The Trap of ‘Busyness’

hanging laundreyIt’s far too easy — for most indie writers these days — to rely on the general public’s apparent understanding of the phrase “I’ve been busy” in order to put off serious work on one’s manuscript.

Every writer I know is busy with days jobs, family and practical hobbies, usually in that order, and the rest of the world seems to accept and respect this state of being, one which pushes back on the established expectation that “serious” writers must produce a novel at least once a year.

Writers of old were considered to be “writers”,and often nothing more; they could hole up in a room for days on end, working feverishly or disappear on writing trips to far-flung corners of the earth. They might not produce anything for years, eschewing phrases like: “I’m in a funk”, “I’m blocked”, “I’m taking some times for me as an artist to recharge” etc. and then be properly censured for such notions by their harder-working peers. The average indie writer of today is a different animal.

It’s been two years since I finished a novel, going on three. I have three partially-finished ones, the longest of which is the third novel in my husband’s and mine Epic Fantasy series. We hashed out the plot in note form nearly a year and a half ago, and fans of the series have been clamoring for news of it’s completion for months. I type rather lame replies to the queries on our WordPress series blog, talking about how my husband and I write in-between our day jobs, our four young children and our organic vegetable garden, answers which have been — thus far — taken (as they are meant to be) at face value, and so with a surprising amount of understanding on the part of the public… and the trap of ‘busyness’ is sprung.

I am honestly a busy person. My family, household and garden take precedence over every other inkling in my life, and I am unapologetic about it. I hang my laundry outside to save both money and the planet. I grow organic veg to feed my family with and for bartering with the neighbors for lemons & honey. I scrub my house with natural ingredients for both healthy and lesser-footprint reasons. And then comes my various freelance jobs — that pay surprisingly well — from re-wording corporate brochures to writing advertisement pieces. When my children are out of school, its time for us to dive into extra-curricular learning, whether cooking, gardening, literature or just outside exercise.

Unlike many of my peers, the internet does not steal away much of my time these days. use it for the promotion of my husband’s and my books, to look up a recipe or research stock charts (a rather recent development) but little else. Anyone in my near social circle, including family members, would gladly testify to how little time I spend on social media; I only go on Facebook once a month, if that. I hardly have time to write a monthly blog or tweet. Months go by where I don’t interact at all with the smattering of indie writing communities across the Internet, and when I do I delete about 300 read requests — maybe getting to one or two of my fellow’s novels to remark on — and then try to reply to polite inquiries on the various pieces posted there. I left off doing book reviews at all two years ago, as there simply wasn’t time.

All that being said, the one and only problem with being busy — as an indie writer — is that I tend to lean on my various daily accomplishments as ample reasons why I don’t have to write as much as I could. In all honesty, I could write more often and for greater lengths of time, but that would require a little thing called discipline… a word that has already inserted itself into every other part of my life. The rigors and echoes of time-management are present in my home, my finances, my chores, my children and even my garden, which is as it should be. Tasks get accomplished that way: laundry is finished and folded, floors are cleaned in time for meals, food is prepared properly, plants are watered fully, errands are run on time and things just fall into place.

For a long time I looked at writing as the last bastion of free-spirited creativity that I possessed, at least until I began to sell books. Now, it’s a business, and a profitable business but one I rather tinker at verses working on in a dedicated fashion. One can make all the viable excuses in the world, but the truth is that I do have more spare time in which to write… I just don’t always do it. I’d much rather spend my free time writing poetry, or knitting in my backyard, enjoying the beauty of the tree and flowers verses slogging away on the less-inspiring sections of my novels, but that’s just my writing side being lazy. And the world is full of folks that can attest that the road to ruin is paved with “I’d rather do anything than work.”

Thank goodness for folks gifted with frankness for situations like these, who give advice that can be recalled, even now, with fondness. In this situation, my grandfather would have said:

“So, you’d rather starve than work?” “No.” “Then get off your ass and get workin’.”

Or, my personal favorite: “If you say you want to do it, then do it… or you’re just lyin’ to yourself.”

It boils down to me asking myself: How much do I really want to finish this book?

Answer: if I really want it done, then I will make time to do it.

Well, after stalling most of the morning, getting all my other chores out of the way, I left myself with little alternative but to do exactly that, and get several pages under the proverbial belt before vegetables must be found, picked and prepared for dinner.

