My father and I are very different. He’s loud and confrontational and I tend to get lost in any group larger than four people. Make him mad and you’ll know. I’m the opposite. It is really hard to offend me and you would have to try really hard to make me yell.
Recently I did two things that really surprised me.
First, I was in a restaurant/bar with my daughter. She was singing karaoke and a really drunk guy kept hitting on her. He was about 40 and she was 17. When he started touching her I tapped him on the shoulder and shared a few words with him. Two minutes later he left the restaurant and didn’t come back. I didn’t threaten him per se, but I think he saw in my eyes that he was on dangerous ground.
Today I was in my allergist’s office. They have a policy about staying there 30 minutes after an injection because you could have an allergic reaction and die if they don’t attend to you right away. It’s a bit of CYA, but I have always complied with the policy.
Right after my injection I got an important phone call that was critical to one of my girls. I can’t say what the call was about, but imagine a highly confidential call that has to be taken in that second or else.
I got up and headed for the outside door.
The nurse told me I couldn’t go outside. I told her I needed to take the call.
She told me to stay inside.
I asked, “Do you have a gun?”
She said she didn’t and I walked outside. I didn’t see her again, but the doc came out with a concerned look on his face in about 45 seconds.
Driving home I chuckled to myself about the gun comment even though I felt bad about upsetting the nurse. The words just blurted out of me and I wondered where they came from.
It didn’t take long to realize I was acting like my father in both situations. While I almost never model his aggressive behavior, when my kids are threatened, my reaction is completely instinctive. I rarely confront anyone, but my father taught me how. I should thank him for that someday.
Fiction is similar. While most of us never have a chance to be heroic, books and movies give us a recipe for good decision making in a crisis. (And you thought they were just for fun.)
If an earthquake hit or if terrorists attacked your neighborhood, who would be your guide?
Last week I took my oldest daughter, her friend, and my girlfriend’s young daughter out on the river to do some crabbing.
If you have never caught blue crabs before, you should try. It’s a lot of fun and you don’t need a license in most places. All you need is some fishing line or string, some uncooked chicken (legs or wings) and a net. It’s a good idea to bring a bucket and a ruler if you plan on keeping crabs. They need to be 5″ from point to point to be legal here in Massachusetts.
We caught a few crabs, not very many, and as the day went on, the wind picked up. We weren’t far from the mouth of the river, so with the wind blowing and the tide coming in, our little boat was getting blown around pretty good.
I have been around the water all my life and maybe sometimes I don’t realize my age. I didn’t bother hauling a motor and rowed us out instead because I like the exercise.
The wind blew us about two hundred yards up river, our anchor dragging in the mud. About that time my daughter decided she wanted to go, so we hauled anchor and I started rowing.
A funny thing happened.
I rowed harder and harder, but we didn’t move. The wind and the tide were so strong that my rowing could only keep us in place. It was then I noticed the girls laughing, singing, and telling jokes. They had no idea that I couldn’t move the boat. I was getting nervous, thinking I might have to get to shore and pull the boat downriver.
I realized then that for many things they rely on me without giving it a second thought. They aren’t concerned at all about me getting them back safely because they trust that I will. Sometimes I guess we fail to realize how hard others are working to help us. I thought of all the friends I have out there recommending my books to friends, helping me make a go of writing for a living.
That positive energy was what I needed to dig a little deeper and beat the wind. We got to shore fine of course and the kids never guessed how nervous I was about getting there.
So who is rowing for you?
Please welcome J. Carson Black to Getting Over The Hump Day. J. is the author of 13 novels and has lived in the traditional publishing and indie publishing worlds.
THOUGHTS ON BOOKS, FILLIES, AND THE OCCASIONAL DOMINATRIX
by J. Carson Black
As I come to the end of my fourteenth novel, it has become clear to me that all my books have something in common.
They are exactly like recalcitrant racehorses.
I think they’re fillies. Fillies are known for making their own rules.
Every one of my books has been hard to load in the gate. They break slow and loaf along far behind the field, no matter how much I scrub on them, kiss at them, or shake the reins. No matter what I do, I’m just the jockey, and I can’t exactly pick the damn thing up and carry it on my shoulders to the wire.
They put on occasional capricious spurts of speed just to confound me, before dropping back to take in the view.
Finally, though, when it’s almost too late–the pace quickens. We start to pick up horses, but the wire is coming up fast. There’s a deadline looming. Still, after thirteen previous books, I’m pretty sure we’ll get there.
Although it’s never pretty.
A few things that have helped me:
Writing every day. (Or trying to.)
Writing a certain number of words every day.
Getting up early and starting while still sleepy.
Going for a walk.
Not thinking about the book while going for the walk.
Not thinking about the book while I’m doing jigsaw puzzles.
“Written? Kitten!” has become my best ally. The little online app shows me a picture of a kitten for every hundred words I write. Best of all, when I’m in Written? Kitten! I’m not writing in Word.
