To Each {Writer} Their Own

Writers That Cook.fwThere’s a very good reason why many a writer has–at one point or another–chosen to shrug on the mantle of “recluse” and then acted accordingly. Whether it was Hemingway closeting himself in an attic with a dozen cats and a few cases of booze, or Thoreau living off the grid, sleeping in fields, wandering and mulling lines aloud to himself, or the prose-wielders that merely shielded themselves behind pen names and wrote under the seemingly innocuous employ of “housewife”… writers know that they are susceptible to distraction. And–in this–I am no exception.

Being a recluse would indeed be a relatively easy solution to today’s distractions, but it has several unromantic drawbacks. One could disappear and refuse to answer emails, phone calls, or do anything else other than write, pretending the outside world does not exist… however, one then runs the risk of isolating/ignoring family and loved ones, possibly resulting in not being present for important occasions or–Heaven forbid–a tragedy. Hemingway–to name but one example–could probably have wallpapered the walls of his attic with several sets of divorce papers.

Also, there is the lack of accountability; left to one’s own devices, one could conceivably fritter away the time on non-writing endeavors. Against such arguments a writer must weigh the merit of a distraction-less environment to complete a book (which is by no means a guarantee). For me, the responsibilities of Family, Home and Garden are far more weighty than gaining a small amount of notoriety for myself, or even procuring more of the slim amount of the eBook market that my husband and I already possess (approx. $250 a month in repeating royalties).

All compare and contrast of writers in isolation aside, less-extreme measures do exist; several of my fellow authors embark on writing ‘trips’ once or twice a year, during which they blog almost constantly and–more often than not–return refreshed, with a fair amount of real work accomplished, as well as an impressive slew of photographs. Not everyone can afford such inspirational trysts, however.

My husband and I frequent a nearby Panera restaurant, once a month or so when our oldest daughter  can get away to babysit for a few hours. In an empty corner, we sip hot coffee and munch pastries, sharing a set of earbuds and listening to my recording of the latest book-in-progress (we use Audacity to record). Doing so allow us to edit, prune and graft more quickly and with less distraction than simply reading a word file out loud. In lieu of taking our attention away, the people in the restaurant around us merely galvanize us to work harder; they might be fans, after all… or future types thereof. Our presence acts as a curiosity in of itself; a few discreet inquiries by members of the nearby knitting club moves the needle of hourly web stats a bit further to the right.

In my daily writing grind, however, I cannot boast of rising early in the morning in order to write. Indeed, we do often awaken in the dawn-lit hours, but at that time of day it is difficult for me to form spoken sentences, let alone written ones that would successfully pass the hawk-like gaze of our editor.

The house must be routed from bed, fed and sent on their way, whether for schooling or to work. My ample vegetable garden requires a morning watering schedule and weeding that eats a good hour up. Then comes laundry, washed carefully and hung outside to dry in keeping with our smaller-carbon-footprint goals (which saves us $50 a month in electricity)  and then comes vacuuming, dusting and mopping. I have found that I rather like having a clean home, for not only ourselves but the odd impromptu guest, which seem to appear in tandem with the tomatoes ripening.

Finally, I come to the writing hours. Each day I get 3-4 hours of uninterrupted writing moments. It is then that I delve into the carefully-woven realms, spiced with humanity and action, tears and laughter, work and play all wound about  a column of reality… but not quite touching it. It is absorbing work, and if I did not glance at the clock every so often, my family would arrive back home to find me still under the pergola typing away, with the cleaning not completed, the laundry half-done, the garden wilting and dinner not even begun.

It is with reluctance that I stop writing to work with my hands, but it is essential to the books that I do. My main characters are nearly always common, working folks that are frankly familiar with rain, dirt, sweat, discomfort and disappointment. None know what it is like to be idle, and likewise none are arrogant. If writing what you know is essential to good fiction, then I could not know, unless I worked alongside such imagined companions with my own two hands.

Call my other work distraction, call it experience… call it what you will. I remain yet unashamed of not being able to devote all my time to writing. The books my husband and I write are few and far between; indeed, it takes us a year or more to produce one, but each title is sprinkled with reality, real experiences and poignant, tangible details that most folks–regardless of age, culture or creed–can relate to.

They are written with care and envelope within their twists and turns many a weekend discussion on the merits of one plot point or another, before both writers arise from the booth to return to the role of Parents, Husband and Wife.

To each his own. What works for you, so do… and let neither the scorn nor scoffs of another deter you.

