“…often their last book and their first book are different. They’ve changed.” – Darrick Dean, author of Among the Shadows

My freshman year of high school was a landmark in my life. I started the year with dyed blond hair. I ended it with brown. I started with no experience playing varsity sports. I ended it as our baseball team’s starting shortstop. I started with no braces and ended it with a consultation that would lead to braces (again).  Lastly, I started with no girlfriend…and wait, I ended without one too.

Okay, so it wasn’t a complete landmark experience. But, there was plenty happening that year.

My friends, and especially my family, noticed the changes I was going through the most. Especially when it came to my outward appearance. I shot up about five inches. It was a much-needed growth spurt. For the majority of guys in my eighth-grade class had apparently been taking horse pills during the summer break. So I needed to grow. And thanks to father time, I’d been given the chance to do so.

But, I’d also changed on the inside. I’d gotten more confident. I made decisions faster. I prioritized things. I even broke some rules that year. I stayed out later with friends. I took risks. And though it was uncomfortable at times, I was beginning to navigate who I was as a young adult.

Yet, I did my best to stay grounded. I liked doing things outside the norm. But, I didn’t want to lose who I was as a person. Yes, I wanted to become more independent; more

Writing is often seen as an outward expression of inner workings. The things that make us tick, boiling to the surface and out. How we feel about our world and what we think it ought to look like according to us. Ernest Hemmingway once said about writing, “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” And there you have it – minus the blood.

When I interviewed Darrick Dean, a fellow author, he and I were discussing how writers cand change over time. How even the most seasoned scribes like Stephen King can sometimes change their habits. How writers can alter their styles and even deviate from their core content (see my first book vs. my last).

And though this can be true of the writing world, I don’t tend to stress about it. Style can change; much like a teenager in high school. The only thing I do want to concentrate on is my message; the themes I am engaging. The feelings I am leaving with my readers. This is something I want to have some consistency in. For I believe any great writer knows his words will outlast his lifetime. That he will be regarded (and remembered) by the messages he left behind.

In my case, I can look back and see how I’ve changed; some ways more drastically than others. Yet, I must be aware that this is all part of the process. Finding a voice. Owning it. And being cognizant of how to utilize it. Every writer ought to be aware of this; every good writer, that is.

Because even if you aren’t recognizing every little change in you, your readers most certainly are.

 

 

The Writer’s Lens – Where to Find Me

Hey, everyone!

I’ve been compiling the best place for my new podcast, The Writer’s Lens, so if you’re looking to catch up on everything I’ve been doing thus far, then you have some options:

First, you can go here to my hosting site. Episodes are listed in order of publication (convenient, no?)

Second, you could go to iTunes and find me by typing in The Writer’s Lens (also convenient and simple).

And lastly, you can even find me here at my own website (most convenient).

It’s all about accessibility nowadays, is it not?

 

– J.C.L.

Mars and Science Fiction

Wow. It’s been a while. Let’s get right to it.

Being a sci-fi enthusiast, I found myself anxiously awaiting NASA’s big Mars announcement this week. I mean, come on, we’re talking about Martians here. Did we find’em? They out there? Every book that’s ever been written about the red planet would be turned on its head if so. But, as we know, that wasn’t the big news NASA had for us. Make no mistake though, what we got was still big news: flowing salt water. Water. Flowing freely. That’s pretty cool, right? I mean, water is a precursor for life. And though there are slim chances of a Mars shark or a Mars dolphin swimming about the water highways of Mars, there’s always that slim chance something with a heartbeat could be on the red planet. Right?

Or as so many science fiction minds have imagined in the past: absolutely. 

From a literary perspective, Mars has been a source of inspiration for more than a handful of stories over the years. Perhaps most well-known is H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds; one of modern literature’s first attempts at the alien invasion genreFirst published in 1898 (hard to imagine), Wells’ classic detailed a battle between Earth and Mars’ inhabitants, the technologically advanced “Martians.” The book was received well and consequently influenced several other science fiction writers. Most notably, perhaps, was Edgar Rice Burroughs; the man behind the John Carter series, who wrote a series of books on Mars and his fictional race of people who lived there.

But, that’s not all we got from Mars over the years.