When I’m writing in Word, I goof off. I change font colors or go back to look at Page 2, or Chapter Seven, or I write down my word count and calculate how much further I have to go today–constantly.
I understand there’s a mean-spirited dominatrix-type app called “Write or Die” which is popular with masochists. You can choose a strict punishment for not writing, or a lenient one. I think somebody wears a hood, although I’m not sure. Maybe you end up with a rubber ball in your mouth. If you don’t write enough, your precious words disappear.
I don’t respond to that kind of encouragement. I would just roll up in a little ball and cry like a baby.
Please Welcome S.C. Cunningham to Getting Over The Hump Day.
S.C. writes scintillating thrillers. When we first chatted she told me she was worried that her work was too hot for the United States market. So be warned, S.C.’s steamy scenes will raise your temperature!
This week S.C. is going to tell us what gets her over the hump.
‘What inspires me?’
I have been staring at the question for a long time, I don’t know how to answer it because my writing and entertaining folk, just ‘is’, I don’t hanker after inspiration, it just ‘is’… the question for me is ‘how can I stay alive whilst I do it?’
I know writing is hair-pullingly hard, frustrating, difficult, unsociable, finance draining, mushroom living, lonely and heart on sleeve doubt ridden, but I can’t do anything else.
There are things I surround myself with when I write; music, smells, a dog, cups of tea/coffee. I have to know that all else in my world (family, responsibilities) is safe and ok before I sit and start, rid myself of nagging external thoughts, chores. And then, with a hint of guilt at the pleasure of it, I jump into whatever document I am working on (novel, screenplay)… feeling lucky that I can take the luxury of time to sit at a computer and bash at keys, to create a fantasy world that has the power to entertain folk, take them out of their world, throw them around the ‘cerebral’ room and leave them wanting more.
There are of course days when I seem to get nowhere, but that’s ok, it’s part of the process, it sorts the men from the boys. I know something is brewing, bubbling away in the back of my insane brain, ready to come out when it’s ready… the eureka moment of a sentence, paragraph, chapter, I just have to be patient (which is difficult for an Aries).
Don’t beat yourself up about ‘a blank page moment’ or ‘writers block’, don’t see it as a negative, every emotion we feel has a use, gives empathy to write, something is always forming somewhere, whether you realise it or not, whether it takes days, weeks, months or years, it will come out… the main concern is surviving whilst we wait.
S.C. has written three thrillers, recorded the voice for her own audio books, and is currently working on a screenplay. Check out The Penance List on Amazon or visit www.sccunningham.com to learn more about S.C. and her work.
Over the last four years I have spent a lot of energy thinking about how to make our world a better place by helping those who have gotten off to a rough start. The End of Marking Time highlighted just how tragic life can be for kids who don’t find the right kinds of love and support as they grow.
This year I met a man who is helping make life a little easier for needy kids now and in the future by delivering clothes, toys, books, and other important household items. GiftsToGive founder Jim Stevens has created an organization to be proud of with a mission anyone can get behind. I was so impressed, I included Jim and his organization in my latest book, Dinner At Deadman’s to tell people about the great work they are doing.
The genius of GiftsToGive begins with volunteering. I’m pictured below with a Girl Scout troop from Marion, MA. These young girls worked hard to sort donated clothing. Just walking into the building these girls learned a valuable lesson about how many people really need our help. Working to provide that help gave them a feeling of joy that you can’t get any other way.
Below is a narrow shot of the women’s and girl’s clothes processing area. Area families donate piles of clothing that need to be sorted, washed, and delivered. Because the staff is entirely made up of volunteers, GiftsToGive performs a mountain of work on a tiny budget. The clothing is donated. Volunteers sort, wash, and package it. Social workers deliver the finished gift packages. I feel great helping this cause because everything I give goes to the kids. No one is collecting a paycheck. The entire organization works because they care.
This year I’m proud to partner with GiftsToGive to help provide some of the things kids need new. If you’d like to join me and help buy a pair of socks, a toothbrush, or a birthday present for a child who really needs our support, visit my website and buy a signed book for yourself or anyone on your Christmas list.
Signed books cost $18 (delivered in the United States) and $2 of that will go directly to a child in need.
Please join me by buying a book anytime between now and the end of the year and have a very happy holiday season!
A few weeks ago I met the most powerful hero you will ever imagine.
A twenty year old man is hooked on drugs, breaking into houses to take electronics. He smashes car windows to steal phones and iPods to sell for cash. Many families suffer for his addiction. He will enter detox fifteen times and never fully recover. Heroin will eventually take his life, but not before he harms hundreds of people on his path to destruction.
An HIV-positive woman sells herself on a busy street corner, infecting dozens of young men who will eventually die. They will all become sick to serve her desperate need for drug money.
A forty year old man stumbles around a dirty, one-bedroom apartment. He screams at his two young children and slaps his wife when she says he is upsetting them. The children cower, but they learn that brute force dominates the home and they will employ it themselves when they are older.
