Do You Hear What I Hear?

No, I haven't been frozen in carbonite and suddenly reanimated thinking it's still December.  Nor have I been in a coma; although with the amount of NyQuil I've ingested the last few days that might not be too far from the truth.

I've spent the last few days in the company of two of my favorite women ... I should clarify.  (My wife reads this blog!)  My brother and sister-in-law were in need of a child sitter so I made the modest trip to Fort Worth to preside court over two lovely red haired angels of destruction and fun.  AKA - My nieces.  I spent the rest of my time--like the rest of the planet, it seems--battling the flu.

I'm not 100%, but I'm back and it seems I've missed the busiest week in this meager blog's existence!   It seems my last post (regarding book reviews on blogs) was well received.  So much so that we made the venerable YA Highway's weekly Field Trip Friday Big News Feature!  (You can read it here.)  For those of you who aren't familiar with YAH, it's a fantastic (and very popular) collaborative blog for all things YA lit related.  I've followed and admired the blog for a while now, so it's really cool to get a little love from the fine folks that run it.

You may have noticed that I said "we".  I did so because it's truly the comments that make any blog post worth doing/reading.  If it weren't for all of the thoughtful discussion that post would have been just another example of a crazy guy shouting at a  cyber-wall.  So for that I'll say that I truly appreciate everyone who took the time to share their thoughts (even to those who disagreed), and that I'll try to make it around to each of your blogs in the next couple of days to pay the ultimate blog respect by commenting on and reading your blogs.

But enough of that!  We can't stand around basking in our success.  We're writers (I think), we should SIT and bask in our success.  :)

The real purpose of this post is to share a couple of writing resources with you.  I don't typically listen to podcasts, but I'm usually on the smelly end of most trends so that doesn't mean much.  However, when a friend of mine recommended that I give a couple of writing-related podcasts a go I decided 'why the heck not.'  (The fact that I had 8 hours of car travel ahead of me this week may have had something to do with it.)  In short, they were awesome and I won't miss an episode from now on.

For the uninitiated, a podcast is simply a live and/or recorded broadcast that is distributed digitally over the internet.  You can find them all over the web and they cover absolutely every subject imaginable.  Most podcasts live on various websites that you can visit and stream the audio over your computer.  You can also 'subscribe' to many podcasts via iTunes, which will automatically download a recorded cast to your computer when a new one is available.  Once downloaded, you can place it on your digital audio player of choice to listen to during a workout, car ride, etc. or simply listen to it right there on your computer.

The podcasts I'm recommending to you are both writing related and absolutely worth your time.  I'll give a brief description of each along with links to where you can find them on the web.   Here goes:

Litopia After Dark - This podcast is put on by the folks who run the popular Litopia Writer's Colony website.  It is a fun and ultra-informative weekly examination of the publishing industry by various publishing pros with agents, writers, editors, etc. participating each week.  They even have a live forum running during the broadcast so you can chime in with questions and such.

It has a very English flavor that makes it a blast to listen to.  Most importantly, you'll get a very uncensored look at the industry.  The episodes tend to run over an hour, so you'll need some time to get them all in, but they're more than worth it.  Here's the link for more information.

Writing Excuses - The second cast I'm recommending is very different than the first in that it focuses on the craft of writing.  Its run by a group of authors, and each episode includes writing prompts, samples, and discussion.  This one is meant to be bite-sized as their tagline suggests: "Fifteen minutes long, because you're in a hurry, and we're not that smart."  While some episodes stretch slightly longer, this tends to be a very focused discussion on various writing skills.   

Listen to 3 episodes, and I'd almost guarantee your writing will be stronger for it.  Here's the link for more information. 

That's all I've got for now.  Hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend!


Wanted: A Little Backbone & A Lot of Opinion

Howdy, all!  It's Monday evening (ish) and I'm still alive.  *confetti and noise makers*  I trust that you are too?  If not I may never know, but I'll keep blogging just in case ...

I don't do many 'RANT' posts, because I'm a pretty laissez-faire kind of guy when it comes to the writing/blogging world.  Do what you do, and I'll do what I do.  Let the fates decide if any of it is worth the time we've invested.  However, something has been eating at me lately, and it seems to keep coming up in other blogs so I thought I'd throw in my thoughts.  

Do you read book reviews on blogs?  Better still, do you do reviews (of any kind) on your blogs?  Why do you read them, or why do you write them?  I would think it would be to give/get an opinion, or to share impressions of an experience so that others can have an idea of your perspectives and perhaps relate it to their own.  Is it to tell you how "awesome", "squee", or "frabjous" EVERY. SINGLE. BOOK. is?  Didn't think so ...