* * *
L. R. Styles is a writer with Belator Books

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O’ Bending Light

{A short inspirational story}

“The sun is leaving now, painting in its wake a fleeting promise to return, as it sinks below the weathered wooden teeth of our fence.”

Muriel glanced up from her laptop and over, at the backyard fence. The aging planks indeed seemed to bite at the late afternoon sky. Warped with time, the fence was hideously in need of sanding and paint… or a sledge hammer. At the moment, however, Muriel didn’t see just the fence, for over its top the setting sun freely cast red and orange hues across the firmament. The fading rays tinted the fleecy rounded edges of the high gray clouds with their rosy breath.

Smiling at the scene overhead, Muriel closed her eyes, accepting a final warm kiss before the back fence swallowed the sun whole. A cool breeze stirred itself from slumber, fanning Muriel’s face the moment the last golden ray stopped lingering.

Opening her eyes once more, the woman was confronted by her decaying fence. Muriel regarded it with an impassive expression, deciding whether or not to let the warped details and gray hues sink into her notice.

A patch of dying Bermuda grass at its base arrested her gaze, however. Mercilessly shorn and stiff, the weeds resembled a wire sculpture, ragged and unyielding, clawing at the air in a last show of defiance. Muriel caught whiffs of the chemical bath she’d poured over the patch days earlier. She’d long given up pulling it out every month. With a snort she returned her gaze to the entire scene, eclipsing the one problem with many.

The weathered wood, the bleached, cut weeds, the bold snails coming out of hiding… these caught her eye and held it, her hackles building up behind each observance. As she glared, Muriel’s poetic eye felt blinded. She did not see the yellow roses blooming in one partially-shaded corner, or that the rose petals appeared to recline under the long, splayed boughs of the adjacent cedar. Her red and pink geraniums also went unnoticed, as did the sword ferns and hydrangea bushes that almost hid her aging fence.

Muriel saw beyond the beauty to the hidden, creeping things that sought to destroy the work of her hands… the imperfect, the uninvited, the broken and the out-of-place. The garden—sans sunshine—seemed grayer and only full of things yet to be done. Opening her laptop, Muriel wrote one last line in her tiny, Twitter field.

“O’ bending light, how well you hide life’s blemishes… or at least better their appearance.”

The breeze grew cooler as she typed. Shivering a little, Muriel hesitated in getting up from the still-present warmth of the chair. Her nightly routine was waiting within doors she knew. The vegetable garden needed watering as well; it waited patiently in its corner of the backyard, the plant fronds, buds and stems trailing expectantly over the raised edges of their beds.

“The sun has left me with my work,” Muriel wrote. “Tomorrow may it return to see a bit more of it completed.”

Posting her last tweet for the evening Muriel shut down the laptop and closed its lid with care. As she moved from the chair, her eyes were drawn once again, to the fence. Out of habit, she ruminated upon the cost of replacing the entire back fence, even with the cheapest-possible cedar slats one could purchase from the grandiose home improvement store, just a few miles away.

Muriel shrugged. A new fence… or a specialist root canal? Both cost about the same, even with their dental plan. The offending molar send down a twinge of pain as the twilight breeze drew more coolness into the air. Gingerly feeling the top of the tooth with her tongue, Muriel winced a little. She made a mental note to regale her children with yet another ‘brush-your-teeth’ admonition, perhaps with a few horrific pictures of massive tooth decay downloaded from the internet.

Smiling at the thought, Muriel stepped carefully through the main lawn on emerging, favored type of grass–Fescue but sowed a few weeks before–moving almost reluctantly towards the back fence. Chores and tasks silently called out again from inside the house, but something in the way the old slats leaned against one another made Muriel step closer, past the pruned shrubs to stand on what remained of the beleaguered Bermuda grass.

Muriel did not dare look to her left. Full well she knew what her eyes would see bordering the neighbor’s yard: a new, redwood fence in back, topped with finely beveled lattice, perfectly stained and treated against the weather, rimed by the most glorious, weed-free flowers one could ever wish to see. Looking at her own fence, Muriel wondered if her neighbors had paid for their fence project outright, or merely put it on a credit card.

“Card,” Muriel thought, scrutinizing her fence closely, “Unless Mindy’s husband has taken on a second job.”

