The Writer’s Lens – E30: For Every Creative, The Stakes Are Incredibly High

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-e78kf-8f474a

Inside every creative is an entrepreneurial spirit. Why? Because there’s an innate desire to make something new. Something original.  And when you have that kind of gumption, the stakes tend to rise. There is more at risk; more knowledge needed; and more confidence required to make your dream a reality. 

Enter the fear of failure. For even if we do share out gift with others, we still face the fear of being mocked or laughed at. It’s an experience that’s relative to every creative, and as a writer, I know how that can paralyze a person – no matter how gifted or talented he is. 

In this episode, I talk through that process of making my own leap into writing – only to realize how crowded the creative / entrepreneurial space really is. And even if we make it through the woods and back up the mountain to finish what we started, there’s a whole other plane of challenges waiting there for us too. And plenty more people trying to make it there too! 

So, as I said in the beginning, the stakes are high. And not everyone gets to the finish line first. 

P.S. if you enjoy this episode, be sure to like it or follow (however which way you choose to do so, i.e. iTunes, YouTube, Podbean, etc.). I can be found almost anywhere. Well, almost. 

The Writer’s Lens – E29: People Are Always Looking To Take Advantage Of Your Dreams

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-k22wz-8e85e9

We will go to great lengths to reach our dreams. We’ll throw caution to the wind. We’ll forget what it means to ‘play it safe.’ We will do more than the usual to get there. 

But, with that in mind, we must be careful of what that pursuit looks like to other people. Because if we are so willing to chase our dreams so blindly, then we must be cognizant of how others might take advantage of us. And our dreams. 

Yes, it’d be nice to live in a world where everyone has our best interests in mind. It would be less stressful, for sure. But, we don’t. And we can’t fool ourselves into thinking otherwise. As a creative – one who is writing books – I’ve had to learn this hard truth of entrepreneurship. My ideas are special to me. I want them to succeed. Yet, I can’t be someone who throws money at the next person willing to extend a helping hand. I have to be smarter than that. And so does anyone else trying to make his / her dream a reality. 

In this episode, I talk through a recent experience I had involving a potential scammer. With so many aspiring authors out there, the number of ‘reputable marketing agencies’ has also increased. And as I detailed above, this should not come as a surprise to anyone in the creative, entrepreneurial sphere of things. 

Enjoy! 

I Am Still Writing And I’m (Still) Publishing A Book This Year

I don’t do the blog thing much these days. Between parenting, husband-ing, socializing, podcasting – there is very little time for therapeutic writing (though writing a book is quite therapeutic).

That being said, I wanted to put something out there. Namely how I am still writing. Just not on this platform. I’m actually trying to finish a book. Yeah, no joke.

The Shadow of Mars, the follow up to The Road To Mars, should be available sometime this year. When? I have no idea. Don’t ask me. But, I am on the second read through of the manuscript. So that means I’m about 80% of the way to my goal.

Another goal I’m pushing towards is 1,000 unique followers and listens on my podcast, The Writer’s Lens. So, if you’re of the creative type, you’re writing a book, finding your “voice”, exploring hobbies and passion projects, and interested in taking that journey with another person foolish enough to share his insights and failures, then it’s a good place to check out.

So enough of the shameless self promotion. And back to that writing thing. Till next time.

J.C.L.

 

 

Good. Evil. What’s The Difference To A Writer?

Good versus evil. It’s a common tale; one that’s recreated and retold over and over again: Luke vs. Vader. Aragorn vs. Sauron. Harry Potter vs. Voldemort, to name a few. As a youth, I was exposed – like so many others – to this age-old battle. Bedtime stories portrayed what it meant to be “good” and by contrast, what it meant to be “bad.”

Often, readers differentiate good from evil because the authors make it known to them. The most common form is the monomyth, as coined by writers like Joseph Campbell. It’s the idea that a hero – the protagonist – embarks on a journey, sparked by a call to action, to upend some injustice that has been done to him or others. The climax of the journey is a showdown between protagonist and antagonist; with the antagonist representing the opposite objective of the protagonist. And in most cases, it’s the villain whom the hero must upend.

Yet, not every battle between good and evil is so black and white. Popular stories like Game of Thrones present characters who one moment may seem virtuous but a few scenes later reveal their selfish intentions. Heroes and villains are thus, harder to pinpoint.

To go even further, Showtime’s television drama, Dexter, follows a serial killer who – ironically enough – only kills “bad guys.” Though murder would usually be considered wrong or evil, in this narrative, the prospect of killing villains is portrayed as good. Or at the very least, is meant to challenge the viewer as to what he or she would do if given the same situations as Dexter.

