Monday, November 9, 2015

Writing: How to refill your creative well.

The following is the third in a three-part series about the craft of writing, specifically characters and situations, why we write stories, and how to refill the creative well. These conversations took place in early October 2015 with author Tony Simmons and myself.

Mark: One last thought. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately. I’m convinced — you’re torn so many different ways. You’re expected to blog, you’re expected to tweet and Facebook and all these different things. But every time you do that during the day, I think you use up a little bit of creative energy. Maybe not a lot, but a little bit. And then you have to wonder, is there any left over when you actually go to write? So my question is not whether that’s worthwhile or not — because it’s probably necessary — but rather, how do you refill the well after you’re tapped out, after a long week or a month, or even when you finish a long project? Because with a book, you might be committing to a year or two’s worth or work.

Tony: And that last push leaves you with the thousand-yard stare.

Mark: And by the end, you’re a zombie. How to you refill the well? What goes into that to bring the water level back up? ... I find that I do a flurry a reading as soon as I’m done (writing) a book. All the stuff that’s been piling up on the Kindle or in stacks, and not just fiction, a lot of non-fiction. When I’m working, I might be reading about 50/50. But afterward, man, I’ve got to fill my brain back up. There’s wanting to catch up on all the TV shows you missed and all the movies you didn’t see. So, for like a month, I go nuts. But then, pretty soon, there’s that itch like, man, I’ve got to write something. You can’t wait until you feel full again to start writing.

Tony: For me, there’s a couple of things. One is, I give myself permission not to be obsessed or upset that I’m not writing. I didn’t always do that. I don’t really do a lot of reading while I’m in the middle of a project. I’ll read a comic book, or magazine articles, watch TV for an hour or two — during the writing process. After the writing, I want to go somewhere.

Mark: A change of scenery, literally, to refresh the brain.

Tony: Clear the palate, yeah, and I think that’s why going up to visit Birmingham even jumpstarted that (steampunk novel) idea. I was in the middle of a project, and it was driving me crazy trying to finish it so I could start the new one. I was writing notes on one and working on the other. That’s one thing I do, even if it’s just taking a day, me and my wife going to Apalachicola (about a 90-minute drive from home) and walking around. Just something to change the surroundings for a few hours and get your head out of the space it’s been in.

Mark: Get away from the computer. Plus, you bring up the point: Even though you have a new idea in your head, the discipline — the part that’s the difference between being a professional and not — is that you finish the project you’re on. And then you start the next one. You don’t get distracted and start something else. It’s a small point, but important for other writers out there, and readers.

Tony: Yeah, there’s really only two rules: (/Holds up one finger/) Sit you’re @$$ in the chair and write. (/Holds up second finger/) Finish what you start. Even if that means just getting to a stopping point. I spent too many years dropping a project and starting something new, just to drop that too.

Mark: I think that happens a lot.

Tony: Somebody said it’s like being in love. You’re committed to this project, and all of a sudden you see this nice shiny new idea over there. And you’re like, this project is just not as pretty as I thought she was. She makes me work too hard. But this idea is exciting. I think I’ll go play with this one a while.

Mark: I think it’s fear. I think people fear finishing. When you’re done, the dream is over. Now it’s time to let go. I really do think fear plays a big part in that. It’s easier to tinker than to finish.

Tony: Today, that fear goes even further. I can submit to all these (traditional publishers) and if they say no, then in the old days that was the end of the story. Now you can publish yourself so fairly easily that you don’t have any excuse to keep it hidden away in a drawer.

Mark: You can’t say, “Well, they kept me out. I never got my shot. I never had a chance.” Now, your baby has to get out there and compete, and it might get beat up on the playground. Those are my deep thoughts I had recently.

Tony: I appreciate it, because I had no deep thoughts to bring to the table.

Mark: You’re good at spontaneous deep thinking.

Tony: Or bull*******.

Mark: It’s a craft.

Tony: It can be learned.

(Check out Tony’s stories, available in ebook and paperback at Amazon.)

(Photograph is “Lazy River” from Peter Griffin at

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

AskDavid is a fun way to find new books.

Hey Readers, Superheroes Aliens Robots Zombies (SARZverse Book 1) is now on the popular ebook site AskDavid. AskDavid helps you find new books. Hit the link and check out my page, then use AskDavid to find your next book.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Writing: Why do we make up stories?

(Author Tony Simmons)

The following is the second in a three-part series about the craft of writing, specifically characters and situations, why we write stories, and how to refill the creative well. These conversations took place in early October 2015 with author Tony Simmons and myself.

Mark: That brings me to my second question: What is it in us that demands that storytelling? I think you go to your caveman, and other people (with him) like stories but there’s probably only one person in the tribe or village that’s a storyteller, and he’s probably a shaman or he’s painting on the walls — “Oh, that was the best hunt ever!” (The number of storytellers is) probably a bigger percentage of the population now because the tools are available to write, but telling stories has always (come from) a small part of the population. I think it only feels big now because there’s so many people publishing. Why is it a small part, and why are people like us driven to tell stories?

Tony: If you strip all the publishing away from it and get down to storytelling, I think everybody tells stories. Every conversation we have with our loved ones, we’re telling stories. If my Mom calls and tells me about an uncle that’s not doing well, she’s storytelling. As a people, a species, we developed language and writing — well, in part to keep track of what we were telling —

Mark: To give it permanence, because we wanted to give stories multi-generations.