There was the trippy and engaging film, Total Recall, that took us to a Mars where people were trying to make the air on Mars “breathable.” Oh, and there’s mutant people in it, too. Then there was Mission to Mars, a film that tried to explain the theories of the universe through the eyes of highly intelligent alien life form (I guess that’s like having mutant people?). And there was the unfortunate box office flop, Red Planet, that tried to convince us of Martian “nematodes” that eat people. No mutants, just yikes. And for the less-than-serious takers, there was the satirical Mars Attacks! A film made to intentionally mock old school alien invasion movies while poking fun at its cast throughout. Jack Nicholson is in it. Pierce Brosnan is in it. Natalie Portman is in it. And so is… well, that’s all you need to know. Mars has been host to more than a few stories where alien life is bent on our destruction. And naturally, the general public loves it. Even if it’s coming from brother Mars.

But, what about now? Does the discovery of flowing water change much? I’d be reluctant to say that it hasn’t. If nothing else, it’s provided even more inspiration for us Earthen folk. And with Matt Damon’s The Martian coming out this year, it seems like the timing couldn’t have been better. We may not be dreaming of terrifying tentacles or tripods with ray guns (well, not as much) but we do have that much more to work with. Ice miners on Mars? Rivers filled with Martian fish?

As I said earlier, I’m eager to see what’s next.

 

 

 

 

#12Months12Books – May

Wow. It’s May. And it’s almost mid-May. That’s really something. The year is not stopping, but thankfully, neither am I. As part of this #12Months12Books, I’m just about ready for May’s release. But, this month is going to be a little different. Here’s why:

I haven’t been broadcasting this enough, but I am actively seeking representation for what will be my first full-scale novel. The book is called The Road to Mars and is a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic story taking place sometime in the latter half of the 21st century. Here’s some backstory: Earth has colonized Mars via some highly advanced A.I., designed by entrepreneurial developer, Marion Perriello. His machines have prepared the planet over several years and after they finish their preparations, people begin their journey to the red planet. Over time, Mars advances rather quickly; discovering new sources of energy before finally declaring its sovereignty from Earth. The Earth doesn’t appreciate this move and prepares to go to war and win back its first interstellar colony. However, it soon becomes clear that Mars is far beyond the Earth, demonstrating its power during a UN conference with invisible ships and other high-tech gadgetry.

The Earth is fearful, but Mars decides to send a messenger, one bearing a gift out of good will and an act of peace. Problem is, the “gift” goes awry and sets off what my story will be calling “The Dark Bomb”: a wave of energy that subsequently takes all of Earth’s artificial light away, leaving the planet in darkness and naturally, utter chaos (as if we didn’t have enough of that all ready). Worse yet, the Dark Bomb seems to have set loose horrible creatures everywhere – monsters which seem to appear to those who have more fear than others. Some can see them, others cannot. And wherever there is fear, clouds of dark energy appear, signaling that fear (or death) is close by.

The novel itself will pick up 40 years after the Dark Bomb’s onset. As one might imagine, the Earth is still picking up the pieces and Mars has all but abandoned mother Earth in the process. However, Mars hasn’t completely left Earth to its own devices. Feeling responsible for what has happened, Mars elects to send its Shepherds to Earth, Mars-born, Mars-bred superhumans designed for rescuing people from Earth. And bringing them to Mars.

One of my main characters, Dr. Darion Wallace, is after a said Shepherd. His obsession is shortly-lived when he finally meets one, but he won’t be the only one who does. And that’s all I’m giving away on that.

So what about May? Well, that’s where the above backstory comes in. I’ll be releasing a short story (a little over 5,000 words) that tells the beginnings of Mars’ colonization. And it will be on Kindle as my May story. Yes, I know it’s much shorter than the others I’ve done, and it doesn’t really constitute as a “book”, but I think it’s well-served considering all the writing I’ve been doing. Plus, I hate when people tell things in reverse, aka releasing prequels after the main story has finished. So if anyone ever asks, I can always say that the prequel was out before the main canon. So there.

Thanks again to all who have read (and are currently reading) what I’ve done so far this year. You’re more than just dollar donors; you’re my inspiration to stay persistent and passionate about what I am doing. So thank you again.

#12Months12Books – April: “Spirit, Run”

This month has been rough. I’ll just throw it out there. I’m officially four months in and this #12Months12Books thing isn’t getting any easier. However, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to re-release this novella, Spirit, Run for the month of April. So here we go.