For more on this subject, be sure to check out my latest podcast episode. And be sure to subscribe to my channel, The Writer’s Lens!

“Our memories aren’t perfect.” – Brent McLaughlin, writer

In my latest interview, I posed a question to my friend, Brent McLaughlin, what it was like to journal on a regular basis. Aside from giving our thoughts a place to rest, Brent summed up his experience like so: it’s a means to look into where I’ve been; where I’ve come from. Because as he put it, “our memories aren’t perfect.”

I couldn’t have agreed more with that statement.

I’ve never been good at keeping a journal. I make time for reading in the morning. I make time for writing the next chapter of my book. But, when it comes to decompressing my thoughts in a journal form, I just don’t do it. And as of late, I wish I did.

Rushing from one thing to the next in life can make us feel like hamsters on a wheel. Most of us are good at setting goals. We look at our resources. We set our parameters – and we go for it. Yet we don’t always know how or what brought us there once we make it (if we even do). I believe if we took more time to reflect on what it was that got us through, we might appreciate our accomplishments more. We may slow down more. We may even enjoy our lives more.

Because, again, our memories aren’t always perfect. And we need those little reminders as often as we can get them.

“How old are veterans anyway? I wanted to change that perspective.” – Dr. Robert Snyder, author of “What is a Veteran, Anyway?”

Veterans’ Day has come and passed. Yet, I am reminded of a great conversation I had with a veteran – and author – who was kind enough to let me interview him. On both fronts: being an author and being a veteran.

Dr. Robert Snyder is a professor, author, and former Iraqi war veteran whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a book signing back in October. He was covered from head to toe in military garb, and when I asked what he’d written a book about, I was (somewhat) surprised to find that he’d penned a children’s book. Its title was What is a Veteran, Anyway? And after some conversation, I asked him to appear in an interview for my podcast, The Writer’s Lens. When he agreed, we were able to dig deeper into the inspiration behind his book.

Turns out, Dr. Snyder had a vision for teaching young people about war veterans – a concept I found as intriguing as his rationale for doing it (and I’ll paraphrase): “When you think about a war veteran, you may visualize someone well into his or her’s later years. But, not all veterans are like that.”

In addition to that, Dr. Snyder hopes to educate others on what a family may experience when one’s parent is overseas. I can say I’ve never had that experience as neither of my parents served in the military. But, I have had the experience of family (my eldest brother) and friends / acquaintances being in active duty. The strain of these circumstances can be relationship-threatening both abroad and back on home soil. Dr. Snyder tackles these bigger concepts in picturesque form that isn’t too gritty and isn’t too “child-like” either. His work has earned him the distinction of being the 2017 winner of the Notable Social Studies Trade Book award for young people and a rather rigorous tour schedule (see his photos from recent events here). 

To see my full interview with Dr. Snyder, you can hop on to YouTube. Or, if you’d rather audio over my smiling face, you can find the audio-only version on iTunes or going here.

You can also find Dr. Snyder on Facebook and Instagram.

 

“We Couldn’t Find a Mentor. Nobody Could Help Us.” – Rachel Scott, co-author of Better Than Blended

During my first interview on The Writer’s Lens, I asked the co-authors of Better Than Blended, Willie and Rachel Scott, if there were any mentors who helped them come to where they were today. Who was it that made an impact? Who helped to put them in a position to launch their book and their ministry for blended families?

Their answer? No one.

Sounds like a scary place to be. You’re passionate about something. You have a mission; a project you want to come to fruition. But, how to start? And where? So wait, let’s see if there’s anyone out there who might be able to help us….

*insert cricket noises*

My own writing journey has often felt this way. In my downtime, I was often thinking, who out there is going to help me? Is there anybody? Anybody at all? 

When I first wrote a book, I had no idea how to get the word out. I figured I’d tell the people closest to me about it: my parents, my siblings, my co-workers. Those were safe places to start. So that’s what I did. And for a while, safe felt good. I could do the safe. Safe was manageable. Safe was comfortable.

But, safe didn’t produce a lot of growth (at least within this context). I needed to figure out how to make more of a buzz. And since there was no one in my immediate life who had any publishing or book-writing experience, I dove in head first and started swimming. And now, five years later, I’m still swimming. But, I’m doing so without a need for floaties. Or a rubber ducky. I have experience to rely on and in some ways, a chance to give mentorship to someone who is looking for it. I may not have had someone standing right next to me – much like Willie and Rachel – but as Willie and Rachel pointed out (and I’ll paraphrase), sometimes we have to walk through something so we can turn around and help others who have yet to go through it.

