Rumor Has It That I’m a Kreativ Blogger!

The nomination comes with a badge:

It also comes with rules, which I am going to (sort of) break.

 

Rule 1: Mention the person who nominated you, and link to her blog.

Rule 2 : Post seven things about me that readers might not know.

Rule 3: Nominate seven other bloggers for the award.

The first rule I won’t mess with, not only because I adore Kim and think you will, too, but also because I’m grateful she thought to nominate me. You may know Kim Koning from #storycraft,  as a member of #TESSpecFic, or as a contributor toTales for Canterbury. Kim is a wonderfully emotive writer, an authentically engaged member of the world-wide writing community, and a friend.  Please check out her blog, Wrestling the Muse, and follow her on Twitter at @authorkimkoning.

Rules Two and Three, I’m going to bend. Most Kreative Blogger entries give a bullet-point list of seven disembodied facts or tidbits about the writer. Instead of listing seven things, I’m going to write seven vignettes illustrating something interesting. In addition, while the standard Kreative Blogger response lists seven nominees in the same post, I will list one per post. This is mostly to give me time to find seven bloggers I enjoy who are not already nominated. If you have suggestions, please send them. I will consider any entries, writing related or not, provided that the blogs are fresh, enjoyable and, of course, creative.

 

The Faerie or the Dinosaur?

Aniko Gets Kreativ  #1

I have two nephews. The oldest is almost ten, the youngest has just turned five. The difference between their ages is almost exactly the difference in age between my sister and me. In a sense, watching the boys is like getting to look back in time to how my sister and I must have been when we were children. If we were boys, that is, and if I had been the younger of the pair. I say that because my younger nephew’s dreamy, imaginative approach to the world strikes a chord of recognition within my soul. I know him because he is like me.

My writing room is filled with trinkets and baubles that have personal meaning. My desk faces a bank of windows, and on the sill is where I keep my talismans. Last weekend, my younger nephew found a little sponge amongst the trinkets. It came from one of those capsules that looks like a pill, but when you soak it in water, the gelatin capsule dissolves and the compressed sponge blossoms. I’ve seen them sold in packs at the grocery store, often claiming the sponges will look like farm animals. The pack I got, though, was supposed to look like mythical creatures. The sponge my younger nephew found was a faerie.

DinoFaerie

He held the faerie up to me and said, “What kind of dinosaur is this?” I said, “That’s not a dinosaur, it’s a faerie.” He wasn’t convinced, so I pointed to each part of the sponge and explained what it was. Here are her wings. Here are her legs. Here are her arms, and this is the book she’s reading.  He watched patiently, carefully, thoughtfully. Then he said, “Well, why does she have a dinosaur tail?” He pointed at the draped hem of the faerie’s dress. Suddenly, I understood my mistake. What I called ‘wings’ were really the bony plates on the back of a stegosaurus, the ‘book’ was a spindly leg, and the ‘dress’ was a stubby tail.

My first Kreativ blogger fact is this: I have seen a faerie turn into a dinosaur.

My nomination for the Kreativ Blogger award is my friend Mari Biella. Her blog is thoughtful and well-written. She recently published her debut novel, The Quickening – if you like haunted house stories, you’ll love Mari’s story.

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The Real Hercules Would’ve Listened to Felicia Day

I have been sick.

The pain started innocently, just a slight sensitivity in my teeth. I thought I’d been drinking too many waters with lemon, but even after stopping the citrus wedge habit, the pain grew. A week into the illness, and it spread from two teeth to five, then up into my cheekbone and down into my lower jaw, threatening to get worse. First, it hurt to smile. Then it hurt to talk. Finally, it was agonizing to eat.

I kept masking the pain: Motrin by day, wine by night. I believed the sickness and pain would abate, that I just had to tough it out. I was too busy to be sick!  Two weeks after that first ominous tooth-tingle, I gained intimate knowledge of the phrase “writhe in agony.”