Reaching out, she touched the ridged, pocked-marked surface of a loose board. Muriel felt the rough lines and wondered how tall the tree had been from whence it had come. Was it from a burned trunk, one of the many leavings of a rampant forest-fire? The scent of burning wood hung faintly in the air–Muriel noted–most likely from a fireplace down the street. The fire theory seemed plausible; the wood of the fence felt tragic to the touch, and it looked the part.

“Tragic… and yet you’ve looked out over this yard for over thirty years.”

The words left Muriel’s lips before she was even cognizant of thinking them. The idea struck her silent. She and her husband were not the original owners of this place, but they knew the man who’d built the house… and the fence. Her hand still touching the board Muriel felt a sudden sense of shame fall over her.

“I’ve let you fall apart,” said she. Though spoken quietly, the words of her admission seemed to hang in the air nonetheless.

Stepping back, Muriel’s foot brushed against a small stack of scrap lumber, leftover from making the garden boxes. Squinting down at the haphazard pile, Muriel remembered placing them there herself, thinking she’d return later that day and put them away. Scowling at her own forgetfulness, Muriel picking up the topmost piece of wood from the pile and shook it, dropping it back to Earth. A small black widow spider atop the board met a swift end under her shoe.

After inspecting the wood more thoroughly, Muriel picked it up again. Squinting at the fence she held the board up before it. She knew that she probably looked insane, standing there in the shade of the cedars, clutching her laptop to her chest with one hand and picking up wood scraps with the other. Smiling, Muriel set the piece down and continued searching. A few more spiders, a few more boards… and then, an epiphany.

One of the scraps bore a distinctly curved side, a left-over piece from a weekend project months before: an Adirondack chair, pieced together with the help of an old issue of Popular Mechanics and assembled with marginal success. Turning the piece of oddly-shaped wood over, Muriel glanced at a particularly sagged section of the fence.

“With a few more pieces,” she thought, “I can bolster up the fence… with tangible art.”

The breeze blew in the cedar branches overhead. The flat needles stirred up that strange, rushing sound only they knew how to make. It invigorated the very blood in Muriel’s veins to move, to do something other than complain and glare.

Haste was present in her movements as she put away her laptop. Muriel located gardening clothes; pulled from the baskets in the laundry room they still harbored that morning’s mud. Thusly arrayed, Muriel searched the sheds on the side of the house for more scrap lumber. She dragged out her husband’s old miter saw and two paint flecked saw-horses. A smile graced the woman’s face as she hauled over the scrounged bits of lumber and wayward bags of mismatched screws. The fence–blessed with one touch–soon felt many, along with the cool, metallic feel of a measuring tape upon its surface and the scraping of a stubby pencil. Muriel drew a rough sketch of the picture in her head on the back of an advertisement envelope, now plying an eraser, now biting her bottom lip.

The sharp buzz of the miter saw filled the backyard soon after, its noise gearing up to a tearing crescendo before tapering off to a low whine and then starting up again. Weathered bits of cut lumber stacked up next to the saw, one end as bright and new as the day it left the mill, the other graced with age and weather. Muriel paused between each to cross out yet another measurement, impatiently flicking her hair from her face.

Home from school, her children stood at the glass door to the patio, looking out into the backyard, plainly wondering where their dinner was. Muriel smiled at her offspring and waved them closer. Directing her oldest daughter to re-heat leftovers she sent her son to find his father’s hammer while the younger girls fetched the ‘outdoor’ plates.

“We’ll eat outside,” Muriel told them, turning off the saw. “Like a picnic.” Stepping over small piles of sawdust, they cleared the patio table and set up chairs.

Turning on the backyard floodlights, Muriel she marked and pre-drilled scraps of wood. Mosquitoes flocked to the electric light, all too willing to feast on the seated forms nearby. Muriel’s oldest daughter brought out a half-empty bottle of tea tree oil. Giving her neck and wrists a quick slather, her mother thanked her and resumed drilling.

With little hands to help hold the fence up, Muriel drove a strengthening stake on each end of the fence and set the first board–the curving Epiphany Board–across the fence’s drooping waistline. Making faces, Muriel drove galvanized screws deep into the wood. The fence beneath creaked and squealed at such treatment, but Muriel paid the sounds no mind. The initial glimmer of inspiration in her eyes gave way to one of determination as the next pieces were fitted, spaced and secured.

