WRITING THEMES: Do we choose them? Or do they choose us? by Joan Johnston

Book ShamelessWhy do all my books have “abandoned or neglected children” as an underlying theme?  Until about book 25 (I’m writing book 57 now), when another writer pointed it out to me, I had no idea that this issue resonated throughout my writing.  I’d grown up in a family of seven children and my parents had remained married until my father died late in life.  So why was I writing about abandoned children?

When I asked my mother why I might have focused on this subject, she replied, “When you were four years old, your father (who was in the Air Force at the time) left to go to the Philippines and we stayed behind in Little Rock.  You took a photo of him to bed with you for a month, until it was in tatters, and cried yourself to sleep.”

Aha!  All questions answered.  I was “abandoned” when I was four years old and, according to my mother, didn’t see my father again for an entire year.  No wonder the topic of abandonment—and subsequent healing through love—pervades my books.

But as in my novels, mothers don’t always tell the truth.  Or at least, not the whole truth.

Recently, my sister Jeanne, who was one year older than I, died of complications from diabetes.  My cousin Ron wrote that he had “a nice story about Jeanne” to share with us.

Here’s what he said:  “I remember when your father was stationed at Langley, Virginia, my mother got the wild idea that she had to visit her baby brother [who was my father].  I know there were presents, so it was probably around Christmas.  We got in the car [in Baltimore] and drove down to your parents’ house.”

At the time Ronnie wrote about, my mother had a brand new baby (my sister, Jackie, born October 22), a three-year-old (me), a four-year-old (my sister Jeanne) and a five-year-old (my sister Joyce).  From Ron’s story it appears that she wasn’t getting much help from my father, and there wasn’t enough money to buy a refrigerator or pay for heat.

“When we left,” Ron finished, “we took Jeanne with us.  I don’t remember if she stayed a few weeks or a few months.”

Cousin Ron’s story provided answers to questions that had remained unanswered all my life, but which had appeared in my writing all along.  Apparently, in an effort to help out my overwhelmed mother, Jeanne was taken to live with my aunt’s family.

My sister Joyce and I have always been best friends, even though she’s daughter #1 and I’m daughter #3.  We shut Jeanne, daughter #2, completely out.  I’ve always wondered why.  Now I know.  Jeanne left.  She went away for three weeks—or three months.  But during that period, Joyce and I bonded. My mother never acknowledged having sent Jeanne away, so we were unaware of what had happened when we were children.

When Jeanne returned, my family immediately left Virginia and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where we stayed while my father moved to his new station in the Philippines.

Within the period of a year, I had lost my sister, who “disappeared” and then “reappeared,” then moved from one home to another, and then lost my father, who “disappeared” and didn’t “reappear” for an entire year, at which point we moved to the Philippines to join him.

This is a fascinating story all by itself.  I can see how I might have ended up writing about abandoned and neglected children.  But there’s more.

In December 2013, Harlequin reissued a book I wrote in 2002 called Sisters Found.  Interesting title.  I’d previously written a book called The Substitute Groom in which the two heroines, twin girls, were named Hope and Faith. I was at a dinner meeting when a Harlequin sales rep asked, “So where’s Charity?”

I sat there stunned.  And realized suddenly, “There’s a Charity!”

It doesn’t take much psychology to figure out that I wrote The Substitute Groom about myself and Joyce, completely excluding Jeanne, even though the names I chose suggested there was a third child.

What I wrote in Sisters Found, eleven years before I learned the story of what happened to my sister Jeanne, is little short of astonishing.

In Sisters Found I wrote that Faith and Hope weren’t twins, they were two of a set of triplets.  Charity was given away when she was two years old because her parents couldn’t afford to care for three children.

Charity confronts her parents about why she was given away in this wrenching scene from Sisters Found.

         “Why me?” she demanded.  “How did you choose? I want to know.”

          Her mother and father exchanged a glance before her Book Sisters Foundfather turned to her and said, “Of course we kept Faith,    because we would always love her as she is [with a missing hand], when others might not. Hope was the troublemaker,   the one who howled with colic. You were the most beautiful      of our three lovely daughters.”

