O Mars, How Art Thou?

I came up with a book idea about Mars about four years ago. I recall watching a news story on the Mars Rover and thinking, “Hey, that’s pretty cool. We have a robot on Mars”. That means we will be taking pictures. Sending back video. On Mars. For a commoner without a space degree like myself, this was exciting. But, I can only imagine what the rest of the science community was thinking (and various alien conspiracy theorists as well). It was a memorable moment for me and when the news story was over, I was finally receiving the inspiration I so desperately needed.

Time to get to work.

Before that time, I had been dabbling with a story about an alien visiting Earth. Only this alien was not a “true alien” in the sense of what so many are familiar with. You know – having tentacles, double jaws, and acid blood. Or parading as a seductress intent on luring males to their deaths (e.g. Species and Under the Skin). So rather than explore terrifying renditions of extraterrestrials, my alien would be some form of an advanced human. One who had come to take his people from Earth. To somewhere. Far away. And for reasons that were unknown to even the ones being rescued. But, of course, those being rescued would have their suspicions:

Is this traveler only taking the “best qualified”? Only the worthy?

Or is the visitor just harvesting Earthlings under some elaborate lie? (I hate using the term “Earthlings” but hey, it fits here)

Or perhaps, it was a combination of both?

I fell in love with the idea and ran with it. Then the Mars Rover came along and you know the rest. Looking back, the choice to make Mars my destination shouldn’t have come as a shocker. Sci-fi’s forefathers have been indulging the love affair with Mars long before I was around. Perhaps one of the first was H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, swiftly followed by Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter series. Flash forward about a hundred years and we are still getting stories like Andy Weir’s The Martian. Inevitably, it can be said: we want to see what’s waiting on the 4th planet from the sun. And with the uber rich making plans to do it (see this), we can rest assured that someone is going to make it happen.

But, as I’m exploring with my own story, I’m curious to know what people will do once we’ve colonized a foreign world. Will we turn from Earth and never look back? Or will we yearn to come back home? As with anything that’s new or untouched, our human curiosity must be satisfied. We’ll only know what awaits until we go there.

 

 

 

 

Book Signings? Yep.

Well, hello there.

It’s certainly been a while. April, to be exact. That’s the last time I decided to write a blog. And that’s a long time to be away. I haven’t been not writing. But, I have been away from my keyboard a lot, which is a good thing.

Here’s why – since April, my summer has been filled with moving homes and baby-prepping. My wife and I are expecting a 2nd little one. Not till November though. Yet, if it were up to my wife, she’d probably want this baby on express delivery (honestly, the changes a woman’s body goes through during a pregnancy are remarkable and terrifying in the eyes of her husband. Truly amazing). And to add the amazingness, I’ve been the recipient of more good news: invites to various book-signings.

At the beginning of the year, I was doing my best to get the word out about my debut novel, The Road to Mars (have you heard of it? You should). And things were going well. Aside from working to make some sales, I did some guest blogging and even started a few new projects. My 2016 was shaping up to be better than 2015, from a writing standpoint. However, what I really wanted to be doing was making some appearances. Perhaps do a local signing or an event. But, nothing was coming about, or rather, the timing just wasn’t there. Well, “when it rains, it pours”, so they say. And I’m excited to say I have two events coming up. The first will be this Saturday, October 1 at Shenango Valley Mall in Hermitage, Pennsylvania, hosted by the locally owned Leana’s Books & More. And the second will be at the Cuyahoga County Library’s Parma-Snow location Saturday, November 12. This will be my second time at this particular showcase and am blessed to have gotten a return invite.

All that being said, I’m definitely looking forward to what the next few months have in store. Hope to see some of you soon.

J.C.L.

Come now, all ye critics

Criticism can be a creative’s worst nightmare. Even if you’re aren’t of the creative mindset, you can still relate at some level. There’s a specific kind of hurt reserved for the one who hears his work is garbage; or crap; or downright putrid. That hurts. That hurts right in the “feels”. Yet, criticism is a part of the deal. The unwritten contract every artist / writer / author enters into. Be it knowingly or unknowingly.

I’ve been writing for a while now and I can honestly say that the “early days” of getting critiques were the hardest for me. Before that time, and when I was still under the protective hood of public school, I got patted on the back quite often for my penmanship. “You write well”; “You have great voice”; “You ought to consider doing this for a living someday” – yeah, I heard it all. And believed it too. And why not? It’s great getting noticed for something you enjoy doing. That’s a wonderful feeling. So, when I made the decision to pursue that passion, I found myself struck by a fascinating revelation: not everyone is going to like what you do (shocking news, isn’t it?).