I found this to be very encouraging. Not only had Willie and Rachel found a calling – they’d walked into that calling and subsequently grew within it. And now they could offer the kind of mentoring and discipleship they’d hoped to have themselves. So, despite not having every piece in its place, they were able to move forward.

Yet another great lesson to be had. And one I certainly can relate to. As a writer and in my own life outside of writing.

 

Character Dynamics in “The Road To Mars”

The Road To Mars follows, for the most part, a trio of characters (trying to be #SPOILERfree here). There’s Darion, my protagonist; Jack, the “thief”; and the Shepherd, my larger-than-life visitor from Mars. Each has his own agenda. Each is searching for something. And each may or may not take issue with someone in the group; unbeknownst to that person.

I know because I wrote it that way.

When I began fleshing out The Road To Mars, I envisioned it like a really bad family vacation. Nobody likes going somewhere – especially far away – with someone they don’t like. Or someone they’re not too familiar with. The Road To Mars is all about unfamiliar travel. Mars, by itself, is already an unknown landscape. But, in my story, it’s a haven. An escape. A place Darion wants to be. He wants out of the mess the Earth is in. The Pulse has damaged Earth with clouds that sap light and energy. The Earth, as far as Darion is concerned, is a lost cause. So he’s trying hard to leave it behind and get to Mars. Not just for himself, but for his daughter as well.

Jack, on the other hand, is more like a baby bird fallen from its nest. He’s survived the fall – survived the Pulse – but now he’s alone. Nobody is looking out for him. Until he meets Darion. And then, ultimately, the Shepherd of Mars. Jack has had little direction in life. He’s a got a bad seed in him, you might say. But, meeting Darion has given him direction. And the Shepherd has given him hope. Two things he’d never had before; and important to any person.

As for the Shepherd, his mere existence defies logic. He’s huge – more than seven feet tall. He’s built like an Olympic gymnast and speaks like he’s lived 10 lifetimes. Yet, all that power and wisdom is a cause for concern. Even for Darion, whose entire journey has been about finding said Shepherd. No man can be all these things in one. There must be a catch or something hidden. But, Darion – and Jack – are willing to see whatever that is till the end.

What I’ve just told you is incredibly important to any story: character dynamics. As much as I like the mythology in The Lord of the Rings and the universe where Harry Potter resides, I know neither of these stories would be worth their weight in salt if it weren’t for the characters. Where they come from. How they interact. Who they are driven to be next to. Or be in conflict with – all are imperative. For the characters push the plot. Push the agenda. And keep your audience interested till the end (Writer’s Digest has a good tutorial on this very topic).

For The Road To Mars I wanted to get this as right as possible. Each of my characters needed to feel natural. Needed to have predictable behaviors, yet be thrown into unpredictable circumstances. For it’s the unusual scenarios where development happens. Characters become more than a name on a page – they become (almost) like real people. Someone you or I can relate to. It’s key to telling any good story. And it’s key to transforming a book from I-read-five-chapters-now-I’m-done to, “Hey, when does the next one come out?”

I, for one, prefer the latter.

What is a writer’s responsibility?

Pilots fly things. Salespeople sell things. And accountants count things (my wife is an accountant so I know this to be true). So, by default, one would say writers write things. Or rather, it’s part of their job description. Write. Write. And write some more.

Sounds fun. If you’re into that sort of thing. Yet, what does a writer actually write about? Or what should he write about?

There seems to be plenty of voices in the world to begin with. There are people with opinions. People with experiences. People with opinions about their experiences. That’s a lot of topics to cover. However, most every book started with interest. What interested the writer. Because what interested them might ultimately interest someone else.

When I first started my writing journey, I wanted to be a satirist. That’s a fancy way of saying I wanted to be a “know-it-all-with-humor”. Think John Stewart minus the television program and New York roots. I thought I’d be able to break into the publishing world that way. There was a multitude of “know-it-all” books at the time too. And that seemed like a good way to “get ahead quick.”

Yet, that was the whole problem. What interested me wasn’t what I was writing about, but what was popular at the time. Yes, I believe I could be a great satirist when I wanted to (read my past work at your own discretion), but I couldn’t keep up the passion for it. Inevitably, I just couldn’t keep forcing it out of myself. I had some interest, but not enough drive. A change needed to happen.

So, I started by asking myself a couple questions. The most pertinent of which was like this: what would I like to read? What would I find to be exciting? And when I asked those questions, desire surfaced. And a book emerged – my first one. And hey, it felt really good. But, to that point, more began to pour out. Interest had brought me there, but passion and desire were driving me to completion.

So what’s a writer’s responsibility? First and foremost, discovering his or her desire. A powerful voice emerges from desire. And captures the attention of others when it does.

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.