          “We’re triplets,” Charity countered. “We look exactly alike.”

          “You were the prettiest, with deep brown eyes that saw so much,” he continued.  “Such a perfect baby, always   laughing, always smiling.”

          “Newborns don’t laugh or smile.”

          Her parents exchanged a troubled glance, and she remembered what her father had told her.  She’d been two years old when they’d given her away.  Had spent two years being loved by them, held by them, a part of them.

          “We tried so hard to keep all three of you,” her father said.  “But it wasn’t possible.  We knew that whoever became your parents would have to love you, because you were such a good child, such a happy baby.  We gave up our most precious child.  The one most certain to be loved by strangers.”

I don’t know if I actually heard a conversation such as that as a three-year-old, but I will always wonder how much truth there is in it.

Most authors I know write some consistent theme.  Mary Balogh’s books feature terrible family rifts that are mended through loving the right man.  Susan Mallery also writes about relationships that mend families.  Sandra Brown’s characters all have conflicts with authority.  Debbie Macomber’s books focus on family and faith.

I didn’t consciously choose to write about abandoned children, but the subject has found its way into every book I’ve written.  If you haven’t already done it, you might want to take a closer look at your own novels and see what you find.

I’m working now on a new series of Bitter Creek novels, Sinful, Shameless, and Surrender, which just happen to feature women who’ve been physically abandoned by their mother and emotionally abandoned by their father.  Imagine that.

I don’t think I can consciously change what I write.  Nor do I want to.  The powerful emotions that end up on the pages of my books come from the wounded child inside.  My sister’s death, as sad as it is, has brought me solace and understanding.  I can’t wait to see what wonderful stories of healing and love find their way onto the pages of my books from now on.

Joan Johnston

Joan Johnston is the top ten New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of 56 novels and novellas with more than 15 million copies of her books in print.  Watch for the reprint of Outlaw’s Bride in mid-October and the second book in her King’s Brat series, Shameless, in stores December 29.  You can reach Joan through her website, www.joanjohnston.com or Facebook at www.facebook.com/joanjohnstonauthor.


My ruminations today are on the delicate balance between presenting our readers with something they want to read vs. challenging them to read something that is uncomfortable and even Clasicsunpleasant but that might stick with them a little longer. It starts with the photo I've included with this post. While browsing blogs and online news articles about books and literature I came across the ad you see at right, and it struck me as blasphemy that Fifty Shades of Grey should be listed among such classics as Catcher in The Rye, of all things. It is outrageous that a book that, by all accounts, is barely more than poorly written Internet porn should find itself on a shelf, albeit an imaginary online shelf, with To Kill a Mockingbird.

Now, being an expert on web design and development I know ads such as these are rarely put together by humans any more. These days there are algorithms smart enough to detect the topic of the article or blog being read and assemble ads automatically that are aimed to draw the attention of a reader with similar interests. It is more likely that this ad was put together by what is called an ad-bot (short for advertisement robot) based on the content of the article I was already reading than by a human being. He doesn't know any better, all he knows is the criteria around which his algorithm was written. Which made me wonder what that criteria might be, that would list a universally panned piece of populist tripe amongst such literary gems. Artificial intelligence is still decades away from being able to program value judgments into computers, so it had to be some mathematically quantifiable metrics on which the ad-bot made the choice to include those particular books in this particular ad.

This got me asking what these books had in common. Emotionally I wanted to reject the notion the Shades could have anything in common with the other three. But I looked at them objectively. Since the article I was reading made reference to Atlas Shrugged, it made sense that it was this book which seeded the initial algorithm, which them searched for other books in common with Shrugged. For one thing, all four books are listed on most retail book sites as General Fiction. I would've though Shades would be Romance, but I looked and before Erotica it is listed on most sites as General. Next, each of these books had a profound impact on our culture when released. Again, a bot cannot make a value distinction as to whether that impact was good or bad, only that there was indeed a measurable sea change as a result of the release of each of these novels. For better or worse, each book was destined to go down in history as a classic, if by no other definition than that it impacted society in some significant way.

