When a story “stays with you”

It’s 1989. I’m five. And it just so happens to be Christmas. I open my first present: a VHS copy of my soon-to-be-favorite movie monster, Godzilla. I watch it. It’s a horribly made dub, but I’m in love. Giant mutant dinosaurs wrecking cities with the theme of nuclear proliferation has me hooked. And from then on, I’m convinced the greatest thing I can do as a grownup is become a monstrous reptile myself (keep in mind, I’m still five at this point).

Flash forward to 1997. I’m in my English reading class. The teacher asks me what my interests are. I sheepishly admit science fiction and “monsters”. He selects Dune by Frank Herbert. I read through the novel – understanding little, but absorbing much – and when I’m done, I feel like I’ve been to another galaxy, another world entirely. One that’s full of monsters and sci-fi goodness.

Now, it’s 2013. A friend has been suggesting I read Ender’s Game for a long while. I finally take the plunge and read it. And I love it. Not only is it good (to me), but I find myself recognizing similar storytelling techniques that I might employ as a writer. Soon, the idea that I could write a full-scale novel comes alive. And I start writing that said novel, finishing in the latter half of 2015.

So what’s the point of all this? For one, I’m still a fan of Godzilla. For two, I am still a fan of Herbert’s original Dune saga and for three, I’ve read plenty more of the Ender series since reading the original Ender’s Game. Why? Because each of these stories had an impact on me. They had that “it” factor. But, most perhaps importantly, they stayed with me. We’ve all seen a movie or read a book we’ve found to be entertaining. But, was it good enough to come back to? Again? And then one more time? Aside from the three stories I listed, I can think of a few others that have had that affect on me. I’m sure you can think of your own list too. Often it’s just the right timing. Other times, it’s just our interests being realized through story. And yet, in some instances, it’s a good story that grabs us and doesn’t let go.

As a writer, I tend to desire many things: great sales, a following of dedicated readers, maybe a movie deal, to name a few. But, one of the greatest compliments I can receive is a reader who not only reads my work, but comes back a second time to read it again. And a third. And maybe even a fourth. Because that’s when you know you’ve written a good story. It stays with someone. It doesn’t end on the last page. It just keeps going, reigniting that magic you felt when you were five. And that’s a great feeling, as I can recall.

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.

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.

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!

 

 

#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.

Imagining Reality…Or Realizing the Imaginary?

Often, Hollywood (or some literary mastermind) comes up with something interesting. An idea. A concept that screams, “Hey, we could be experiencing this someday.” In my last post, I talked about our cosmic neighbor, Mars, and how we found some water there. Again, that was big news. But, to anyone who has been reading science fiction for the past 100 years, it should have come as no surprise. Or rather, it was to be expected. Or maybe it was exciting / expected / holy-cow-those-sci-fi-nuts-were-right? Well, either way, I felt the need to look into it further.

Early 20th century writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (author of Tarzan), wrote a series of books about a character named, “John Carter.” You may recognize the name as it was made into a film a few years ago. Unfortunately, John Carter was not the mega-hit Disney had hoped for (I still liked it and am hoping for a follow up, personally). However, that’s not as important as this: Carter’s tale takes place on Mars. A Mars in which the author, Burroughs, imagined to be devoid of toxic wasteland and instead, be flowing with – hey, you guessed it – water. Now, was Burroughs taking secret trips back and forth to Mars? Discerning there was salt water on the red planet? No, that’s insane. But, he did have the creative sense to think outside the box. He imagined it. And he went for it. Turns out, that presumption was correct.

As for all the green aliens and people with red skin walking around? Yeah, that wasn’t exactly spot on. But, hey, that water though….

Sometimes, like in Mr. Burroughs’ case, imagination meets reality on a collision course. I recently finished reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender series and made another interesting discovery. One of Card’s main characters is a computer program named, “Jane.” Doesn’t sound groundbreaking to have a computer program with a female name, but here’s the deal: “Jane” speaks via a device implanted in one’s ear. Sound familiar? Yeah, it sounds like a bluetooth device. And Siri, too. But again, Card’s books were written before we took bluetooths seriously. Or had Siri answering questions like, “Do you love me?”

Now, does sci-fi always get it right? No, not exactly. I’m sure there are plenty examples out there. And I’m sure we could name them. But, point is: sometimes our imaginations point to what could be. While in other cases, our imagination exceeds anything we could possibly do. At least for now anyway. The Star Wars franchise is synonymous with hyper drives and lightspeed travel. Can it be done? Well, the answer is unequivocally, undeniably….maybe?

Perhaps my kids will see it. Or their kids will. At which point, I’m fine with that generation having a go at it. I’ll be happy watching from the sidelines.