A little about Spirit, Run, I wrote this story about a year ago and shared the majority of it on my blog. I’d say this was one of my first attempts to do something that wasn’t a full-scale novel. The entire thing felt like a contained story, one that could be told in fewer words than a big, overarching tale. I liked the concept and away I went with it. Ironic considering how appropriate I feel the title has become for what I did with it: run. 

Originally, Spirit, Run was just Spirit Run (hopefully you caught the change there). There was no emphasis added; no comma. I know it may seem ridiculous, but that added punctuation made all the difference. It turned the title into a command. As if the spirit is being ordered to run. That’s what I liked about changing the title. Rather than sounding like a linear tale, one that followed a specific track, it was now left with a greater deal of freedom.

The main character, a spirit racing toward its human vessel, is commanded to run for its target. And it does so under the guidance of three angels; a trio of protectors battling on the soul’s behalf. However, they are unable to interact directly with the one whom they are defending. A real challenge considering the types of opponents they find themselves up against. As for what (or who) they end up fighting against, I’ll leave that up to the reader to find out.

Spirit, Run will be available on Kindle Friday, April 24.

Hope you enjoy.

 

#12Months12Books: March – “Report 439B”

March will be the debut of my fourth book, Report 439B, in this ongoing #12Months12Books challenge (if I’m counting December’s The Scientist’s Dilemma and yes, I intend to). The title itself should be at least semi-intriguing to some, if not alluring. I’m excited about this one and granted, I’m excited about any story I have forthcoming, but this one is really a break from the norm. Whereas my last three titles have been fiction/fantasy with a definitive story arc, this one doesn’t necessarily follow the same set of rules. Here’s why:

Report 439B is a collection of journal entries, presented to the reader as an alien visitor’s assessment of Earth. It’s the beginning, middle, and end of a six-month excursion. One culminating with the traveler’s final report on the planet’s inhabitants: should we (them) engage? Should we leave them (us) alone? And what are their (our) long-term effects on the rest of the universe? These are some of the questions the “alien” will be asking and trying to answer. It’s a break from the standard fiction for me, but I fell in love with the concept and away I went.

As a disclaimer, I put the word alien in quotations for a reason. ‘Alien’ is a term used for more than just cosmic travelers. It’s also used to describe a non-citizen. I know some readers will imagine a tiny being with black eyes and a huge, bald head at the first mention of ‘alien’. And hey, that’s fine. But, I want to encourage those same folks to read this story with a different perspective. What else do we view as otherworldly? Or perhaps as supernatural?

My story’s journeyman clearly comes from a place that’s like Earth, but is also not like Earth. He draws up several comparisons throughout, trying to portray the differences as much as the similarities. Even his interactions among the “Children” are hopefully some strong indicators of what’s at work in this story. I imagine those who read Report 439B will have their own interpretations, but I trust you enjoy taking the journey together.

It’s been fun writing it, if not grueling at times, but certainly worth the struggle. With every new story, I learn plenty about myself. But, more importantly, I learn what other people might be searching for too. Sometimes it’s just a new adventure; a primary goal of any story worth telling.

 

Post-Showcase, More Thoughts

In my last post, I opened up about some things I learned from the author showcase. The environment, the presentation, the reception – all of the good and the bad of what made the experience memorable. And what I need to do to improve for next time.

But, now that I’ve properly digested everything, I want to get down to business. I’ve been self-publishing my work for a couple years and Amazon is my current distributor. Overall, I’m happy to be working with them. The platform is solid and remarkably user-friendly. Those are the pluses. And though I have no aspirations to find an agent at the moment, I’m always open to the possibility of having one.

All that being said, here’s my debacle: talking with others about self-publishing. To any aspiring writer, self-publishing has been sold as “the way to go.” You can “make it big overnight” and do so without the hassle of paying an agent or big publisher. And as I spoke with other authors last Saturday, the consensus was this: “give self-publishing a shot – it’s easy, it’s cheap, and it lets you reach a wide audience, faster.”

I want to address each of these statements separately. And hopefully do so without sounding like a curmudgeon. Here goes:

1) It’s easy. Yes and no. First of all, self-publishing has changed the landscape of the reader’s experience. Aspiring authors can go directly to a mass distributor – like Amazon – and publish a story within hours. This puts their work among thousands of others like it, leaving readers just a search away from finding the writer’s work. That’s the easy part. And it’s the most attractive one to an ambitious writer.