Tony: But in those days, and up until recently, most people couldn’t read and write, but everybody would go down to the square to hear the town crier tell what happened in the court, or gather around their radio to listen to serials.

Mark: My grandfather told stories on the porch, and neighbors would come over to listen.

Tony: When it comes to writing, I think the difference between most people and people like you and me is the difference between a child drawing a picture with crayons and the artist painting a landscape or portrait. We found something in us that felt fulfilled and we were drawn further to continue filling that empty hole in our hearts.

Mark: You’re so driven, you spend years learning the technical skills, just like a painter. You take it way beyond what most people would do because you spent all these years developing it. If everyone else did that, you’d have a lot more people who were writers. They’d end up at the same place.

Tony: It is a craft, and it can be taught. It can be learned. Those of us who felt drawn to it also had to learn it —

Mark: Over a long period of time —

Tony: With a lot of trial and error. ... If I turn away from it for too long, as you do from time to time, I actually feel heartsick, like there’s something missing. That ‘something’ is telling those stories. At least, for me it is.

Mark: Sometimes it’s the only way I can cheer myself up. If I sit down and start writing, within an hour or two I’m smiling and happy again. It’s unreal. It’s weird how sometimes you purposely turn away from it, then you think, “What the heck was I thinking? Why am I not doing that?”

Tony: What are we hoping to do is to write something that’s going to affect somebody. That they’re going to carry with them, share with other people, and it’s going to make their world a better world, and it’s going to go on beyond you, after you’re long gone. Or, we could just be writing stories to have fun with. If we’re lucky, we’ll be like H. Rider Haggard and a hundred years after we’re gone people will still be making movies out of our stories.

In the next post, we’ll talk about how writers and readers can refill the creative well.

Meanwhile, check out Tony's books, available in ebook and paperback at Amazon.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Writing a Novel: Do you start with a character or a situation?

If you enjoy books and writing...

The following is the first in a three-part series about the craft of writing, specifically characters and situations, why we write stories, and how to refill the creative well. These conversations took place in early October 2015 with author Tony Simmons and myself.

Mark: We were talking the other day about characters. You read Stephen King’s “On Writing,” and he says he always starts with a situation; I started thinking, how predominant is that? How many authors start with a situation versus starting with a character? When you told me about your Alabama trip, it seemed like the seed of it, the germ was the character first. What triggered that idea, and then did you build the situation around that character?

Tony: I think that story came out of inundating — immersing myself in a bunch of unrelated ideas. I’m in Birmingham, and there’s a lot of stuff about the Confederacy, it’s an iron town — that whole blacksmithy, iron works, steam era feel to it. And I’m reading a lot of steampunk. All of those things fed into the mulcher, and then, driving home, seeing those old Southern city names —

Mark: Specifically, Jemison and Thorsby. Were they in that order?

Tony: Yes.

Mark: Because you might not have thought of it (if they were in the reverse order).

Tony: Right. That came from character first, from a mixture of the names and a time period I had floating around in my head. So in a way, the situation was kind of already there. I was primed to find a story that was steeped in the Old South.

Mark: Which is quite a departure, because I’d say most steampunk, maybe 90 percent of it, is Victorian England. At best, they cross the Channel to France. So Steampunk-USA is a departure.

Tony: With my Caliban stories, it definitely came out of character first. I was 14 years old and wanted to write Doctor Strange. Before I knew it, I wasn’t writing about the wizard, I was writing about the kid he trained and the development of his potential as a magic-user. Over the years, both of those characters kind of developed in the back of my head. — So, how about you, Mark? Character or situation?

Mark:  Looking at the last few books, I realize I’m going more ‘situation.’ My thing was a “what-if.” What if all these bad things happened at the same time? I love zombie things, and zombies were very big at the time. And yet I thought, okay, what if we ramped it up? Because one apocalypse is not enough for me. That’s just too slow. I want to see us get devastated. So you throw in aliens — the classic thing of alien invasion — and then you throw in a robot uprising, and then we’re starting to get it boiling. We’ve brought it up to temperature. Then I started thinking, everyone is going to be caught in this, but we don’t want to follow the people who just sit in their basement and wait for it to stop. We want to follow people out there actually doing things. The books jump around a fair amount to different characters. Even so, I tried to focus on the excitement: Let’s go look for the most important things happening or the most fun things happening. That was more a situation thing, but I had never thought hard about it until recently.

In the next post, we’ll address the question: Why do we make up stories?

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You can find Tony Simmon's novels in paperback and ebook at Amazon.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Better late than never updates

Chimp was overdue for a fresh look. You've probably noticed the new jungle pic, but I'll point out a few other important elements. (Buying a pic of a real chimp writing with a pencil is more difficult than I thought. Stock photo sites just don't cover it.)

If you'd like a free short story, sign up for my mailing list on the right-side column. No spam, just a fun story to read and an occasional newsletter that might make you life a tiny bit better.

I updated My Novels to share my new science fiction trilogy: Superheroes Aliens Robots Zombies, Robot Revolution, and Alien Invasion. If you want to take a look at them on Amazon, they're available in paperback and ebook.

I'm working on fresh content for the site, and it will be the usual eclectic/random mix of goodness. And I'm working on another novel...because that's my thing, man.

Thanks for visiting!