With each new addition the crude sketch —now fluttering amid the sawdust—transcended its two dimensions, ‘growing’ planes and lines with scope. An Escher-like fence began to emerge, with rotating curves and blunted points, neatly covering cracks and adding stability where none had been in over a decade. The lines of the boards seemed to mimic the shrubs in front, the flowers providing depth for the eye as well in their night-dampened colors and forms.

An hour passed, then two. Muriel stood back from the fence, looking at her handiwork as the children cleaned up dinner. It was a far cry from the neighbor’s staid and pricey border, standing so thin and erect to one side. The newly-enhanced wood-structure made up for its lack of status quo with dimension, with artistic curves and enough re-claimed items to make any green-minded relative crow with delight.

Tenderly feeling a newly-emerged blister on her hand, Muriel smiled at the fence with real joy as she stood amid scraps and sawdust. The moment swelled in her mind, putting words in her soul to utter… but she grabbed a broom before breaking out in verse.

 “O’ bending light, well you hide imperfection,

Though in your leaving you betray one’s pride;

How happy are we to live and let live,

To ignore that by which we daily guide.

O’ drenching sunshine in your wake

The idea sprung and work took hold;

Old and forgotten becomes used again,

And so with motions worth their gold.

O’ bending light, thy veil is needed no longer…”

A swift glance back, at her children, made Muriel laugh. The little faces—so like hers in feature and form–bore either uncertainty or an elevated eyebrow.

“One day you’ll like poetry,” said their mother. “Now, help me clean up before Daddy gets home from work.”

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Follow author L. R. Styles on Twitter @writerlrstyles

Steven & L. R. Styles write novels for sale on Amazon, with more in the works.

A Writer’s View: Driving

LRStyles2004Driving—to me—is a novelty, bordering on an altered state of being. One is in a metal and plastic ‘bubble’ of sorts, traveling along a road at a high rate of speed, always at either the verge of immanent death or arrival at one’s destination. Looking at all the people within the other cars as they pass—or are passed—makes for an interesting ride, every time. At least, for a writer it does.

The many diverse faces and colors never fail to amaze me, not to mention the expressions, hairstyles, actions and correlations between these things and the type of car or its present state at the time of passing.

I sit—with my notebook balanced on my knee—my latest chapter sprawled on the lined page in my own messy handwriting. As a car passes I glance at it through my window. The driver is singing to a song, nodding her head as her hair bobs up and down; beside her a pre-teen obliviously plays a game on their phone with ears budded. They drive on to wherever it is they are going. In the pages of my new chapter a preoccupied woman suddenly appears—along with her sullen child—busily walking past the main characters.

Next up in my view is a shiny SUV, harboring just one person—though it is capable of hauling five or six, complete with a polished wax job. My mouth falls open upon beholding the driver, for the young woman therein is putting on her makeup… while driving on the freeway. Cue one oblivious female character entering my pages, narrowly escaping the consequences of her own foolishness. Happily—and fortunately—no one, fictional or otherwise, is maimed this time.

A trucker powers by in the massive 18-wheeler. Through the high window I see him eagerly drinking from the enormous coffee mug in his hand. To me his face and posture rather resembles a medieval Viking, replete with untrimmed beard, sitting in a mead hall and ceaselessly downing golden liquid from a polished tankard.

*writing*

While the main characters—in each of our novels—are dearly conceived in my husband’s thoughts as well as mine, the lesser folk and faces that make but a brief performance on our literary stage are most often inspired by the strangers we see around us.

Said inspiration is in the quick nod of a head; the movement of the eyes; teeth flashing in conversation; long looks of boredom; the small smiles and bashful tilt of tiny chins; angry hand gestures and the sharp intake of breath… these are all important to the storyteller and can be captured in the few seconds it takes for a car to pass by my window.

L. R. Styles is an author with Belator Books

Once more, into the Books!

50012_library_mdFreelance work acts much like a word ‘vampire’ on the mind of a fiction writer. To be fair, reviews, articles and copy-laden ‘crowd sourcing’ jobs make up the bulk of available work these days… but, just as much as these rigorously tight bits of employment put money in one’s pocket, they also strip away a few petals from one’s personal Stash of Inspiration.

