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.

A Clear Voice

If you’re reading this, then you may have an idea of what I’m going to write about. Or maybe you don’t and you’re just curious. Either way, welcome, and here’s hoping you might identify with this post. As we know, there is no shortage of voices who claim to be authorities for navigating life. And they cover just about every topic under the sun: “Be the Best Parent”; “Make More Money Now”; “The Best Guide to Dieting” or “Epiphanies, Theories, and Downright Good Thoughts on Video Games” (sorry, had to throw that one in there for my own sake). But, at the end of the day, how many do you listen to? Well, if you’re a parent, you may tune into more parenting books. If you’re financially insecure, you read up on managing your money. The list goes on. Much of what we read is often an indicator of what we need. Or what we’ve made ourselves to believe we need.

The tricky part is knowing just what it is we need in the first place. Because as we know, there are plenty of voices telling us what it is we need. And the messages come faster than we’d like to admit.

This past week, I intentionally took a week off from Facebook. Not because I’m trying to lead a revolution against social media (I’m here, aren’t I?) but because I knew I needed something: a clear voice. For any writer or artist that might relate, you know what I mean. Yes, it’s fun to flip through your news feed and see what’s happening around the world. Or in people’s lives. I’ve done it frequently. But, there are ramifications if one isn’t careful.

For example, you see someone sharing an intriguing article and you click. That action leads to another click. And another. And another. Soon, you may find yourself reading a top 10 list of what not to do in summer whereas you first started reading a blog on rioting. At first glance, it sounds relatively harmless. You’ve become more “educated” on what’s happening in the world or you’ve been made aware of several hot travel spots you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. But, here’s the point: in a span of 10, maybe 20 minutes, you’ve allowed your brain to be subject to a multitude of incoming messages. And that sort of clutter lends itself to a cluttered mind. Rather than making crucial, timely decisions, your brain is now more interested in vacations (which is coincidentally just what it’s doing now – going on a vacation). The real issue you’ve been working on is lost in the muck and hey, that’s not good.

Reading isn’t bad. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. It’s educational. But, reading anything and everything can be bad for you. It’s why I intentionally decided to take a breather. Halt the messages and find some center ground. Not because I can’t control myself, but because it’s better to not tempt one’s self when temptation is imminent. I don’t need to be up to date on the newest blogs or even the latest hashtag. Those things have a way of finding a person if the message is good. And plus, I can check it out when I want to. Not when I feel like I need to. If what you want is a clear head, then don’t allow so many voices to fill it. It’s really that simple.

Oh, and to any I may have ignored this past week, I’m sorry. This is partially an apology for not checking my news feed. I trust we’re still friends, at least online.

 

 

 

#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.

 

You Have to Outlast the Others

Winning requires preparation and perseverance. Having some talent certainly helps, but it’s not the defining piece of any success story. Talent, as we know, only takes a person so far. However, what we don’t know – or so often neglect – is how far we’re willing to go when our talent runs out.

For instance, I’ve always been good at baseball. When I was a kid, I took to the sport very quickly. As soon as I could walk, I could also hold a baseball. And throw one too. Granted, learning to throw well took some time. I didn’t whip out four-seam fastballs right away – that took some effort and some growing. But, my ability to adapt and learn the game was always a cut above most everyone I competed with (or against). I wasn’t a prodigy, but I was definitely someone who could succeed if I stayed with the game long enough.

And that was just what I did: I stuck with it. When I was growing up, I met a lot of other naturally-gifted ballplayers. Many of whom were better than me. They seemed to hit home runs rather easily. They threw curveballs with an arc that seemed to defy all laws of physics. They could field, catch, and throw with a precision that looked predetermined. I was good, but I still wanted to be greater than they were.

Then, as I got older, something strange began to happen. My skills improved, yes, but the same standouts that kept me hanging around were falling off the radar. They were the same men, with the same names, but their skills somehow diminished overnight. At first, I thought it was only because was getting better. That somehow, I had eclipsed them and could now focus on a new enemy. But, it was more than that. Somewhere along the way, these fellow ballplayers – these prodigies of baseball – had plateaued. They had reached the peak of their natural gifts. And now, without the proper disciplines in place, they fell out of the sport and never returned.

Seems odd, doesn’t it? That despite all their accomplishments and their love of the game, they just up and left. Usually doing so because the going got tough. Looking back, what looks like a mystery actually makes a lot of sense.

For example, Mozart was known as a virtuoso. In the realm of music, he was a genius; highly skilled and possessing an innate knowledge of how strings, horns, and percussion should come together for perfect harmony. But, he also had discipline. The same can be said for Michael Jordan; a man who was cut from his high school basketball team (you probably know the rest of the story). It’s hard to imagine, but consider for a moment how many “unfinished works” there are. How many unrefined or incomplete talents have gone to the wayside because the discipline was the only thing lacking. I’m sure the number is impossible to count, but you get the idea.

If you want to be a success at something, you have to have more than just talent. You have to maintain the course. You simply have to outlast the others.

When You Aren’t Watching

It’s hard waiting for results. For one, our expectations are rarely met and for two, we aren’t the most patient people. We ask and we expect to receive right away (we can partially thank Google for exposing this trait of ours). However, such is never the case with things that really, truly matter. Time has to be a key player. Whatever is worth doing will take time. But, what matters will also require a participant’s unyielding contribution to the journey. Just as time ushers along opportunities, time also presents hardship. This is where the will is most tested: when no one else is watching.

I find it extraordinarily difficult to tell people about my challenges as a writer (and no, this won’t be a “pity party” type of blog. Stick around a while). Unless he or she is a writer themselves, it’s a tough place to speak from. Artists, authors, architects – they’re all like event planners: starting with a concept, a sketch or an idea, and building daily until the moment of completion. It’s a different kind of work. There are no immediate outcomes. There’s only the road. And it’s a road as long and diverse as the task required of the traveler.

That’s where the will comes in. A will that must be tested and as we discover, tested daily. Nothing is more grandiose (or frustrating) than standing on one side of a canyon, seeing the other, but not knowing how long it will take to get to that other side. You can’t fly across. You can’t take a car. And you can’t hitch a ride. There’s just you, your feet, and the ideas you started with.

A lot of aspiring writers (and artists) believe there’s a “quick road” to the other side; that if they wait on the edge long enough, some miracle bus will come along. And they’ll be taken away because they deserved it for waiting so patiently. Then they’ll be able to tell everyone how smart and wise they were for doing so. There was never a need to get their hands dirty, their morale rocked, or their time “wasted” under reworks, revisions, and failures. It will come to them. Someday, it will come.

However, I’m here to tell you that this type of thinking is delusional. It doesn’t hold merit and it won’t give gratification to the journeyer. There’s a reason why the chasm is so wide: it’s meant for molding, shaping, and preparing the one whose taken the challenge. It’s meant for narrowing the job applicants. It’s meant to set free and unleash the burden of what’s inside. There is no greater risk, but there is also no greater reward.

It’s a narrow and long trail, but it’s one that must be accepted once headed off. The landscape that awaits is minefield of tiny battles. All of which, we find at the end, were laid down for our betterment. And fought when hardly anyone else was watching.

#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.