~ ~ ~

L. R. Styles is an author and co-author of fiction with Belator Books

The Waltz

dancing_20052_mdA few, simple notes dance

Atop a bed of chords

How well each layer pairs

How moved am I to hear

Though my energy be gone

Though my tired limbs be stayed

I wish nothing more than

To rise and join the dance

The music–in me–stirs

Its notes pour in like balm

Oh, it fills the cracks in me

Oh, my soul sings harmony

Once more I play the song

Once more I sway and sing

Happiness within me grows

Loneliness never stirs


L. R. Styles is an author with Belator Books

The Death of a Cup

1 fZOmYVoxSftlIbFQscFhKQA few minutes ago, I dropped my favorite cup on the driveway.

I could easily blame it on the particularly strong gust of wind that bandied my front yard at that moment (indeed, is still doing so outside) or, that my grip was weakened because my knuckles really wanted to be cracked and weren’t. I’d resisted the urge to do so, in order to prove I could. For this I silently congratulated myself as I stood in the wind outside, seeing my husband off to work.

It must have happened quickly—Sir Isaac Newton (I am certain) would assure it me that it did— but the event, itself, seemed inexplicably slow. As a gust of wind ratcheted up—sounding like a small jet engine chewing a million dry leaves—the cup simply leaped from my fingers. I felt its loss instantly, for the cup took the warmth of my hand with it. My fingers tingled with a puzzled sort of alarm. I watched my cup fall down in an elegant spiral motion, the last bits of its coffee splayed outward with the centrifugal force. And then it stopped. The cup was whole and then it exploded, sending shards of itself about and coming to rest in the most tragic kind of heap possible for ceramic to attain.

I have connected with few objects in my life. Influenced as a youngster, by a practical Scottish grandmother, I regard most material things as resources to be either used or passed on to those who can. But, no ordinary cup was this. It found me… rather than I finding it.

In browsing the aisles of a local thrift store—a half decade ago—I brushed up against a slightly rickety display rack of ceramics. The cup in question fell from a higher shelf and—in a highly unusual display of dexterity on my part—I reached out and caught it.

It was a pale blue latte coffee cup that some hobbyist potter had crafted to mimic a fashionable ceramic plate design popular in the 90’s. One of the cup’s sides featured a delicate stem of cherry blossoms; its handle seemed to fit my slender fingers perfectly. I liked the weight in my hand at once; the matte, powder-like glaze appealed to me, seemingly unassuming compared to its glossier peers. Turning it over I saw no date nor maker’s mark. I looked for more such cups and found the unknown potter had made twins, along with two bowls and two small plates. Purchasing the lot for less than $20, I helped the check-stand girl wrap them in newspaper and took them home to use. That night I made my own version of Tom Ka Gai—a delicate and delicious Thai soup—not in homage to the maker’s continent, but because I felt like the new dining items deserved to serve it.

Those with children know how much they assist one in getting over attachments to material objects. In less than two years all the cherry blossom pottery was broken beyond repair… except for the cup that had leaped from its shelf to join my hand. It sported a small chip on one side by the handle—a parting gift from a near brush with a garden trowel—which, in my mind, merely added to the cup’s character. When full of steaming coffee or tea, my cup held just the right amount of stimulating liquid to get through an op-ed article, or four pages of fiction, or a poem, or a phone call to a relative.

As I stood over the cup’s remains this morning, staring down at the pieces on my driveway, I felt dazed both by my own clumsiness and the surreal nature of its fall.

“Aw… that was your favorite cup, wasn’t it?” my husband called, from the driver side window of our car. I nodded and looked over, giving him a quick ‘don’t worry, I’ll clean it up smile,’ one he’s seen many times since children were introduced into our household. Knowing instinctively that words in such a case are useless, my husband gave me a sympathetic half-smile before backing down the driveway.

Kneeling down on the wet surface of the porous cement, I picked up the tiny shards with care, feeling a ridiculous wave of sadness wash over me. I silently mocked myself for feeling bad about it, knowing full well how much real cause for grief is present in our world. Carrying the cup’s remains to the trash bin, I dropped them in without ceremony, letting go of yet one more thing.

Inside the house, a row of other such vessels met my eye in the cupboard. Briefly, I searched for a particular shape before I caught myself. The last of the coffee was poured in another object; it felt different in my hand but adequately conveyed the warm liquid to my mouth as it was designed to do.

The death of a cup, however endearing, did not dampen the sounds of wind outside, nor cause the steady sounds of typing to halt. Yet, it did inspire me to write—one last time—with prose leaping to mind as readily as the cup fell into and out of my hand.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

L. R. Styles is an author for Belator Books

It Pays To Be Swayed

An indie writer is a strange creature, even by the standards of today’s market with the ingrained expectation of ‘multitasking’ members.