Points of Claire-ification, one of the blogs I follow (you should too :), posted a book review last week.  In the review, Claire (the bloggist) opted to change the format from the typical review in an attempt to bring a little flavor to a pretty standard blog feature.  I can't even begin to say how much I appreciated her efforts.  Why?  Because it told me that she was aware of the fact that 99.9% of the reviews out there are saying the same things.  What are they saying?  It goes something like this: 

"You have to read this awesome book!  If a unicorn and a rainbow had a baby it would TOTALLY be THIS book!  If that RainIcorn-book/baby had a bm it would TOTALLY be made of diamonds and butterflies!"       

You get the idea.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating for people to go out and torch books they hate on their blogs.  I'd just like to read something remotely balanced.  Sure the book might have been good, but wasn't there anything that didn't work?  Most of the followers of these 'writing' blogs are other writers and readers, so give us something to think about.  Heck, even the Bible has its faults; Genesis isn't exactly an opening chapter that ZINGS!  And don't get me started on Deuteronomy--talk about an info dump!  :)

Here's the real reason I'm complaining.  I think people don't review honestly out of fear.  Fear of ticking off a would-be agent or editor.  Fear of offending another writer or reader.  Fear of simply saying what they think.  

Is there merit behind such fear?  Maybe.

Just today I read two different (both fairly prominent) lit agent blogs that basically told aspiring authors to not post negative statements about other books, agents, etc. on their blogs.  To be clear, they weren't JUST talking about going postal; they were talking about simply being negative in tone or connotation.  

I think that's fooey.  If you're going to offer reviews on your blog, you should give an honest, balanced opinion.  If that means saying you just didn't get or enjoy it, so be it.  If an agent or editor can't appreciate an honest evaluation of one of their clients books then I'm not sure they'd make the best agent or editor in the first place.  

What say you?  Do you read the billions of reviews out there?  Do you think blog content can negatively impact your search for representation?  How much filter is too much?  Convince me that I'm a David Downer who needs to mind what he says.  


Agent-less in Seattle  :)     

Dare to Dream

On this day, how can we not reflect on the power of dreaming?  The ability to see beyond what is, and imagine what might be--what should be.  Many people will say that actions change the world, and while I can't argue against such pragmatism, I can argue that without vision there would be no purpose or direction for those actions.

Legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, once said, "Never mistake activity for achievement."  I think he meant that just because you're doing something, it doesn't necessarily make it worthwhile.  Actions, without forethought and without design, are often misplaced and/or futile.  That's where the dreaming kicks in.

Dreaming can give an identity to a goal.  It can give substance to something that has yet to be properly defined.  Think of it this way:  If life were a sandwich, dreams/ambitions would be the top slice of bread, action would be the meat, and the outcomes/goals would be the bottom slice of bread.  Without any one piece, you don't really have a sandwich.

I realize that writers need very little schooling on this concept; after all, most of us are dreamers by our very nature.  We're the PhD's of 'What if?"  However, we sometimes need to be reminded that dreaming is okay.  Imagining things as being either better or worse than what they are can have real value.  It is neither wasted time, or a frivolity of those with too little to do.

Today, we honor a man who did just that.  A man who refused to see reality as being sufficient.  As a small  token of my gratitude, I'd like to share some profound thoughts on dreaming, and hopefully inspire a few more people--if only for today--to move beyond what they know.      

“Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today.” ~ James Dean

“You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?'” ~ George Bernard Shaw

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” ~ Oscar Wilde

“Dreams are illustrations... from the book your soul is writing about you.” ~ Marsha Norman

“Dreams are today's answers to tomorrow's questions.” ~ Edgar Cayce

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“If one advances confidently in the direction of one's dreams, and endeavors to live the life which one has imagined, one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

“Do not lose hold of your dreams or aspirations. For if you do, you may still exist but you have ceased to live.” ~ HDT

"Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see." ~ MLK, Jr.


Why You SHOULD Steal From Other Authors

It's Monday evening and I'm still alive ... SUCCESS!!! *high fives all around*

Now before anyone blows a gasket over the title of this post, I'll clarify and say that I'm not talking about plagiarism. If you didn't write it, you shouldn't claim it. What I AM talking about is the idea of using the style, techniques, and methods of successful/favorite authors to enhance your own work. This isn't a new idea ...

"Art begins in imitation and ends in innovation." ~ Mason Cooley

One key way that humans (and many other animals/mammals) learn is through imitation. Anyone who has seen children play 'house' or 'school' (or done so themselves) has witnessed it first hand. A psychologist by the name of Albert Bandura developed the Social Learning Theory based upon studies he performed where children were observed interacting with each other. He believed that modeling, which had once been decried as one of the most primitive forms of learning, was in fact used to "learn" many of the higher order social and emotional aspects of human behavior. Things like love, empathy and--more controversially--violent behavior/tendencies.

He was a smart dude.

"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest." ~ Confucius

Artists are conduits. We take things in, amplify them in some way, and then spit them back out in our own fashion. Sounds, sights, experiences, emotions, conversations, and any other little thing that gets near us form the raw materials that are used to create.