Now, here’s the dose of reality: writing a book is hard. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Most people will tell you, “I have an idea for a story. I’d like to write a book someday.” But, how many people actually go through with that idea? Not many. Why? Because it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort to bring an idea to completion. If you want to do it right, you can’t rush your work. Again, this is not easy. I spoke with an individual at the showcase who told me she’d had an idea for a book for the past decade. Yes, a whole decade! Can you imagine beginning a business that takes 10 years to kick start? That’d be asinine. And you’d quickly have to consider other options for your career.

2) It’s cheap. That depends on where you go and who you shop with. Self-publishing was initially touted as the “new wave” for publishing material. A writer with some change in his pocket could search for and pay a publisher to distribute his work. Yes, pay the publisher to mass produce what he’d written. In the old days, agents would seek out hopeful writers. Now, it’s the other way around. And because of that, many publishing companies have become less concerned with the quality of their authors – only the volume. Possessing a large library of clients is far more attractive than one that’s without. Why advertise when you have hordes of people coming to you?

This is a conundrum. And it applies to more than just new and upcoming scribes. Established writers, those born out of the initial social media explosion, may encourage newbies to share work for free. Advising to do so because their success – the writers – was often found through sharing work on a blog or social media site. This helped them gain a following, but it also made them accessible to agents and publishers. As I talked with other authors at the showcase, most people seemed excited to share their work freely while others were holding their cards close to the vest.

As for me, I’m more inclined to believe in the latter. This blog, for instance, is a free service to any who want to read it. And that’s where I want to draw the line. I can share work all day long, but where is my investment meeting my reward? At what point do I break even and stop giving it away for free? Obviously, it’s when you have a few things going for you: the first being a readership, a definitive following that looks forward to every new piece you shell out.

Financially-speaking, it’s cheap to start up a blog or begin a new website. But, what about the time it takes to write one? There’s the daily, weekly, even yearly grind of posting material that may or may not catch the eyes of readers. This can be draining. And unless you’re in it for the long haul, you’ll find yourself at odds with what you’d been originally sold on: write a blog and the readers will come. Not exactly. Self-publishing is not the “Field of Dreams” on the Internet. A writer must be willing to invest deeply in what he’s begun. Success stories crop up after long hours – even years – of trudging through mud to come out looking clean.

3) It lets you reach a wide audience, fast. Am I going to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to this one too? Yes. And here’s an example why: let’s say you’re sitting on a bench, somewhere at a busy intersection, reading your newly hatched story as people pass you by. You’re talking loudly, loud enough for people to hear you, but no one is stopping to ask what you’re saying. So you talk louder. You repeat favorite phrases or lines from your manuscript, looking for a reaction. And let’s say you start to receive some. If the listeners like you, you encourage them to tell others – share what they’ve heard – and trust that when they walk away, they do just that. And feeling encouraged by this, you keep at it. Maybe you set up shop at another park bench and start reciting your lines again – the ones that worked – and stay at it.

This process, if repeated, may warrant some eventual success. You’ll establish a small following of individuals who don’t mind stopping amidst their busy schedule and hearing you for a few minutes. That’s the good news. And marks the end of this metaphor for social media spamming.

Now, here’s the difficult news: doing it all on your own is an arduous, grinding, and oftentimes, tedious task. Marketing a book requires HUGE amounts of attention and time on the part of the author. That’s why I shake my head when I talk with other writers who say, “Once I get a blog going, I’ll be doing it right.” No, actually you won’t. Where is your reading base? Do you have people all ready interested in your work? Have you created a strategy for reaching multiple channels without extending yourself beyond your means? These are business questions a writer has to be asking of himself, and if he isn’t, then he might want to consider another hobby or vocation. Readers just don’t appear over night.

Agents and publishing companies specialize in doing this kind of leg work. Their success, and their paycheck, depends upon how well they reach more than the passerby. That’s a team effort, not just the efforts of one.

Closing Thoughts: This is the longest post I’ve done in a while, but I hope you’ve stuck around till the end. Truly, the self-publishing “explosion” is something that shouldn’t be overstated or understated. Just keep this in mind: the quick route to something worth having isn’t quick, at all. It’s more than that. It’s full of persistence, diligence, and hard work. Self-publishing is merely another tool available for hopeful writers. It could be the future of writing, but it’s certainly not the easiest one.