Ten years ago, when my husband and I began to devote the majority of our free time to writing novels I did not think I would need to learn marketing, social media, make connections, maintain an online presence or delve into writing genres that I otherwise would have even looked at in a bookstore. But, I have been swayed to think otherwise and–more importantly–to do all of the above.

Marketing on the cheap is a hard sell, but to the average indie writer/publisher it is often the only option until they get more sales with which to pay for better services. It is a huge amount of work, and getting data with which to formulate your marketing strategies takes up even more time and effort. Books sales statistics are hideously expensive but a here and there kind organizations reveal little hints of said information to sort through and glean from. These gems among the rough swayed us to keep looking, gathering and polishing until the beauty of applicable data revealed itself.

To traditional business folk, this sounds all backwards.”They told me to get a business loan”might be found written on the tombstone of many a failed entrepreneur. Perhaps that worked for some businesses, maybe most, but not everyone is in a position–nor harbors the inclination–to shoulder a large amount of debt before their product has been proven profitable.We were swayed to launch our books ourselves, without a loan and without expensive PR services, paying for prepossession editing out of the profits.

A flooded eBook market has its benefits, such as a glut of data. To us, the trends are little more defined as more indie writers enter the market, showing up as trampled digital pathways pointing to what consumers really want. Studying our slowly-garnered free stats, we noticed the alarming dive of literary fiction, the pop-trends of supernatural-type fiction and the rather stagnant line historical fiction wound itself into over the recent years. Epic Fantasy showed promise however, so we were swayed to drop our other novel projects and dust off my husband’s EF series. We sank our time and effort into making those books as good as we were able.

The results surprised us… greatly. After launching in the last week of this February, we’ve made more in royalties int he months since than we thought possible–a little over $14K–utilizing free self-marketing, social media, blog posts and non-obtrusive (no spam) ads.

We’ve been swayed to branch out into other genres as well, to help our brand gain more recognition. Romance Fiction has captured our attention as the rising genre; we’ve released just such a novel for that vast audience in the same month as our 18th wedding anniversary. This winter we’re planning to release the third book in our Epic Fantasy series and have a sci-fi time-travel novel ‘in the works’ for release next year.

In this crowded market, struggling indie writers need to sway themselves to become super business folks: capable of altering their business model in a single season, able to recognize and adapt to the ever-shifting book market, write both relevant and opinion-laden blogs on the industry, search out more free corners of the Web to post unobtrusive ads and, finally, entice (not drive) new customers towards their desired platform profile.

slender floral divider

L. R. Styles is an author with Belator Books

Fair Weather Writing

woman writing under a tree

Almost since the publishing industry’s inception, it seems, book sales have suffered drastically during the summer months.

Fine weather is—rather unfairly—labeled the sole culprit, but it is more its effect on people that is to blame. The golden rays of the sun seem to induce strange actions in humans all over the Northern Hemisphere, causing them to burst into song or give into the sudden inkling to find a field of flowers and run through it–when they think no one is looking—perhaps accompanied by an indiscreet whoop and holler. And… despite a bevvy of trendy commercials–picturing folks sitting by the seaside in a curving chair, swiping their way through a good digital book on their dedicated devices–eBook sales drop just like those of their paper counterparts.

Large online platforms try to remedy this seasonal slump by cutting prices across the board so that the pain can be borne by many shoulders. I cannot really blame companies for slashing prices, though—to me–it brooks of desperation. Surely there is a better way to garner the attention of folks other than promising rock-bottom prices for literature slaved over by its writers, but I have yet to find a better solution to offer. Folks do love a bargain…

The consumer is the big winner in summer, able to cruise the lists of freely falling book fares and stock up on reading material until the winter holiday sales begin. Such is the climate in which the indie writers and self-pubbers of the world finds themselves in summer. Most writers I know remedy this odd state of being by writing feverishly so that they have a brand new book to offer come autumn.

Fair weather holds little sway over many wielders of the pen. Oh, most writers appreciate nature, and utilize it’s beauty to color our scenes and set some of our stages… but it is often viewed with an outsider’s eye. Through a window–or under the protection of a pergola–writers sit and watch and make notes… smiling at the folks charging over a city soccer field… shaking one’s head at the bold youth diving off a bridge trestle into the murky river waters below… messily writing down every little detail of the witnessed frivolity, much like a painter trying to capture the effect of changing light on leaves.

Why not join in, one may well ask. A fair question… one that could similarly be asked of the cameraman who records the film that wins an award statue. Some are made to stand on the outskirts and see, notating or filming as they go. Indeed, some prefer to step back and observe life as it happens rather than be constantly in its midst. I’m certain many writers and artist have felt as I do, and yet find it hard to explain “why.”