This got me to thinking about the books I've read that I enjoyed, and those I did not. Oddly enough, I found that there was a much greater number than I wanted to admit that I found uncomfortable or unpleasant to read but that stuck with me, that I could not shake. These were not necessarily badly written books, in fact most were quite well written, but books that forced me to confront things I usually avoid, or made me see things in ways that made me uncomfortable, or even changed my outlook on life against my will. Books like, for example, The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis, a very dark look at attraction and rejection that includes the most detailed POV description of a suicide I ever read; or A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess in which a young man's love of Beethoven is stripped away from him as a casualty of an experimental behavioral modification procedure (read torture); or Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs which I'm still not entirely sure I understood but that contained some of the most disturbing images I've ever read.

What surprises me is, arguably, these books that I profess to dislike have impacted my life to a greater degree than any book I read that I liked. I say arguably because there are some neck and neck.

And that brought me to an assessment of my own writing. Even as a small boy I aspired to write books that people don't just enjoy, but that they cherish and want to keep in their libraries to read again and again. I still go back and read Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, The Hobbit, and Dune. And you can have my original hardcover copies of the Harry Potter series when you pry them from my cold dead fingers!

But I ask myself, is it better, for my own immortality, to have written a series of dearly beloved books, or to have instead left a legacy of disturbing, uncomfortable, haunt-you-in-your-sleep books that nevertheless impact people in a significant and long enduring way? I waffle on this occasionally. I still have no answer, except that in the end I write whatever I write the best way that I know how, leaving it all on the court, so to speak, and let others decide where my legacy falls. If you, dear reader, have an opinion on the matter, I'd love to read it in comments, below.

Don't miss Kevin’s latest releases: the startling and engrossing series of gothic thrillers featuring vampire private detective Kathryn Desmarias, including Bloodflow, and Bloodtrail, the bestselling sequel to Bloodflow; also the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, Rogue Agenda.

Follow Kevin at:
Kevin's Amazon Kevin's Blog


By Kevin Paul Tracy

I've spent the past three posts discussing elements of politics in fiction, somewhat focused on world-building, which is often considered an activity of the speculative fiction writer, but I submit is also a job for any crafter of mysteries, adventures, thrillers, etc. who wants to provide a solid plot line that fulfills and satisfies readers. It is time to move on from political intrigue, or spies and terrorists, to full-scale war in fiction.

waterlooMost of us have written the occasional (or frequent) action scene - fist fights, exchanges of gunfire, and various forms of chase scenes. But few have the occasion to relate a full scale battlefield clash between two forces numbering in the hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands. To some the task may seem daunting, but if you keep in mind that, in the end, even chapters about massive combat are still ultimately about characters the readers have, hopefully by this point, come to care about, the task becomes manageable, if no less complex.

The challenge is to relate the larger events of the battle, the strategy and tactics, the turn of advantage, the ebb and flow of victory and defeat, while still keeping the very small, individual, human element integral to the narrative. I suggest planning for the battle comes at the very beginning of story craft - in the outline phase for the entire book. If you know this book is going to have a large-scale battle in it, you have some elbow room to plan ahead. Introduce characters whose diverse occupations and roles are going to be useful in giving the reader insight into the various aspects of the conflict later. In a medieval setting, for example, introduce the Kings and Generals early in the story, but also perhaps a squire, perhaps a message runner, an infantryman or two, and perhaps a conscientious princess or lowly midwife who might become a nurse to the injured or a beacon of leadership to refugees, etc. These do not have to be major characters, and they do not necessarily have to hold the roles at the very beginning of the book, as long as they are in place when the conflict starts so that we can turn to them from time to time during the battle for their very personal, human dramas amidst the larger backdrop of war.

Characters in place now, the battle starts. A battle is kind of like a tide at the beach, it ebbs one way, flows another, breaks against hard forces such as rocks, then tumbles past soft forces like shells or seaweed. Think of writing your battle sequence like a tide. Start with a bird's-eye view, giving us the larger context, the state of war as it begins, then rush down into the midst of it and focus on the actions and consequences of one of the characters established earlier. At an appropriate point, preferably upon a cliff-hanger, zoom your storytelling camera back out to the thousand foot view again, tell us how the tide of battle has shifted, who is advancing and who retreating. Then, dive back down again, choose another character whose very personal story gives us a context-filled experience that affects us and keeps us engaged.