Now picture a mild-mannered eighty-three year old woman who takes away these problems as if with the wave of a magic wand. All is put back in order. The man and the woman lead fulfilled lives and never turn to drugs. Instead they hold down jobs, support families, go to soccer games.
The older man loves his wife dearly. He works hard at his job and he’s good at it. His children receive valuable counsel and occasional discipline when it is warranted.
The old woman takes away these problems too quickly for us to see.
It happens over years and seemingly all at once.
We never know it happened, but the impact is great, multi-generational, and real. She does this because she can see the future and she chooses to make it better.
A few weeks ago I met an eighty-three year old woman who was raising two teenage boys and helping to raise two young children. She has made an enormous impact for our world and it’s a contribution that goes mostly unnoticed and unrewarded. These young men are forever changed. Every interaction they have will be softer, kinder, more helpful, because of the love they received from their grandmother.
Last week I talked with Jim Stevens from GiftsToGive and he told me her story is common. Hundreds of grandmothers are doing this same work all over the city. What these old women are doing isn’t sexy or exciting. It isn’t gossip worthy, but if we could see the two futures side by side—one with their help and one without—we would gawk in awe of their heroic deeds.
And gawk we should!
Here is another superhero.
Her name was Doris West and she helped to save 56 babies from a fate like the one above. Consider how many lives would have been different if these children had been raised in abusive homes. How many people might they have hurt? How would their children have grown and what might they have done?
Mrs. West helped as many people as Superman, flying at breakneck speed from crisis to crisis. But she did more than that. She healed the lives of the criminals themselves. She changed them into happy, fulfilled people. And she did it with a spoon, an apron, and a Wiffle ball.
Today we are a world divided. Politicians left or right are not superheroes. They cannot and will not solve our world’s problems. They merely argue ideology with a microphone and a camera. But they only set the rules. We can’t sit back and hope they will fix things for us. It is up to us to act. We can do more with loving attention and a spoon than they can accomplish with all the cameras and money in the world.
Please remember the true heroes this Thanksgiving. You may just be eating with one.
Please welcome Alan Baxter, author of RealmShift and MageSign, who reminds us how important readers are to storytellers. I couldn’t agree more that the business of bookselling can be incredibly frustrating at times, but it is those times when we connect with readers that truly inspire us to keep going.
Running Against The Wind
So CJ asked for guest posts about what motivates us to keep writing when things aren’t going so well. It set me to thinking about what really does drive me. First and foremost, I have the need to tell stories. I have no control over it, and it doesn’t go away. But that’s only half the deal. There’s no point in me telling stories if no one is reading them. Writers need readers like plants need rainfall – it sustains us and makes us grow.
In the face of constant rejection or low sales, however, we can often be left wondering when the hell the next rain shower might come. Sometimes we’d settle for a light mist, even a heavy dew. Anything to remind us that what we do is worthwhile and appreciated.
My motivation comes mainly from the knowledge that I’m constantly improving. Even in those lean times, when it seems like I can’t sell a story to anyone, or book sales are really down, I know, deep down, that I’m working on my craft, improving my skills and telling better stories. People didn’t buy anything of mine for a long time. Then, slowly, I started to make some sales. Then better and better sales, in all lengths of fiction. So I know I can do it, I know I can keep getting better and I know that the rejections will always far outweigh the acceptances. But all the time I can push myself and see better results, I’m going to keep pushing.
I reassure myself with the knowledge that pretty much every other writer I know goes through the same stuff. And I know a lot of writers. We’re all striving to be better, we’re all facing regular rejection and we’re all persevering, determined in the knowledge that if we keep at it and keep getting better, we’ll keep making sales. However infrequent they may be.
The writers who sell books by the million and can get pretty much anything they write published are very few and far between. There are so many more midlisters and up-and-comers out there working their arses off for some recognition. I know that I always have stories to tell. I know that I’ll keep writing, no matter what. So I’ll be damned if I won’t keep working hard to sell those stories and get ever more readers.
And if I never sell another story or book, if I never get another reader, so what? That would be very sad, and, honestly pretty unlikely, but I’m a writer. It’s what I do. If I only did it for the readers, the sales and the accolades, I’d have given up a long time ago. Those things are thin on the ground most of the time. I do it because I do it. It’s a part of what defines me. And the beauty is, I know there are people out there reading and enjoying my work, and I know, if I keep at it, there will be more. That’s motivation enough, aside from my inability not to write anyway.
It’s a special kind of insanity that we writers are victims of, but there’s nothing we can do about it. We may as well embrace it.
Alan is the author of the contemporary dark fantasy novels, RealmShift and MageSign (Gryphonwood Press), and around 40 short stories in a variety of journals and anthologies worldwide. He’s currently trying to find a publisher for his third novel and working hard on his fourth and fifth. Learn more about him and his writing at www.alanbaxteronline.com