Well, for an aspiring scribe, it can be a major jolt. Ego and all.Critics_Prep

Much later, I was listening in on a writer’s podcast and heard how a lot of writers are only interested in being discovered. They aren’t necessarily interested in getting better. They just want someone to tell them how good they are. Show’em some love. Make’em feel good. And after hearing this, I couldn’t agree more. Because that’s the place I was coming from. By now, I realize there are plenty of talented writers out there. I know this to be a fact. But, are they willing to do the work to get better? That’s the real question. And part of that “getting better” process is learning how to take criticism.

This trade off, this price to be paid if you ever intend to get paid, can make or break the deal. And what’s more, not everyone’s creative pace is the same. Last year, I bumped into a woman at a writer’s convention who told me she’d spent 11 years finishing her first book. Eleven years. I couldn’t even imagine. By comparison, it took me a year and a half to finally release The Road to Mars and that felt like an eternity! Yet, in hearing her story, it made see another grim truth: spending too much time in creating can keep you from ever finishing what you started. Which, in turn, can make a person dread the day a fair critique comes along. The payoff may never come. And that’s a pretty damn scary thing to think about.

But, I know myself. And I know that I’d rather get a fair critique than an empty pat on the back. That’s the greatest service any writer can get. Well, aside from a few purchases. That’s always cool too.

 

 

Are You Not Convinced?

It’s been said that you can have a great idea, but if your execution is bad, then your idea is sunk. Or rather, it’s worth less than nothing. Writing survives on the passing of ideas. From one person to another. So on and so forth. Which is what brings any writer – such as myself – to that unholy place of conundrum: is my idea good? Can it be passed around like a hot potato, yet leave people wanting that potato to come back around again?

Mars_GuyObviously, my own answer to that question is yes. Of course, I think my idea is good. Of course, I think my book is good. That’s why I wrote it. But, the big question remains: who else will think it’s good? Who else is going to like what I did? And who else will like how I did it? That’s the pertinent question. The purpose of this post, really. Who can I convince that my idea is good and do it well?

The Road to Mars was an ambitious work for me – at 372 pages, that’s pretty darn ambitious – so I took a lot of time trying to make it look and “sound” attractive. That means analyzing and editing. Writing and rewriting paragraphs. Reading and re-reading. It was a process that made me evaluate not only my writing style, but my idea itself. Was it cool enough? Did the world I invented suspend disbelief or was it just flat out unbelievable? It may sound maddening – especially after 372 pages in – but it was actually quite sobering. It forced me to reaffirm my earliest convictions: that yes, I think I had a good idea. And that yes, I needed to present it well, too (unlike the guy in this picture).

So, about that story of mine….

The Book’s Out! Now About Those Expectations….

Sure, I’ve released books in the past. And yes, I’ve told people about it. And yes, I’ve worked hard to tell those people to tell even more people about my book. That’s all well and good. But, that doesn’t change what comes next – the expectations. I have expectations for my work just like anyone would. The only difference now is that I’m a little older, a little wiser, and a little better prepared. For instance…

If you self-publish, don’t expect to quit your day job. Not right away anyway. It’s probably one of the biggest myths about self-publishing. Ask anyone in the publishing industry and they’ll tell you the same: don’t quit your day job. Not until you can financially provide for yourself. Or in my case, for a familOne Does Not Simplyy. A lot of folks get into publishing and think they’ll sell books like Stephen King. Well, you may be able to write great thrillers like Mr. King, but does anyone actually know you? Do you have a dedicated base of ready-and-waiting readers? These are questions you need to ask yourself before you hand in that two-week notice. Pay the bills first. Then, ride off into the sunset with book in hand.