And so it should continue - wide-shot, then close-up, wide-shot, then close-up, keeping us apprised of the progress of the larger war at hand, while simultaneously keeping us engaged on a deeper, much more character-driven level. If done well, the reader comes away from your book with a fulsome sense of satisfaction, that they were able to follow the impact of the greater events at hand because they were also given the very personal, individual micro-view of how those larger events affected individuals they cared about.

Don't miss Kevin’s latest releases: the startling and engrossing series of gothic thrillers featuring vampire private detective Kathryn Desmarias, including Bloodflow, and Bloodtrail, the upcoming sequel to Bloodflow to be release 4/15/2015; also the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, Rogue Agenda.

Follow Kevin at:
Kevin's Amazon Kevin's Blog


By Kevin Paul Tracy

As you grow up you become more aware of a developing ability to hold multiple emotions at a time on any given subject, sometimes quite contradictory. For example, anyone who is married can attest to how it is possible to both loathe and love that same person at the same time. I'm a big James Carville fan even though I detest almost everything he stands for. I think Tom Cruise is a giant flake, but I'll go see any movie he's in because he's a very engaging actor.

So when I say, "I hate my book!" other writers understand this is a transient state - I don't in fact hate my book, but during the rewrite and editing process, I do! I loved it when I was writing it, and even during the first read-through and edit, I'm thinking, "Damn, this is pert'near genius!" But after the fourth and fifth read-through and edit, you wish you weren't the author if only so you could take the author by the throat and throttle him for putting out such drek!

Cap'n Crunch Cereal

It happens the same way with Cap'n Crunch cereal, to which I am, sadly, addicted. So I buy the big economy-sized box. Then, next Saturday morning I get up excited, pull up the last episode of Person of Interest on the DVR, pour myself a giant bowl of Crunch Berries, and sit down to a meal fit for a king.

Sidebar: Does anyone remember Cap'n Crunch's arch-nemesis, the pirate Cap'n LaFoote? He had a cereal of his own as well, a cinnamon something or other. No? Not surprising, it wasn't very good.

About two-thirds into my precious bowl of cereal the orange pieces are getting soggy and the berries are sticking to my teeth and I'm wishing I hadn't poured myself such a big bowl. I'm sick of Cap'n Crunch with Crunch Berries and don't care if I never see another bowl again. And yet, three or four weeks later, there I am, buying another box and getting all excited for the next Saturday morning!

You don't, in fact, hate your book as you enter the fifth read-through. You're just burned out on it. Compounded by the fact that with each read-through you keep finding more that needs fixing, and it's getting a little redundant and monotonous, especially if many edits are the same mistake repeated over and over again. You're frustrated and you're a little down on your own skill as a writer.

Well, let me clue you in on something I recently learned myself. There's nothing wrong with taking a break. I know, you want to get it done and over with and off to the printers. But when you're burned out like this, you make mistakes and miss things, which is why it seems like you keep finding the same errors over and again. Taking a break gives you a chance to recharge the batteries. Catch up on your own reading, attend a few critique group meetings, remind yourself what it was that inspired you to write to begin with.

Most critical, though, however long your break, get back to it. You'll find yourself much less stressed and frustrated, you'll find yourself making much fewer errors, and you might even fall in love with your book all over again!

Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda,” a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow,” and don’t miss Bloodtrail, the upcoming sequel to Bloodflow.

Follow Kevin at:
Kevin's Amazon Kevin's Blog


By Kevin Paul Tracy

In golf, "the back nine" refers to the second half of an 18-hole golf game. It's often used as a metaphor for finishing up, or approaching the culmination of a goal. Other sports analogies would be: "the home stretch;" "first and goal;" or "sliding in to home." In writing I use it to refer to those last ten-to-20 thousand words of your manuscript. You've gotten past the swamp, that middle part of the novel that's not set-up, not climax and denouement, just complication. You're finally driving everything toward the final conflict and resolution.