My oldest daughter once asked me how the world looks to me, as writer. I told her–without hesitation:

“It’s like being in the eye of human hurricane, an eerie calm surrounded by varying winds speeds and raw displays of power… and yet there are moments of beauty and unrivaled color.”

Her surprised expression led to a more gentle explanation, but… she did ask. She dove headlong into music, I am happy to say; I don’t feel all that sorry that the pen held little allure for her, or the others. My children all have the care-free ability to play in the golden sun, not feeling that pull to stop, to look and whisper a few lyrical lines to themselves in order to solidify the moment in their mind. They merely run and shout… and wouldn’t even think of reading a book, until later, when the sun has set and their limbs are tired.

I watch them in contented silence, writing away… not minding in the least that my fingers muscles are the only part of me anyone would label “dexterous.”

 ~ ~ ~

L. R. Styles is a writer for Belator Books

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

By Any Other Name…

Writer StalledFiguring out the names of one’s character or one’s book makes most writers feel–at one point or another–more than a little stalled out… for lack of a better phrase.

Don’t worry about the name of your character,” one of my English teachers would say, whilst striding down an aisle of desks, hands clasped behind her back. “Call him John Smith or Buffo Neilsen… but just get the story written. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”

I spent the rest of the allotted “brainstorming” time that day wondering how sweet a rose would smell if its name was “cactus”… or “dunghill.” It just didn’t sound right, I thought. Shortly thereafter I realized the inherent importance of hitting upon the right name… the sound.

Most folks agree that sounds at least ‘helps’ with defining who we are. Music moves the human soul, eases the inward desire to speak, hear and be heard. Poets sometimes agonize over a single syllable in their prose, illustrating another aspect of sound: its ability to instantly express the differences between one human and the next. Thus, a hearing/speaking fiction writer feels at a loss if said figure in their head has no name bestowed upon them… their very own audible, spoken, readable identifier.

Certainly one can–conceivably–write about _________ (heroine of the book) day after day with a measure of success. It is possible. However, many writers feel as I do, that a person’s name helps shape their character and often can even influence one’s decisions. A character named Cecile, for instance, may turn out very different than an identical-looking one called Griselda, or worse…

Most kindergarten-age children are well aware that one’s name can be a source of endless amusement for their fellow schoolyard inhabitants and can alter their experience of education altogether. A pretty girl named Snot—for example–would likely find very little solace in her looks; she’d be railed upon—unfairly–by her peers, never allowed to be at ease, and probably grow to either hate her fellow human—including the strange people that named her–or grow more mired in misery and depression until she reached the legal age to change it to something less “gross.” Snickers would invariably ensue each time poor Snot appeared, and would maybe keep her from focusing on her studies provoking an incorrect diagnosis of “ADD” or “dyslexic,” leading to even more ridicule.

The names of your book characters notwithstanding, coming up with the piece’s title has caused many a writer grief and elation… often within the same minute. Certainly the piece can be written without it, but you are not alone if you’ve agonized over the title of your book much the same way as a poet has walked in circles–gripping their leaking pen–searching for that exact word that pinpoints the emotion they feel, barking at anyone that dares interrupt with such petty matters as food or water. If the title is not “right”–if it fits not the piece for which it is intended–many writers feel they cannot continue until it is figured out, to the utter amusement of their non-writing compatriots.

Come on… it’s just a title,” a relative/friend/co-worker might say. “What’s the big deal?” The inquirer is–more often than not—mystified by the cold glare directed their way upon uttering the the above sentence, or something like it, which is the milder of the possible replies in a writer’s arsenal (just behind the sharp retort of “Asking that question merely proves your inability to comprehend the answer.”) {writer stalks off stage left}

Would you want to smell a dunghill? No. But a rose… why, yes, you probably would. Maybe you wouldn’t read a book called The Vertically-Challenged Initially Mediocre Fictional Being… but you might just read The Hobbit. Names and titles do matter; perhaps not as much as plot, nor the proper use and placement of adjectives–and their verb counterparts–but labels are pivotal to a writer’s human characters, as well as the title of the piece they have worked so very hard on.

So, bear in mind these rather biased notions from a fiction writer before giving the prose-creator you know a hard time as they stand out on the roof of their apartment building in the rain, grimacing at the parapet wall–mumbling to themselves—inwardly weighing “Drakyr” verses “Gnylor” as the label by which the epic villain in his mind is known and feared. Yelling out “just pick one already” may not deprive the literary realm of a proper foe, but it just might induce the rather damp and irritated writer to turn around and consider your name–not as the strong hero–nor the feared villain, but for the deformed and hated minion everyone kicks to make themselves feel better…

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