Get the word out. I laugh when I think of how my first book release went down. My book went to the market and after it did, I think I checked my sales rank on Amazon about twice every 15-30 minutes. Up I’d go, then I’d be down again. Up, then down, up, then down… you get the picture. It was maddening. But then again, I was totally new to this publishing thing. And remarkably impatient. So there were some lessons to be learned before I could call myself a true “author.” Namely, I had to be more conscious of marketing myself. Do I have a Facebook page now? Yep. Twitter? That too. A blog to talk about this stuff? Self-explanatory. And lastly (and perhaps most important of all) was I reaching out beyond my own social circles? Or was I content getting a thumbs up from my aunts and uncles? Well, that’s another item I can check off these days. Guest blogging, for instance, is something I’ve been fortunate to do as of late (you can check’em out here and here for the latest). So I’m becoming less and less afraid of telling people about what I do. Because in the early going, the books just won’t sell themselves.

road-to-mars-cover-6x9-bleedThe Road to Mars is a fictional novel, not a non-fiction or a short story. My first two books were non-fiction works. And in addition to that, they were satirical in approach and delivery. That’s a stark contrast to what I’ve done recently. But in order to make that transition possible, I started a little project where I’d try to write a short story every month. I tentatively called it #12Months12Books and I did this for much of 2014 and 2015. It was probably one of the most difficult – and asinine – things I’ve ever taken upon myself to accomplish. Not only was I under the delusion that I could write a short story every month, I also thought I could polish, edit, and release said short story in a timely fashion (without staying up all night wondering if I’d done right). In hindsight, that was a really difficult undertaking. But, I got through it. Till about June. Which is where reality sank in and I had to stop. But as always, there’s something to learn from the experience. Namely, writing short stories are like writing miniature novels. They force a storyteller to break down the mechanics of storytelling as a whole. Character, plot, setting, motivations – the works. All of these elements have to be trimmed down so that when you’re ready for the “big leagues”, you can have something to work with.

Reviews, reviews…and hey, more reviews. If there’s one thing an artist appreciates, it’s feedback. Whether it’s showering praise or having tomatoes being flung (does anyone still do that?), the result is the same: it’s a response. A reaction. An opinion to what the author has put out there for the enjoyment – or disenchantment – of his audience. Which is why I am humbly asking any and all who read my book, to please review my book too. Five stars? Four stars? No stars? Well, I suppose that’s up to you to decide if it deserves a “zero” rating. In which case, I might offer an apology. Or cry for a while. I just won’t write about that part if it happens.

The Road to Mars is out and only available on Amazon so by all means, check it out if you haven’t already! Have a great weekend, folks.

 

 

 

Okay, It’s Here! #TheRoadToMars

Enough with the hype already! My book is available. And you can check it out here. Or by clicking on the picture. road-to-mars-cover-6x9-bleed

First off, what a process this has been! Lots of learning and lots of time I didn’t foresee having to work through, but hey, I won’t bore anybody with those details. That’s probably best served for another day. Or maybe never. Either way, the wait is finally over.

And as a special bonus – yes, a bonus – I have included the first few pages of the sequel, The Shadow of Mars, at the end. So, if you’re like me and love to spoil the endings of things, you may feel free to skip ahead. And thus, spoil some of The Road to Mars. But hey, that’s your call!

Happy reading, folks. And don’t forget to comment and leave me notes telling me how much you love (or hate) the story. I appreciate it!

And another big thank you to my friend, Immanuel Mullen, for designing the cover and back. Thanks again!

 

 

A Year’s Worth of Persistence

Last year – around this time – I was writing about persistence. And how important persistence would be in the coming year.

Self-fulfilling prophecy or not, this year has been exactly that: a major test in persistence.

For starters, 2015 been the most difficult year for me, personally, than any other year I can remember. 2015 challenged every aspect of me, my character, and goals I set for myself and my family. As proud and excited as I was to become a father (I think I was literally leaking joy for a while) I felt the burden of fatherhood rushing upon me. My son was born in June so from January till day of birth, my mind was set on all things fatherly: reading books, getting advice from parents, reading books advised by parents, and making space for my son’s arrival. These these were the things I had to do. These were the things I felt compelled to do.

But even after many moons of prep, I found myself feeling no more prepared than the day before.

Truthfully, there is little you can do to prepare for parenthood. It is simply an experience like no other. Reading a book about middle-of-the-night crying is wholly different than experiencing middle-of-the-night crying. I found myself sympathizing with so many parents who appear to be at their wit’s end, especially when they are out in public. Thankfully, our little guy hasn’t had too many meltdowns. So we’ve been blessed in that regard. However, that’s not to say it hasn’t happened at home. And when it happens at home, you still have to operate within the notion that somebody – someone – is watching you.