Complex Fiction Plotting Chart

But sometimes, if you're like me, getting all of your characters on stage and where they need to be at just the right time for everything to come together can be a challenge. One of the greatest examples of this is J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of The Rings. The first book in the trilogy, The Fellowship of The Ring (actually there are six books in the series, but they are most frequently sold as a trilogy, of which Fellowship consists of the first two) brings the major protagonists most of the way to the land of Mordor, the major goal of Frodo the Ringbearer. But Tolkien has three or four major battles to write about (Isengard, Helms Deep, The Black Gate, etc.) before the final destruction of the ring. So while Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Pippin and the like all criss-cross the country several times over, fighting and having adventures, Tolkien finds excuses to waylay Frodo and Sam, not once, but repeatedly, to keep them from Mount Doom, which is quite literally in sight most of the time, until he can get everyone else to the battle at The Black Gate to see what happens when (SPOILER ALERT) the ring finally gets destroyed. If I may critique what is arguably one of history's great works of fiction, the ways in which Frodo meets delay after delay always seemed rather shoe-horned in, to me.

Deliberate or not, I think we can do better. Some suggestions...

If you are having trouble with logistics, getting everyone where they need to be for the final conflict, ask yourself if the final conflict has to happen where you have set it. Is there another venue, already used in your story or not, where the confrontation can take place, that your more difficult characters can get to in the same time frame? Asking myself this once led me to the discovery of a much cooler place to present my final resolution than I'd originally planned, that now I routinely ask myself this question, even if I'm not having timing difficulties.

If you're approaching your maximum word-count, but you still have a lot to fit in, look at ways to time-jump. For example, is it necessary to describe the heist team planning the rescue of a team member from police custody while driving to the courthouse? Or is it sufficient to simply say, "On the drive to the courthouse, the team put together a hasty and daring plan for rescuing Mr. Yellow from the cops." Then you can just let the plan unfold as it happens, which is often much more effective than laying it out for the reader before-hand.

The absolute worst is coming toward the end of your manuscript, only to become suddenly aware of a glaring flaw in your plot, something someone is bound to notice and pan you for in their online review of your book. I've seen writers try to plug this plot hole by suddenly cramming in at the end of their book some spontaneous and transparently make-shift explanation that rarely fools anyone. No, in such a case there is rarely anything you can do but go back and rewrite and fix it the right way. I recently encountered such a flaw that required me to go back to the half-way point of my book and rework everything drastically from that point on. It was a pain, but there is no question the novel is much stronger for it.

At any rate, whatever logistical or timing challenges you encounter as you're "rounding turn number four" toward the completion of your manuscript, keep in mind, you're almost done! That should be a grand motivator. Stay agile and be flexible and find creative ways around bottlenecks and log-jams. Often your characters are where they are in the book for a reason, inconvenient as it may be, and sometimes it is incumbent upon you to work around that and still bring in a strong, satisfying conclusion to your story.>/p>

Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda,” a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow," and don't miss Bloodtrail, the upcoming sequel to Bloodflow.

Follow Kevin at:
Kevin's Amazon Kevin's Blog

TOP TEN LIST: Things Overheard At A Book Release Party

By Kevin Paul Tracy

Caricature of David Letterman

Here is a list of the top ten things overheard at a book release party.

10. "My wife loves your books! Can you sign it to her: Roger Smith?"

9. "Is the author someone famous, or just a writer?"

8. "Yes, the author signed it, we couldn't stop him. If you can find an unsigned copy, it's worth an absolute fortune." (A nod to the movie "Notting Hill")

7. "I have the best idea for a book...maybe you could write it!"

6. "Wake up, honey, he's done reading out loud."

5. "You mean I have to pay for it?"

4. "I've written a book, too. It's a 500 page memoir of my grandfather's struggles with gout. I happened to bring it with me. Would you mind reading it and telling me what you think of it?"

3. "I always come to these things. You never know what's going to turn out to be priceless...after the writer is dead."

2. "I've heard of door prizes, but the book's cover imprinted on a butane lighter? Doesn't bode well for the book itself."

And the #1 thing overheard at a book signing party:

1. "Is this the line for the restroom?"

Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda” and a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow.”

