in January 2017. Almost a year after I started writing fiction again, my husband was going to Germany for business and I thought it would be fun to test my writing out on him I decided to write a spy scene, since that was what he liked to read— Jack Reacher, Jack Ryan, and all that. I hid it in his suitcase, so well in fact, after two days I had to inquire about it and give hints. He really liked it. I added back stories and a serious case to solve. The challenge was adding politics. I joke that I have political amnesia because I don’t understand it very well and I find it boring. I also wanted something unique since that is the genre he reads, he probably has heard every plot out there. So I came up with a unique premise, but it does veer off in other directions too.

Since he traveled often that year in 2014, I kept writing other suitcase chapters, just for kicks with no intention of publishing. About two-thirds done I knew I wanted it to be my first book. And the more I developed secret agent Lee Clancy, the more I fell in love with him. He’s a gallant gentleman, has confidence but is not arrogant, knows how to romance, but he isn’t perfect. He’s a real guy, flaws and all. He woos his spy partner, Galaxy O’Jordan, but isn’t sure if he wants to kiss her or wring her neck. The feeling is mutual.

Gal is complicated, beautiful, has body image issues and is klutzy like me, which adds light comedy. She is ruthless but vulnerable and has questionable connections with a shady past. I originally made her up in 11th grade journalism class in 1981 for the conclusion to a T.V script, but I added her multi-faceted personality in 2014. I’m not sure where her name came from. I wanted something exotic for her honey-trapping role, but maybe I was influenced by Star Wars or the space shuttle hoopla back then. I still love her name today!

When White House threats dredge up an old presidential cover up, the case careens a crazy corner into la-la land and it’s up to NSA’s Link agency to figure it out.  Enter Galaxy O’Jordan, feminist crusader with a shady past. An agent harboring secrets, she’s sworn off love while mending a broken heart. It’s just her luck when she’s paired with chivalrous hunk Lee Clancy, surveillance specialist!  It’s not long before they’re smitten, despite their best efforts to play it cool.

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The Pearly Gates Phone Company was published in October 2017 and is an uplifting collection of mini-miracles that happened in my life as well as my family and friends. Remember those spiritual shorts I kept submitting to a Christian magazine? I realized I had quite a few stacking up. From there I wrote a bunch more. There are 33 anecdotal snippets to inspire hope, comfort and give a few chuckles. The title is from the main story in the book, about my dad calling a month after he died. This was 2002 but if it happened today, I think we would have a better explanation about technology. Still, it was a goosebumps moment that was so remarkable, I had to write about it soon after it happened. The original was too long and complicated, but it’s had a few revisions since then, 2014 being the most recent. That is when just the right title popped into my head. I knew it would make the perfect title for the book too.

Have you ever been wowed by the wonders of God? Or enchanted by an extraordinary event? This is a book of coincidental moments, those instances that stop you in your tracks, and you know deep inside it could only be explained by heavenly evidence.

Kaye: You have two very unique titles for your books. How do you decide the titles for your books? Where does the title come in the writing process for you?

Chele: Thank you! I love whimsy titles. Sometimes the perfect one just comes to me, even before I start the story, like the novella and Confessions of a Goody-Goody. But for the two books out now, the names did not immediately click until halfway through. Behind Frenemy Lines had the working title Spy Story as I chiseled away on each traveling chapter. Especially since I threw it together a day or two before my husband’s trip. It was just a place holder, really. Then my daughter was having trouble with a friend and we were not sure if this girl was a friend or enemy so I referred to her as a frenemy. With that word in my head, I suddenly had a title—a play on the movie, “Behind Enemy Lines.” And it was perfect since we don’t know which side Galaxy is on.

As for The Pearly Gates Phone Company, during the original writing, I had the title, “A Call from Heaven” and then with a rewrite, other titles like, “Hello from Hippie Heaven” or “A Heavenly Hello” materialized, but did not feel right. I knew I wanted something more fun. Finally, during the last revision, it popped in!

Kaye: What’s your favorite social media site for promotion? Why?

Chele: Facebook seems to be the easiest and I like Instagram. Twitter seems mysterious to me. I’ve tweeted and try to use hashtags, but not sure how effective it is. The self-promoting concept is one of the most challenging parts of being an author.

Kaye: How would you describe yourself in three words?

Chele: Goofy, Creative, Lifetime learner

Kaye: What makes you laugh or cry?

Chele: I’d rather laugh than cry, so I enjoy comedies. There is no shame in crying, but for me personally, it is easier to laugh. Maybe because I “ugly-cry.” There isn’t anything lady-like about it. Everyday moments crack me up. I always say, “Life’s a sitcom.”  And that usually refers to mishaps happening to me.

At orientation a few years ago, they played a little cartoon emphasizing students asking for help to do all they can to pass, rather than use excuses and blame the professor. The cartoon was drawn simply and used computerized, monotone voices, which sounded so funny. I was trying so hard not to burst into a fit and almost left the auditorium, but luckily I was able to keep it under wraps. Good thing, because no one else was laughing. I am easily amused and find if we don’t take life too seriously, we can have a good time.

Sometimes my laughter rolls into crying, especially if I am tired or needed a good cry and brushed it off. An episode of The Goldbergs had me laughing so hard, I was in tears. My daughter came home and I couldn’t even talk to explain what was going on. I could only point to the TV. In the ep, Barry was trying to make sculptures of his girlfriend, copying a cue from Lionel Richie in his video “Hello.”  His attempts were hideous, and each one was funnier than the last. I just lost it.

As for crying, I am soft-hearted when it comes to children and animals, so I avoid movies with disturbing themes, but sometimes they sneak in a “feel good movie of the year.” I hate that!

I had big crying jags moving here and experiencing my first partially empty nest when my son stayed behind to move in with his dad to finish college. It felt so unnatural.  Another big tears moment was a month later. Losing our old golden retriever, Buster was one of the saddest days I can remember, aside from losing my parents.

I’ve also cried out of sheer happiness, like when my daughter said she wrote about my mom as her favorite relative. I knew she would love to know that!  Or when I was trying to track down a friend and finally got a letter from his mother. That was in the 80s, before internet and Facebook, so it felt like a true miracle.

Thank you for asking me all these wonderful questions.

Thank you Chele, for joining us and sharing today on Writing to be Read. It obvious that you really opened yourself up and spoke from the heart. It has been great to interview you. I hope all my readers will thank you as well, and remember to watch for my review in the near future of Behind Frenemy Lines.  You can find ouot more about Chele and her books here:

Facebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/chele.pedersensmith.5?lst=1570686027%3A100021726966363%3A1528131001

Facebook group: Chele’s Galaxy

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cpsmithbooks

Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/chelepedersensmith

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16337551.Chele_Pedersen_Smith

 

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