Post-Showcase, After Thoughts

Last Saturday, I was fortunate to be a participant in Cleveland’s Indie Author Showcase, as hosted by the Cuyahoga County Public Library. It’s the second showcase I’ve been to and was really a great experience. I took some photos, had plenty of visitors, and handed out lots of info on my latest works. It was a blessing, but also an opportunity to learn some things. For example, I had no idea you could fit so many writers in the same room (45 to be exact). The initial atmosphere felt like swimming in a shark tank. Thankfully, we all came out unscathed. And with some renewed faith in playing nice with one another, I’m sure.

From a business perspective, having something to give out – like a brochure – was key. This may seem like a no-brainer, but when you’ve got books on your table, the thought of handing anything else out may feel like overkill. However, I’ve been to several trade shows. And I know that unless someone walks away with something in hand now, they aren’t going to remember you later. Doesn’t matter how intriguing you were, people need something tangible to hold onto. Especially if they’re seeing your product for the first time. I am glad to know I was prepared in that respect. And lastly, it doesn’t hurt to have friends come out and see your table (as evidenced by the candid below). These guys gave me some insights and ideas prior to the event too. That was invaluable – thank you again.

Thanks to my fellow scribes, Paul and Immanuel, for coming out last Saturday.

Thanks to my fellow scribes, Paul and Immanuel, for coming out last Saturday.

How to improve? More presentation and pricing. I had an adequate display, but found myself talking price quite a bit. Thankfully, my ebooks are relatively cheap – under $5 at the moment – but as my wife suggested, a pricing chart would be helpful for next time. And of course, have something in paperback. Currently, my work is all digital. I was the only person at the conference permitted who only had ebooks available (much thanks to the Library staff for letting me twist your arm and have me. I trust your elbows and shoulders are healing nicely). Their compliance was great, but after looking around and seeing the majority of tables packed with paperback and hardcovers, the answer was obvious: I should do the same. More on that as the year rolls forward.

For now, it’s an onward march for name recognition – and reviews. If you happen to read any of my work, then please leave a review when you finish reading. I encourage feedback for a couple reasons. For one,  if you’re willing to pay for it and read it, then I’d hope you’d be willing to leave some closing thoughts. Granted, no news can be good news – as people are more apt to share opinions when they feel jaded – but a good review can go a long way for the author. Thanks to those who have all ready! But, that leads me into my second reason: readership. I get emails, texts, comments from folks who read my stuff on a semi-consistent basis and though I appreciate it greatly, I want to encourage those same people to leave their thoughts on Amazon, my blog, or anywhere they can. Truly, the support goes a long way; reaching further than just a bank account, I assure you.

There are some other thoughts I have on the showcase, but these were my initial decompressions. I’ll save the others for another post. Overall, it’s always encouraging to “get out of the think tank” and share your story with others. That was a major highlight last Saturday. As was having my wife help explain my work to others. Kudos to the Mrs. for being such a big help.

Finally, I’ll leave this post with my favorite question from readers who approached me: “So what’s your dilemma anyway?” (in reference to The Scientist’s Dilemma story). I had fun with that one, but another guy went so far as to ask me if I was formerly an astrophysicist. If only! I regretfully had to say, ‘not yet.’ That seemed like the most appropriate response.

 

Bring Your Kindle or Kindle App!

This Saturday, March 7 from 2-4 pm, I’ll be showcasing my latest ebooks at the Cuyahoga County Library in Parma, OH. I’ll be one of 44 other local Cleveland Indie authors getting to showcase work to an open audience. That’s a cool thing.

And hey, it’s a free event.

There will be a few other self-published writers speaking, but hey, you should totally come and check out my booth regardless. Just sayin’.

And oh, did I mention it’s free?

Here’s a link to register for the event itself if you like. Otherwise, hope to see you at my booth. With a mobile scanner ready.

 

Cleveland Indie Author Conference

Author Conference

As the picture suggests, a FREE author conference is coming up in Cleveland. And I’ll be fortunate enough to be there. Not just as a spectator, but as an author with a table full of goodies.

This is not the first “author event” I’ve been to though. A couple years ago, I was at Mount Union University for a similar function. Designed for alumni – that’s me –  I got to have my own table, surrounded by other alumni with published works of their own. It was a good experience and I was happy to be a part.

However, I won’t be on “home soil” this time around. This is a public event and full of folks that have probably never heard of me before. But hey, I’m willing to try and change that. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll encounter. And that’s exciting in its own right.

The Cuyahoga County Public Library showcase starts at 11 am and ends at 4 pm, Saturday, March 7.