I ended up in the ER, with an IV of super-charged antibiotics. It turns out all I had was a sinus infection, but by letting it go so long, there was danger of it spreading to somewhat important items. Notably, my brain.

How did this happen, and why didn’t I listen to Felicia Day?

When I first started feeling off, perhaps a week or so prior to the beginning of the pain in my teeth, I had the following items on my To Do List:

  • Slay a lion, a hydra, and a flock of sharp-beaked birds.
  • Capture a deer, a boar, a bull, and get a monster to give me his cattle.
  • Take Cerebus to the bark park.
  • Steal apples to feed to the people-eating mares that I, for some reason, must also steal.
  • Buy a bra fit for an Amazon Queen.
  • Re-route a river to clean a stable that hasn’t been mucked in thirty years.
  • Find my way out of the Ambition Room.

Okay, so those are euphemisms for the actual items, but the magnitude, oh! – the sheer weight of all those deadlines, promises, expectations! When I stepped out of the Ambition Room, I sloughed off a passel of Sisyphean tasks. That helped just about as much as hiding under a bunch of balloons while Stymphalian birds attack: it was colorful, but didn’t do much to protect me from the poisonous dung and sharp beaks. I was still balancing the equivalent of two full time jobs, a house to tend, a marriage to nurture, friendships to sustain, and two rowdy dogs that need an hour of walking each day. People laugh when I tell them I have my day scheduled down to the minute. I’m not joking; even my lunch hour from my day job is an hour dedicated to my writing job. There is no rest for the wicked, and no breaks for this writer. That’s why I couldn’t be sick. I looked at my mental calendar and saw my days booked, from now until forever, from 5AM to 10:30PM. Literally: booked solid. When could I possibly squeeze in a visit to the doctor? Much less take a day to recuperate?

I learned that I cannot be booked that full, for months on end, and not get sick. Just writing two books in four months is enough to exhaust me. Add everything else to my list (which, of course, kept growing), and I was on a crash-course with physical burnout.

As Felicia Day says in an interview with Riki Lindhome, “Hospitalized for fatigue is not a joke.”

I wasn’t hospitalized for exhaustion, but in the Emergency Room for running myself into the ground comes too close for comfort.

I stumbled across that interview at The Nerdist maybe a week or so before I got sick. I was fascinated by Felicia’s story. Her candor is heartening to those of us going indie: writers, actresses, heck, indie mathematicians – every one of you could benefit from hearing Felicia Day’s journey, in her own words. I love it that she takes the focus of creativity off of finding fame and onto doing what you love.  She says, “Do what is special to you, and do it even if only five people ever watched it.”

Part of what makes Felicia Day outstanding is her authentic engagement with her fans. She tweets, attends cons (game and comic), and takes the time to connect with individuals. In the interview, she talks about having to learn to say no to pretty much everything in her inbox, stating, “It’s either you or sleep, and I have to choose sleep.”

My interpretation? That as wonderful as it is to be asked to speak, or participate, or just simply be told you’re awesome, it all takes a little bit out of you to interact. A tiny bit of time here, a minuscule amount of soul-stuff there. Put enough infinitesimal together in one place, though, and you have the universe. In other words: you can work yourself sick.

Now,  I am not even remotely famous or well known. I have nothing like the social obligations of an actress/screenwriter/YouTube channel producer. Yet already I have felt the totally welcome, utterly exhausting invitation to authentically interact with peers and horror enthusiasts. I appreciate the attention and the validation. I believe each small bit of exposure is another chance to help readers find my work. I’m happy if only five people ever love my work, but I suspect that there are a lot more out there – if only I could reach them. My drive to push forward, to expand my bookshelf, to accept every request – that drive is strong.

Yet by delaying medical attention for what was an insignificant ailment, I managed to lose an entire week of revision time on my next book. Worse than that, I worried my family, weakened my body, and suffered needlessly. I did not do myself any favors.