After a particularly busy fortnight of submitting various pieces, entries and bids—from articles and advertisements, to logos and corporate presentations—I found that my fingers had lost their vigor, and my mind was given to wandering. The non-retina screen of my laptop reflected a rather wan expression back to me in the dim light of the living room lamp; I normally find that particular light “charming” with its near-natural glow… but now it seemed to embody a sickly sort of glimmer.

I rubbed my eyes and pondered the best course of action. The digital page I stared at fairly begged to be written on, its voice merely one among the three fledgling novels my intrepid laptop harbors within its quasi-metallic maze. One of these–at least–must be completed before the end of the year, when it will be edited, formatted and InDesign’d into a shape recognizable by global eBook consumers. These things I knew and thought of and yet, still no words would come.

Setting my laptop to ‘hibernate’ I walked around my home, absently picking up stray jackets, shoes and books, calling attention to chores left undone by young folk–who really aught to know better by now—my hands finally going through the motions of making my nighttime cup of tea. My eye fell upon a paperback–left casually on the counter–a bookmark within still valiantly holding its owner’s place. Sipping the tea I picked up the book, and smiled at the title. My teenage daughter recently discovered the Cadfael mysteries, a favorite series of mine in high school. I had not read them in ages.

As I stood there–skimming the pages with half-thoughtful fondness–I began to read. I continued reading as I walked around locking various doors and closing window blinds. I read in the laundry room, switching clothes from washer to dryer with one hand. Nestled comfortably in bed I sipped my now-tepid tea with little notice, thinking that the aging 12th century monk was transplanting wintergreen a week earlier than I thought was called for and wondering why his good friend Hugh Beringar–the sheriff– was hovering just outside the wicket gate with a foreboding look upon his dark brow.

Good books have a strange phenomena embroiled in their pages. Not magic, but a coaxing sort of promise that feels its way along one’s arm and shoulder–stealing up to the ear ever so gently–all the while making its case in clear language, laced with a dash of ‘lyrical’. Good prose does not beg to be read, nor does it demand. You simply find yourself reading it, and subsequently words become enjoyable again. I read through the novel before drifting off to sleep, my catalog of aulde English (not to mention my inspiration) more than partially restored. Next morning, the more commercial projects were hurried through in favor of once more stepping into the proverbial breach, that ominous chasm between the blank and the book.

You must pursue it,” said Cadfael with sympathy. “You have no choice.”*

slender floral dividerL. R. Styles is a writer for Belator Books

*Dead Man’s Ransom, by Ellis Peters.

Write. Now.

Pen in HandMetaphors, similes and analogies–many will tell you–are useful teaching devices, a statement which (for the most part) is true. Said devices do not, however, help a writer to finish their book.

I googled the words “help with writing” the other day, just to see what my fellow writers had to say on the subject. Upon pressing the enter key I was hit with a plethora of meaningful metaphors, writing-is-like sentences and analogies from construction similarities to comparing writing to rowing a boat…. whoops, that last one was mine. As well-intentioned as most of these various phrases are, the only thing that will help the book/ piece/ article/ epic get written is to actually write it. “Pen to paper!” as my favorite English teacher would exuberantly instruct… or, for today’s writer, fingertips to keys.

Why is it so difficult for many writers (myself included) to get a lengthy piece completed?

The writer has the plot in hand; the characters are fully formed; the scenes are scripted, set and arranged; the action is waiting in the wings to be harkened forth; the emotions are balanced to play along with the mood of the moment… and yet, the enthusiasm with which the piece was begun has all but drained away. The writer is left forcing themselves to turn away from an endless number of distractions—all of which are suddenly imbued with the utmost importance (and will you look at all those weeds)–literally having to drag themselves back to the laptop in order to hammer out the scenes that they once started with undeniable energy.

As hapless as that situation seems, it’s just part of the job. Once embarking on a journey of prose you cannot expect the waters of life to always remain calm… oh my stars, I almost fell headlong into a rambling naval analogy, for which I have but little real life experience. Dear reader, I beg your pardon. Instead, I shall provide a cure… not for defeating writers ‘block’ so much, but for re-infusing oneself with that initial creative inspiration, that sparkle-in-the-eye which seems to dawn upon those burdened gifted with the quest of penning literature.