Parenthood, despite what any sitcom or cheesy commercial may play it up to be, is a gloriously, amazing challenge. It tests more than just patience; it tests resolve and selfishness. As a writer, I need time to think and be alone in my thoughts. I need space to breathe for my mind. But, when you have a baby, that time becomes extremely limited. And no, this is not a moment to complain. Or to promote not having children – no, I am merely stating how much my own life had to be readjusted for the sake of my son. No longer can I come home and dig into a new book or head off to Starbucks for some therapeutic journaling. No, my responsibilities now lie with the little life I helped create. Throw in the fact that my wife and I have been married for little more than a year and you have an even greater recipe for learning how to serve someone other than one’s self. Talk about being humbled!

So parenthood was the biggest adjustment. But, there were other twists and turns I did not expect in this year of persistence: new work. New books. New friendships (and the parting of old ones). And perhaps, most unexpectedly, the doubt.

Doubt is truly one of the human experience’s biggest enemies. To a writer, it’s paralyzing. It’s immobilizing. It makes you feel like you’re the only one going through the aches and pains of a failed draft. And another failed draft. And another. And no matter how many uplifting essays you read. No matter how many email lists you find yourself a member of; or fortune cookies with inspirational messages you find – none of these things do much for learning to deal with doubt.

Like a first time parent experiencing middle-of-the-night crying, learning to overcome doubt is simply something you have go through.

And it’s something I look forward to crushing further in 2016.

See you all in the new year.

#TheRoadToMars – a little info to chew on

So now that the word is out, it’d probably a good idea to give some details on my new book. That being said, here goes. The title itself, The Road to Mars, comes from a concept I had about four years ago. Back when I was still exploring the notion of getting published (wow, that was a while ago!). The story was meant to be a post-apocalyptic tale, but with a twist. The twist being that I wasn’t attempting to write about zombies, a killer outbreak, or a killer outbreak which causes the zombies. Rather, I wanted a post-apocalyptic tale where all the light is slowly being “eaten.” Hence, that’s where the Pulse came into play.

As you can read on the back cover, I give a hint as to what the “Pulse” truly is. And what’s causing it. In my story, Mars has already been colonized and has slowly formed itself into a quasi-utopian society. By the time The Road to Mars is underway, Mars has eclipsed the Earth in technology, wealth, and overall human welfare. There are no murders. There is only prosperity. And there is peace. 

Naturally, Mars’ leaders – being the visionaries and proud people they are – decide it would be a good idea to share with the Earth what’s made them so powerful. And of course, this is where everything goes haywire. Or should I say, “explodes in their faces.”

I’ll leave the rest of the explanation for the faithful who will be reading it. I’d prefer not to give away too much on the topic. Just rest assured that this particular backstory will be delved into with greater detail.

Be back with (a little) more at a later date. Till then, enjoy the weekend!

So…about that announcement.

Yesterday, I shared why I’ve been MIA for a few weeks. The month of November was not kind to me. From a health perspective, that is. Nor was it kind to my 5-month old son and my wife. Again, from a health perspective. However, I had to endure it the longest. And I’d rather be the one who’s sick than my wife or son (moms aren’t allowed to TheRoadToMars_Coverget sick, right?).

Anyway, I said I had an announcement coming and guess what – I do. It’s pretty darn exciting. But, it’s also incredibly nerve racking. You see, I was MIA for the past month, but I’ve also been MIA from publication for about the last six. Or rather, I’ve been absent from anything more than a shorty story for more than a year.

The reason being, I’ve been steadily working towards my first full-scale novel. Called The Road to Mars, it’s a science fiction work and something I’ve had on my mind and my heart for a long time. It’s equally exciting due to a lot of the press Mars has been getting lately (what timing, eh?). So after more than a year of working / reworking / throwing it out / starting over / convincing-myself-I’m-not-crazy, I can finally say it’s done. And here’s a quick glimpse of the cover (thanks in part to my good friend, Immanuel Mullen). 

The release date is TBD as I’m not ready to “go live” with it just yet. However, I didn’t want to sit and not share the news either. In the coming days and weeks, I’ll be giving away more tidbits about the book and what to expect – and when to expect it.

Until then, here’s the cover.

Month of Sickness

So, this post is mainly to serve as a reminder that I’m still alive. This past month I was hit with a monster sickness. I’ll spare everyone the details. Just know that it was enough to keep me from sleeping. And created a mountain of Kleenex high enough to see from bed level height.

But hey, I’m not here to complain. I have some good news coming. On the 1st of December. So until then, stay healthy.

And see you all soon.