Next time, I’m going to listen to Felicia Day.

All Round the Table, “What is Horror?”

Horror is the implacable reality of death. I once heard the phrase, “All love stories end in death.” I would simplify the statement, shorten it.

All ends in death.

As a genre, horror embraces that truism. It may do it in a nearly slapstick way, overdosing the audience with gore and gross. It may do it in a calculated, bloodless way, and approach the cold reality by gut-wrenching degrees. Horror pays homage to the innate and powerless truth of our existence: all ends in death.

Marie Loughin is chief of  The Emissaries of Strange (TESSpecFic), a speculative fiction group of which I am a member. Marie posed the question: what is the difference between horror and dark fantasy? The Emissaries are taking a round-table discussion approach to answering Marie’s question, each of us posting a response on our own blog on a predetermined day. Today is my day, and I am the fifth member of TESSpecFic to reply.

Marie’s answer is Aristotelian, giving a categorization of elements that must be present for a work to meet her definition of horror. I challenge anyone to come up with a work of horror that does not contain at least one, if not several of her elements. Marie’s elements are:

1)   Creepy atmosphere.

2)   Suspenseful.

3)   Victims experience psychological trauma (i.e. they are aware and helpless).

4)   Inspires fear and/or dread in reader.

Jaye approaches the question from a more Platonic stance. She locates the definition somewhere beyond the bounds of plot or story elements. The ultimate determination of whether or not something is horror, for Jaye, is to be found in the effect it has upon the reader. A work is horror if the reader is left with the question: “How do you live with that?”

Paul takes a Utilitarian approach to answering the question, stating that the purpose of any genre label is to help guide potential readers to a particular type of book. Definitions of “horror” or of “dark fiction” fall to the side, replaced by the  practical question of how to least mislead potential readers. The difficulty is that the definitions the publishing industry uses may not match the definitions that the general public applies; muddy as they are, these are the linguistic waters upon which our marketing terms float – or sink.

Kim chimes in with  characteristic metaphysical flourish, giving a response as Phenomenological as they come. She says the roots of what can be defined as horror are found in the psychological reaction of a person to reading a particular work. Horror is a core emotion, and as such is subjective. Like Jaye, Kim takes the onus of definition and puts it out there, in the reader. However, Kim agrees with Paul that labeling has a purpose, and feels the angst of trying to find the right term to categorize her work.

I argue that to fully define horror, you need to include the work and the audience. A horror story is the sum of its elements plus the effect it has on the reader. Of course, the same could be said of romance, sci-fi, dark fantasy. The difference between genres, then, would seem to be given by the specific, intended effect a collected set of story elements has on the reader.

I don’t mean to say that only the author’s intentions matter; no, the elements that the author arranged will have varying effects on different readers, although the general reaction might be in the same vein. In that sense, I agree with Paul that the labels matter because they help readers winnow their choices. I have a general impression of what I’ll get when I pick up a supernatural thriller, or a gaslight romance, or a steampunk fantasy. Do I think that a particular label, even these compound varieties in vogue of late, give me the full picture of what I will experience within a given book? Of course not. It is a label. It is a guidepost. It is not the substance of the work, it is not the thing-in-itself. I am happy to find that my gaslight romance has a dash of horror, or that my horror has a sprinkling of steampunk. The wonderful thing about art – and life, for that matter – is that labels can’t contain the essence of the thing. When it comes to books, not even the book itself can contain what it truly is. A story, no matter how labeled, does not come into true existence until it has interacted with a reader’s psyche. Only then is it real, and only then can it horrify.

To answer Marie, I would say that horror has the intent of making the reader feel the inevitable approach of death. Dark Fantasy, to me, would have the intent of giving the reader the option to believe there is something beyond death, something beyond the boundaries of our implacable outcome. By my own definitions, I would have to class Marie’s novel, Valknut: The Binding, as Dark Fantasy.