I found this ‘cure’ quite by accident: repeatedly entering the strange and quaint poetry contests that crop up now and again on websites like writerscafe.org. These are free to enter and take up only a little time; they spur one on with that oddly-consuming blanket of Competition. I’ve won a few such contests, but entering was the point of the exercise. A remarkable thing happens in the wake of writing a bit of sentimental frippery (or the detailed account of a dream) for an off-the-cuff contest: the cogs and wheels of the connected creative portions of my brain begin functioning again. Slowly, I start typing on my books with renewed vigor, which snowballs into more and more work being completed.

I’ve been a poet since the early days of middle school but I soon learned that poetry does not sell like fiction… not even close. However, poetry proves its worth in steering me back towards the notion that I can write. It also reminds me that I like to write, and then it reminds me again, and again… returning to inspire as many times as it is needed. The act of writing itself is what inspires, perpetuates and completes the piece. It is not as simple as sitting and bleeding at the typewriter (and I suspect a goodly number of writer suicides were in the process of testing that theory out) but it is work… real make-yourself-do-it-even-though-you-don’t want-to work.

Another tip: try staring at the screen and thinking to yourself “how nice it is to be able to sit here and write.”

The reality that most writers don’t think about is that writing doesn’t produce sweat, bruises or callouses; sometimes it doesn’t produce tangible payment–like the kind adjacent to sweat and dirt–however writing is at times ‘fun.’ It is an expression that few enjoy as well as those that must do it. It is an outlet like no other. Remind yourself of these things as you lay awake wondering how to get your book finished.

And, when you wake… write.


 

L. R. Styles is a writer for Belator Books

The Writing Couch

Where do you write?

For me, it is an antique wooden couch that once belonged to my great-uncle. I do not know exactly when it was made but taking in all the previous owners, it must be well over ninety years ago. In spite of its age it is very comfortable for sitting and napping alike… which a couch should be, if it possibly can.

It was given to my husband and I just after we arrived back from our honeymoon. Upon walking through the door of our apartment, it was sitting there with all our wedding gifts piled on top. Having no couch of our own, we were delighted with the unexpected surprise. The cushions, being well-used and rather garish in material, were covered over with a fluffy spare feather-bed and a linen duvet. Though it is most favored by myself, my man finds himself napping on it once in awhile. If any in the family is feeling ill they snuggle into it’s fluffy depths for comfort.

Besides it’s appeal as a pleasant piece of furniture, this couch is an unusual source of creative inspiration. This is no common bit of wood and cloth in my living room but a stalwart sailor, both experienced and sage. My great uncle was a sailing enthusiast and lived in Hawaii and Australia, sometimes simultaneously. The open sea was–to him–more home than any place else, especially in his latter years. He was so partial to this particular couch that he maneuvered it into the hull of his 40-foot yacht and took it with him each time he embarked. Couch abroad, he stopped at many of the ports most folks only read about or watch on the Travel channel.

Sailing along with the sunburnt white-haired adventurer, this couch of mine has been around the globe four times in all. Often my great uncle would wrestle it up onto the deck under the shade of a looped length of sail just so he could nap in comfort. Thus the couch sat in the air of many exotic places, soaking in salt and spices, fresh breezes and humid, fragrant zephyrs.

I was understandably pleased to get this piece of furniture from my cousins (now grown with couches of their own) and have cared for it well; it has graced the living room of every apartment we’ve lived in as well as our current home. My children babbled and played on it as babies, used it for stability as they toddled around on uncertain legs and jumped off it as they grew older. Now we crowd onto it to watch a documentary or use it as a ‘parliament bench’ when having our family meetings.

During the day, once all my work is mostly done (snickering at “done”) I take up my trusty laptop and sink into the deep depths of the couch with a sigh. Just sitting on it makes one reflect upon the scenes it has witnessed; the places I hear of or read about are all the more real knowing the couch has actually been there. I do not know why or how to explain it but when I am seated upon this particular couch, reclined back and typing away, ideas flow far better and with more literary flavor than in any other place I have ever written.

A couch that inspires is rare indeed and it shall be in our family a good, long while. Whichever of our children whom marries and leaves our home first will most likely get the couch, if I can be persuaded to part with it.

Until then, back to typing…

L. R. Styles is a writer for Belator Books