Follow Kevin at:
Kevin's Amazon Kevin's Blog

Wrapping Up a Trilogy

By Jeffe Kennedy

Rogue'sParadiseA couple of weeks ago I was privileged beyond belief to hear one of my longtime heroes speak - fantasy writer Stephen R. Donaldson. He read and discussed his lifetime of work at Bubonicon.

I also got to be a guest author at the same event, making it all that much more tingly.

I started reading Donaldson when I was an adolescent and voraciously consumed anything fantasy. Well, really, any books at all. But I was tremendously keen on Anne McCaffrey, who I'd discovered on the library shelf. Looking back, it's pretty clear that my family members must have gone into bookstores and said what I liked, and the savvy booksellers said things like, "Here, buy her the Thomas Covenant trilogy." (Which is as many as he'd written back then.)

This was a bit scattershot because, as any of you know who've read both that series and The Dragonriders of Pern, there's quite a large gulf between the two. In fact, I really struggled with Thomas Covenant. I just hated the protagonist and had a hard time understanding the story. This was long before the interwebz and nobody else I knew read those books, so it was only many years later that I found out that everyone struggled with disliking that protagonist. And that the books had very likely been too advanced for even my precocious 12 year old brain.

Then I discovered Mordant's Need. I'd grown up a bit and, best of all, the protagonist was a woman. Not many fantasy and sci fi books had women as central characters back then. I know because I searched most of them out. Even the prolific Anne McCaffrey couldn't write as fast as I could read. I branched into other genres and discovered romance, which always featured strong focus on the female characters. But the two Mordant's Need books, The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through, gave me a very interesting, believable heroine and all the thrilling worldbuilding of the best fantasy.

I got to tell Stephen Donaldson this very thing, face to face, lo these many years later. And he smiled, being a delightful person and replied, "I always thought I should have gotten more credit for that."

Indeed he should.

He also talked some about what it's like to end an epic series. The Thomas Covenant Chronicles finally wound up at ten books. He gave this terrific analogy of how it felt, as if he'd been gutted. That, on one level, he knew he'd finished, but he also went about in a daze for a long time, unable to fully process that fact. The reality of it only hit him much later, when he started functioning as a human being again.

Only he said it much better.

It made me feel much better, because - in my own small way - that's exactly what I've gone through in finishing up my own covenant books. Rogue's Paradise, the third book in my Covenant of Thorns trilogy, comes out September 8. And it feels like this very strange concatenation of events that I met Donaldson at this time, with my series having this completely unintentional name-parallel to his, as it's culminating what has easily been a ten-year journey.

From writing the first book, Rogue's Pawn, which was the first novel I ever wrote, which took years and tears to sell, which finally came out in July of 2012, to this moment - seeing the final book hit the shelves - feels like the conclusion of a long journey.

One I have very mixed feelings about.

Because, here I sit, thinking that maybe I'm not done with that world. That, though finishing that third book left me hollowed out and like the walking dead for some time, I want to do more with my characters and that world.

I understand how Donaldson ended up writing ten of them.

And I only hope I should be so lucky and maybe live up to the example set by my hero.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield: A Review

Review by Mark Stevens

the-war-of-art_for Mark Stevens postResistance is invisible, internal, implacable, impersonal, infallible and insidious.

Resistance, as Steven Pressfield points out in The War of Art, never sleeps.

“Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five,” writes Pressfield. “In other words, fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.”

If you don’t know it, The War of Art is a must-read. (Of course, reading it might be an act of resistance in itself. You should be writing, don’t you know.)

The War of Art breaks down the interaction with your art. It encourages you to picture yourself as a soldier in the fight against, what else? Resistance.

Pressfield first defines the enemy (resistance), then encourages you to fight by “turning pro” and finally, in the third section, he shows you how to find inspiration in the “higher realm.”

The battle, Pressfield asserts, involves dedication and daily action. Some of his arguments have too many biblical metaphors for my tastes but the essence of his argument is hard to refute: get busy, show up, do the work, stick to it, make it routine, make it a habit, don’t give in.

You will understand the creative process a bit better—and even understand why you feel compelled to tell stories and to produce art.

• “The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome.”

• “When we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set in motion by which, inevitably, and infallibly heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.”