So if it's as easy as that, why aren't we all bestsellers? If I go through the same process as Stephen King, why is he able to write me under the table? I think it probably comes down to awareness. Observation and imitation are different things. Learning really only occurs when the two are put together.

"Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term Art, I should call it 'the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul.' The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in Nature, entitles no man to the sacred name of 'Artist.'" ~ Edgar Allan Poe

I think Confucius had it right; if we are going to truly learn from the greats, we have to first understand why they're great in the first place (reflection). How? By reading, of course. Read all of your favorites, read a few of the ones you don't like, and then read everything in between. Pay close attention, and learn to notice all of those literary/writing buzz-terms we've been hearing so much about: voice, dialogue, pacing, plot, setting, etc. How did the author employ them? Why?

After you've gleaned all that you can, then move to imitation. Can you write a paragraph or sentence that fans of the author wouldn't be able to set apart? It's harder than it sounds, but if you truly want to understand why a certain author/writing style works, it's a step that must be taken.

"Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another." ~ Voltaire       

"It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation." ~ Herman Melville

While I cannot--and should not--rely solely on imitation, I tend to believe that the key to unlocking my writing potential may very well be held in the collective hands of others. In the end I may utilize but a fraction of what I derive from others in my own writing, but the process of studying their work will surely lead to a strengthening of my own prose.

What about you? Do you have authors you emulate or study? If you could steal a skill from any author what/who would it be? As for me, I'd love to have JK Rowling's plotting abilities! I'll leave you with one final quote.

“Men nearly always follow the tracks made by others and proceed in their affairs by imitation, even though they cannot entirely keep to the tracks of others or emulate the prowess of their models. So a prudent man should always follow in the footsteps of great men and imitate those who have been outstanding. If his own prowess fails to compare with theirs, at least it has an air of greatness about it. He should behave like those archers who, if they are skilful, when the target seems too distant, know the capabilities of their bow and aim a good deal higher than their objective, not in order to shoot so high but so that by aiming high they can reach the target.”  ~ Machiavelli 


Waking the Muse

Good Friday Bloggerinos!  I, like many of you, am always on the lookout for creative fuel.  You know, the stuff that makes your gears turn, your muse stir, and your soul spark.  If I've learned any little thing about this writing stuff (and it has been VERY little), it's that you have to find ways to jumpstart your imagination even when your mind is locked down tighter than a granny in the Full Body Scan line at the airport.

Thus, I'm going to start sharing (with you) some of the things that I find most stimulating in hopes that it'll rub off.  Unfortunately, I can't throw hot coffee through the computer into your lap (because I suspect that many of you are like me and most motivated by black liquid caffeine ... or the threat of scalding hot liquid being thrown on you--take your pick), I'll try to keep this to music, photos, and the like.  It'll be a weekly thing as my moods change often!  Hope you enjoy, and maybe discover something that moves you.


For the inaugural installment of Waking the Muse, I've chosen the musician Brian Crain.  The music is instrumental and is really perfect for this time of winter dormancy and post-holiday slowdown.  It is slow and atmospheric with hints of joy and melancholy.   I found him this week on iTunes.  The following tunes are from his album, Piano and Cello Duet.


ECHOES - Cover Reveal

Echoes by Amy Evans

Echoes are the sounds the universe makes when you ignore it the first time.

Instead of signs, they are sirens. Echoes are louder and more dangerous than Clicks.

All the twins on Pinhold Island are healthy again, but the summer is still upside down. Cami's been paying better attention to what hides beneath the eye candy on her seemingly idyllic home, trying to make sense of the new threats to her friends and family. Massive storms have come to Pinhold, flooding the Island in a way not seen in generations. They leave behind destruction and the Red Tide, which lends the Island an eerie glow, makes the air itch and people's eyes burn. Through it all, Cami and Blake are working hard to repair their relationship, Mica is attempting to trust the grown ups on island, Shay is worried she'll never swim again and everyone is tying to re-focus on the Surf Carnival and training for The Guard.

But the threats to Pinhold from the sky don't compare to the danger that still hides beneath the waves. Can Cami and The Guard find the cause in time to reset the pin, or will they suffer damages that can never be reversed?


ECHOES is book two of Pinhold Prophecy Series where the fate of the world balances on the head of a pin.


Amy Evans is a young adult / new adult writer who believes that all the best stories get told with kisses. She’s excited to bring audiences even deeper into the mysterious waters around Pinhold Island with this second book in the series. The first novel, CLICKS, is a romantic coming of age story about hot lifeguards and surf competitions with dashes of sci fi and dolphins on the side. It’s available at Amazon and everywhere books are sold.


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ALL About Books & Authors

Hey, gang! I've decided to open a page on my blog dedicated to sharing everything I can about the authors and books in our little (aka - FREAKING HUGE) writing community. I'll make sure and announce on the main blog when there are updates to the page.

Basically, if you love book covers and/or want to stay up on the latest books that are being released, keep this page handy!