Please visit the other Emissaries for the full round-table discussion  – and don’t forget to mark your calendars to catch Penelope and Jonathan’s upcoming posts!

Marie Loughin: Just what the heck is “Horror,” anyway, and how is it different from Dark Fantasy?

Jaye Manus: What is Horror? The Answer is in the Question

Paul Dail: Potential Perils of the Horror Label… or … The Difficulties of Defining a Genre

Kim Koning: Shivers down my spine…

Jonathan D. Allen: Monday, May 14

Penelope Crowe: Tuesday, May 15

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Unveiling Evil Eternal with Hunter Shea

As a child, I read –  a lot. I would go so far as to categorize myself as an extreme reader. It was not unusual for me to climb trees to find a spot where I could read without distraction. Nor was it unusual for me to sneak out of bed after being tucked in, only to crouch by the door and continue reading by the light from the hallway. When I was a child, it didn’t occur to me to try and get to know the writer, or to ask him questions. As I grew older, though, the humanity behind the words became a source of fascination. Biography had its allure, but there was still that remove, that distance between writer and reader. The rise of the internet and social media has collapsed that divide; readers can now have authentic and meaningful relationships with both a book and a book’s author. It is a new joy for this erstwhile extreme reader: the pleasure of getting to know the writer of stories I love. Today, I have the fortune to talk to Hunter Shea, author of the new release, Evil Eternal.

Please join me in welcoming Hunter! We’re going chat about interstellar travel and writing, and then he’s going to share an excerpt from Evil Eternal with us. The tree right over there is perfect for reading in, don’t you think?

Aniko : Would you participate in colonizing another planet knowing you could not return to Earth in your lifetime?

Hunter: Wow, this wins for most original question I’ve ever been asked. I have 2 answers to this, each one vastly different. If you had posed this to me before I was married and had kids, I would have jumped at the chance to explore a new world and, sad as it may be, leave the world and all the people I knew in it behind. I mean, what can be cooler? Now, as a middle aged guy with a family, and a fear of flying (having kids robs your of your immortality and you start to develop all kinds of fears), I would have to respectfully decline and leave it to someone far more adventurous. However, I would see if I could land the job of writing the biography of the person that took my place and their adventures on a strange new world.

Aniko: Do you ever dream of your characters and, if so, have you ever incorporated a dream into your writing?

Hunter: Quite simply, yes. Some characters start off in my dreams and end up on the pages of a book or story. More often than not, though, when I’m really into a book, I will take those characters and plot twists into my nightly foray into my very active subconscious. If I’m lucky, I wake up retaining what I’ve witnessed in my dreams and flesh it out in the book. I don’t do outlines, so there have been times when I’ve painted myself into a corner and wondered aloud just how the heck I’m supposed to move on from my self-inflicted dead end. I’ve had quite a few cases where my characters acted out my escape in my dreams. It’s all part of learning to relax and trust yourself.  The answers are all rolling around the noggin.

Aniko: What is the hardest part about writing? Was there anything particularly challenging about Evil Eternal? What about your upcoming books?

Hunter: Hands down, the hardest part for me, or maybe just the part I dread the most, is editing. I love initially writing a story and seeing how it unfolds. Not long after you type THE END, it’s time to revise, revise, revise. This is the real heavy lifting when it comes to writing. By the time you’re done with your edits, you’ve read your book so many times you can almost quote it verbatim.

Evil Eternal was in a constant state of revision because of all the different permutations it took. It started as a short story that I wrote to test out a new computer, of all things. When it was done, I liked it so much, I wrote a follow up short story. Then, I had dreams of turning it into a graphic novel, so I made it into a longer form and had an artist start working on the graphics. When that didn’t pan out, I couldn’t shake the characters and story, so it morphed into a novella. When Samhain Publishing expressed interest in it, I had to expand it to make it a full length novel. A lot of work has gone into that book! If you like it, there are plans for follow up stories, novellas and another full length novel, so get ready to kick lots of demon butt!  I’m also putting the finishing touches on a follow up to Forest of Shadows, which should be out next year. All work and no play makes Hunter a dull boy!