• “What I call Professionalism someone else might call the Artist’s Code or the Warrior’s Way. It’s an attitude of egolessness and service.”

Pressfield’s most convincing point, at least to me, is that if we have something to say, we are obligated to say it.

We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the world. He calls creating art a private insurrection.

“As artists and professionals it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. In this uprising we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture. We overthrow the programming of advertising, movies, video games, magazines, TV and MTV by which we have been hypnotized from the cradle. We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.”

The War of Art delivers a blow against resistance and will get you fired up. It’s a battle out there. Strike a blow, if you can, every day.


Mark Stevens
Mark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.
Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014

Oh Those Wonderful Librarians!

Remember those days as a kid, wandering into the library and being guided to a book by the librarian? I have very fond memories of both school and public librarians of my childhood years. Their recommendations provided me rich rewards and a deep appreciation for books.

At the end of May, I had the honor to participate in a panel of authors at the Library Journal Day of Dialog. The audience was an energetic collection of librarians from across the U.S. That experience brought home to me once again just how large the role of librarians is in our lives as readers and writers.

As children, most of us rely on adults to shape our reading choices. If we are lucky, we encounter those wonderful mentors who have noted our interests and taken the time to get to know us. They lead us to new authors, suggest unfamiliar books, and launch us into great adventures.

I recall the librarian in the children’s section of the public library helping my sister pick out my earliest books. She always made sure we left with a pile of five or six or seven and fostered my initial love of books and the library so much that I played “library” with friends, creating cards for each of my own books and carefully entering names and dates each time I loaned to a friend…even if it was only for the couple hours of play time.

In my elementary years, my school librarian walked me through the Paddington Bear series, showed me the biography section, told me about Maud Hart Lovelace (the Betsy-Tacy series); suggested the Boxcar Children and Happy Hollister mysteries, made sure I found all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and let me read Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret a year early (it was restricted to sixth graders).

When I moved, just before sixth grade, the public librarian in my new community led me through their entire Nancy Drew collection during my first six months in the small town-- I think I read ninety-nine books in that time (they didn’t have the entire series). When new books came in, she always made sure I knew about them. She introduced me to YA, long before it was called YA—I’ll never forget Lois Duncan, Betsy Byars, and Judy Blume. She and made sure I didn’t miss Gone with the Wind and other classics. Then, just as I was tiring of Harlequin’s sweet romances, she put Kathleen E. Woodiwiss and LaVyrle Spencer into my hands and sealed my fate.

With each move I made during my adult life, I always found the library. While I didn’t forge the relationships with librarians that I had during childhood and adolescence, they always remained important to me.

As an author, I find librarians still play a big role in my life. Five Star Publishing focuses on the library market. Thus, libraries make up the bulk of my sales and librarian recommendations drive increases in my readership. The Day of Dialog brought me face to face with many of those librarians responsible for building collections. They were articulate, curious, intelligent, nurturing men and women…just like all the librarians I remember in my life…and I can’t help waxing nostalgic as a result.

What memories do you have of librarians? Do they still play a role in your life? In your children’s lives? Tell us about them.

Then…remember to tell them!!

The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Rebecca Taylor

By Rebecca TaylorThe Exquisite and Immaculate Grace of Carmen Espinoza

Yesterday, I uploaded my most recent book, The Exquisite and Immaculate Grace of Carmen Espinoza, to Kindle—Yes, I self published it. And as I, only hours later took it down to make changes (I suspect it won’t be the last time) I wondered:

Why don’t more writers make the leap into self-publishing?

I thought about it all day and here’s what I came up with:

  1. In truth, self-publishing still reeks a bit of failure (if you think it has completely lost all stigma, then you’re not looking hard enough outside the self publishing community. Like it or not, self publishing is still judged pretty harshly in some circles, especially the ones surrounded by the high gates of traditional publishing. There are only two things that truly mask this odor: Winning legitimate awards and big sales.
  2. If you do it right, it’s a ton of work. It can be super easy and not at all a ton of work if you just take your first draft, upload it to Kindle, and slap one of their cover generated images in front of it. Of course, if you do it that way you should also expect to get out what you put in—which is almost nothing.
  3. And finally, and this I think is the big reason why many don’t take the plunge, you stand completely alone beside your work, taking a huge risk that, even after all your labors the only sound to reach your ears is the eerie silence of your one hand clapping (the other one is, of course, occupied holding up your book to a world that doesn’t give a shish.)

Yes, number three, lack of self-confidence, I suspect it is the real reason why many writers don’t give it a go—of course this may be simply because it was the real reason why I didn’t.

Confession: I am always a little bit in awe of someone in possession of flagrant self confidence. I watch them, without even the slightest hesitation of self doubt, they will happily spread their feathers befor2000 x 1333e you and shimmy—it has been my experience that these people are usually connected to the theatre in someway.

When that self-possessed someone happens to be a writer—well I’m flat out flabbergasted to be in the presence of such a rare bird.

In March of this year, I sat on a publishing panel answering a variety of questions from writers. Towards the end of the session, one young woman approached the microphone and asked, “What one piece of advice do you have for aspiring writers?”

Now, there are many, many good answers to this question: Write, Don’t give up, Learn the craft, etc, etc. But what popped out of my mouth was, “Toughen up.”

Yes, find those bootstraps and pull them hard because the truth of the matter is, if you are still a walking wound of self-doubt, anxiety, and crippling insecurities when your first book, traditional publisher or no, comes out—that first three star review is going to knock you to your knees. And that one star, the one with the especially snarky, and yet cleverly crafted, dissertation-length review, may likely drive you from your dreams of writing anything ever again.

I think many writers, who might otherwise be interested in the allures of self publishing, still avoid it because they believe having a publisher (regardless of the publisher’s size and actual knowledge of the publishing business) is going to fill that void, that empty gaping hole where the writer should believe in themselves, and their work. That acceptance acts like a Band-Aid of, “Look, it’s not just me…someone else likes my book too.”

And maybe that Band-Aid will be enough.

But I will tell you, if this is how you are going to prop yourself up, by leaning against the facade of traditional legitimacy, all it will take for it to all disappear is for fickle winds of favor to start blowing the other way.

And then, where does that leave you?

Ever heard the tale of the traditionally published debut author that didn’t sell enough books to earn out his meager advance? It left him with no sales, no offer for that next book, and no confidence in his ability. Even with traditional publishing, nothing is guaranteed!

Self-confidence is an absolute MUST in this business.

Be bold! Stare the very real potential of deafening silence in the face and say, “I’m not afraid of you.” Once you face that fear, whatever yours may be, it can’t hold you in paralysis any more.

When it’s ready, when you’re ready, get your work out there anyway you can. If a traditional publisher wants to stand with you—great! Just don’t fool yourself into thinking they’re going to sit up with you in the middle of the night and rock you back to sleep.

Kind of like your kids, no one will ever care about your work as much as you do. (except your mother—for both examples.)

This is just my opinion, but I happen to think you have to stand at the center of your writing career and act as the captain of your own ship—no agent or editor is going to do that for you.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to talk you out of your Big Five dream—I don’t think self-publishing is for everyone. Truth be told, I actually hope it’s not the only avenue forever open to me because I’m probably the first writer in line to lick the feet of a Random Penguin should it happen to deign glance in my direction. I still want my books in Barnes and Noble just a bad as you do.

But, if it turns out that the publishing powers that be don’t want me there, I’m not afraid to stand alone, book in hand, and brace myself for silence. My biggest fear is not that I will make a fool of myself—it’s that I will stop trying.


Rebecca Taylor 2000X3000Rebecca Taylor is the young adult author of ASCENDANT, a recently selected finalist for the 2014 Colorado Book Award. The second book in the Ascendant series, MIDHEAVEN, will release in 2014 and her standalone novel, THE EXQUISITE AND IMMACULATE GRACE OF CARMEN ESPINOZA, is now available.

You can find more information about her work at: Web: www.rebeccataylorbooks.com, Blog: www.rebeccataylorbooks.blogspot.com,  Twitter: https://twitter.com/RebeccaTaylorED,  Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/Rebeccataylor, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaTaylorBooks, Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/RebeccaTaylorED