Aniko: How funny, I love revision! I force myself through the initial draft and only feel good when I get to the revising part. What do you say we take a look at a bit of Evil Eternal?

Evil Eternal

Evil Eternal by Hunter Shea

Cardinal Gianncarlo walked briskly to Pope Pius XIII’s office, his black robe billowing behind him. The sound of his quick and heavy footsteps echoed across the vast, marbled hallway. The day was bright and filled with promise, in stark contrast to the roiling cloud that had descended upon his fluttering heart.

The email from the lone priest of a small Vermont parish had turned his skin the color of spoiled milk when he had been urged by his secretary to open it just minutes ago. With a knot of dread cramping his stomach, he sped off to the Pontiff’s study. Time was of the essence. Time and –

He reached the library that doubled as the Pontiff’s main office and study, and with unsteady hands rapped loudly on the massive oak door. Like the architectural design of the entire Vatican Palace, the door was a study in elegant simplicity. The wizened voice of Pope Pius XIII beckoned him to enter.

“Sorry to disturb you, but something urgent just came in that I think you should see,” Cardinal Gianncarlo said with a slight stammer.

The Pope looked at the Cardinal and knew.

Pope Pius XIII unfolded the printout with trembling, liver-spotted fingers and read the extensive message. When he was finished, he looked up at his old friend. Deep lines of great sadness etched across his brow.

“So, the inevitable has come back to hound us,” the Pope said.

“As much as it pains me to say, yes.”

The Pope shrugged, the weight of time and responsibility bearing down on his brittle, sagging shoulders. He had served the office of pope for over thirty years, no small feat. He recalled his days as a young man, fresh from the seminary in his first parish in Bergamo, Italy. That young man would never have even dreamed to be what he would one day become. And no one could have guessed the true secrets that lay in store for his discovery when he ascended to the papacy.

“Would you like me to get Father Michael?”

Cardinal Gianncarlo had to resist the urge to pull him close, offering comfort for a man who had dedicated his life to bringing peace and comfort to millions. They were different men the last time, when the beast within Jim Jones was sent to hell, but not before so much had been lost; terrible choices forced to be made, too many lives lost. It had changed them, added years and unbearable pain to their souls.

The old Pope shook his head.

“That is my duty. At my age, it will surely be my final call. Let the burden of the nightmares rest with me. I only ask that you sit and pray.”

The Cardinal settled into a plush leather chair and the Pope offered his hand across the large, neatly arranged desk. In silence, the two men prayed while life outside his windows carried on, ignorant to the dark shadows gathering at the earth’s edge.

You want to know more now, don’t you? Here are some links:

Thanks, Hunter! And … happy birthday to all those special May 7th babies!! You know who you are!

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Out of the Ambition Room

I’ve been distracted. I have been smitten. I have allowed the seeming immediacy of another’s success catapult me into full-on frenzy.

It’s a frustrating thing to be unknown. It is terrible to work very hard, make a work public, and then have naught but a resounding mess of crushed crickets to show for the effort. Those poor crickets! They were the only greeting my book received. I heard them singing their little hearts out in the enclosed room of my ambition. It’s a lightless place, a nearly airless place. The Ambition Room is a dark and soul-devouring place.

In the dark, suffocating in the stale air of my dismay, I decided that I should have some say in how things went. I ran from wall to wall, pounding my fists against unresponsive concrete. I tweeted, I facebooked, I announced my Authorhood any place that would acknowledge me. I paid money for a week of New Release Promotion and got… more crickets. The walls in my Ambition Room were closing in and I ran in more erratic patterns, chasing ever-elusive and definitely unexpected desires. I set up a pay-per-click ad and while it’s been fun to design the copy, the $35 dollars worth of clicks I bought will last me the rest of my life at this click rate. I considered a dalliance with the Mechanical Turk, but luckily my ethics are stronger than my ambition. Yet even knowing there were limits to what I would try, I stayed walled up in my ambition. The crickets fell silent. I’d trampled them all; I’d made it so all I could hear was my own frustration, rebounding from the insect-slick walls. I didn’t bother looking for a door. It was obvious there was no way out.

Except.

Of course there is a way out. The Ambition Room is only as solid and as real as I choose to make it. The grasping need is a chimera born of misplaced care.

The emotional, intellectual, and metaphysical energy I poured into chasing ambition were wasted. All of that care was misplaced, badly directed, irrevocably spent. I spent time I could have spent writing trying to come up with The One Great Thing that would Sell My Book!

It’s funny, because when I published, I had hopes that my book would sell ten copies. That’s it. That is all I expected. I busted through that limit almost immediately. I’ve had positive reviews posted online, and multiple people I never expected to read or enjoy my book have done both. I broke my original best case many times over and it hasn’t even been three months.Yet, the small taste of having my work appreciated was the first brick in the wall of my Ambition Room.

I assure you: it is possible to wall yourself in.

I assure you: it is possible to get back out, but it will take admitting the extent of your anxiety, your fear of failure, and facing desires you never expected to have.

Soon my Ambition Room wasn’t big enough to hold the desperation of unquenched ambition. The raw, crushed-bug stench of it seeped into my daily life. I spouted non-stop MARKETING, ceaseless ADVERTISING. I wrote less and less. At the pinnacle of gnawing self-doubt, I contemplated making everything I ever write free, thinking that would rid me of the strange need to manipulate the timeline of my success, something which is out of my control. There be monsters, kraken, and dragons here! Not to mention the whole money thing; not the make-a-living thing, just the make-back-what-I-spent-to-produce-the-book thing. It didn’t matter that the one guaranteed way to raise visibility, the only way to get more reader notice is to … write more books! I was obsessed with my MARKETING plans. I was focused on my ADVERTISING  for the series I was only half-heartedly writing.

And then one morning Mr. Aniko said, “Why don’t you wait to do a big advertising launch when you have multiple books completed? Write first. Worry about marketing later.” My entire outlook shifted. The walls of my ambition didn’t so much crumble as disappear. I had allowed myself to get spun up about the accidental qualities – sales numbers, rankings, popularity (!) –  when what I really love is the Thing In-Itself, the Platonic form of writing. Sure, I want people to read and enjoy my books. But the numbers weren’t the focus until I made them the focus. Giving myself permission to restore my energies to writing changed everything. The tremendous block of pressure that stoppered my words was gone! I am proud to announce that after about a month of fumbling, I am within a couple thousand words of completing the second novel in my series. If it weren’t for my little trip to the Ambition Room, I would have met my deadline for completing both books by the end of April. As it is, I’ll be drawing that buggy to the finish line about a week late. I’m all right with that, because I’ve learned a valuable lesson: spend more time doing what it is I am meant to do, and less time worrying about getting people to find my books. Write to write. Let the books come into being, share the stories. Who knows? There may come a day when I long for the cricket’s lullaby.

Afterword

I owe a big thank you to Marie Loughin for helping me find my way out of the Ambition Room. In a private email she helped me get my head on straight. Compounded with Mr. Aniko’s suggestion, her comments on social media and blog tours got me back to my writing desk.

I’ve also found it incredibly helpful to locate the blog of someone I admire, and then go back to the first post and read from there. If the blog was started before the person’s career took off, you get to see that the success she has now didn’t just happen.You get a sense of how much of a struggle, anxiety, and hard work went into “making it.”

Blooper Reel

Here’s are a couple of those pay-per-click ads that will last the rest of my life:

ADVERTISING!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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