Saturday, August 30, 2014

5 Warning Signs to Avoid Getting Involved with an Altruistic Narcissist

When you are in a relationship with a narcissist, it is highly likely that you feel like you’re walking on eggshells. One minute your partner is loving – praising you for all of your positive attributes, announcing how they will support you until the end of time and moving heaven and earth – just to be there for you. The next minute however, when you question their opinions, offer constructive criticism, or dare to set boundaries with them…watch out.

Most narcissists are exceptionally skilled at appearing especially giving, caring, loving, and supportive. In fact, their “generosity” or “selflessness” (as they like to put it) can be considered by many to be over-the-top. They don’t just love you – they ADORE you. They don’t just want to offer you advice on your business, they want to be involved in EVERY step of it so they can “guide or mentor” you with their wisdom. They don’t just support you – they want to SAVE you…from what? Who knows?

There are several different types of narcissists, but for this blog post, I will focus on Altruistic Narcissists because of all the subtypes, these individuals are sometimes difficult to spot. Their display of generosity and charitable behaviors often fool people into thinking that they are genuinely giving or supportive without needing to take credit. Here in lies the difference between individuals who do altruistic acts over Altruistic Narcissists:  Altruistic narcissists do all that they do for others, in order to be able to proclaim it to others or to feel self-important.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Got a Job

Most  writers have “real” jobs that help us afford necessities like rent, car insurance, and tequila. Often we feel those jobs are something we have to do in order to survive and we pray for that one big break which will prove to the whole world that we’re a writer, damn it, so take this minimum wage job transcribing medical records for hypochondriacs and shove it into the Mariana Trench (where the sun don’t shine)!

Treating the Pain of Rejection

You can't get a handful of rejections and stop submitting—that's not how publishing works. This is a game with more than a handful of players. Every great book has a best-fit publisher for it but you can't skim the pool and expect to net it with just a handful of attempts.

We have to accept the facts: most of us are going to have to make several submissions and face several rejections before we get the acceptance that our book deserves. Those rejections are going to hurt.

The treatment isn't easy, either. Over-the-counter analgesics provide little relief and self-medicating with alcohol only causes hangovers and the need for intense revisions later on. What's a poor writer to do?

The Treatment
The only way writers can avoid rejection is to avoid submitting work. Considering that abstinence is a pretty harsh therapy, I suggest you do the exact opposite: submit everything, submit often, submit everywhere. Kind of a hair-of-the-dog approach.

It's my homeopathic remedy to the rejection blues…keep submitting and eventually the sting of rejection goes away.

The principle of similars (or "like cures like") is a central homeopathic principle. The principle states that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people.

Never mind that many studies have suggested that homeopathy is no more effective than placebo. But think about it: placebos that work prove that mind over matter works. Positive thinking works.

That's serious medicine for all writers.

Frequent exposure to rejection helps us build a tolerance. We develop thicker skins. Now, I am not suggesting we put out faulty work, poor writing, or sub-prime manuscripts for the sole purpose of amassing rejections. Our goal is acceptance, remember? Once you run out of agents on your list…then what?

Luckily, we can submit our work to places other than agents or editors.

Contests: A Litmus Test Before Submitting to Agents
When I finished my first novel, I wanted a litmus test before I started flinging it at agents. I wanted to toe the waters of publishing before of plunging in. I wanted to feel my way cautiously through the dark instead of bumbling through it.

Fortunately, I came across an article that described an author's journey to publication that suggested entering contests. I vowed to enter every contest I could for an entire year--but the practice proved so useful I never stopped.

Upsides to entering: Contests have judges who rate your work, as well as cool things like winners and prizes and glory. Remember—not everyone wins and most entrants end up with a contest-sized rejection.

However, the rejection is often of the personal variety. Look for contests that will return a score sheet (many post the score sheet on-line beforehand so you can see what you're going to get.) My favorite contests are those that encourage judges to leave comments. (I once got a twenty-five page entry back, line-edited. Thank you, free copy editor, because you saved me five dollars a page. *smiley*)

Contests also provided great feedback. When I first started entering contests, I had zero access to a writer’s critique group and an equally round number of beta-readers. The judges became my circle of well-meaning peers. Thanks to the feedback, I made some excellent revisions. (I also learned to ignore a lot of personal opinion, just like in a real group. That's part of building your immunity to rejection syndrome.)

Downsides? Sorry, but there are a few. Entry fees, first and foremost. For instance, some romance manuscript contests can cost anywhere from ten to fifty bucks a pop. Romance writers who belong to Romance Writers of America can often enter RWA contests for a discount; many writer group-sponsored contests offer similar discounts to their members. Despite the discounts, though, the fees add up.

Not winning is a downside, too, but here is where the homeopathy comes in. These contest-sized rejections can be crushing, especially if the judges shred your entry. Your resolve to be a writer has to be stronger than those negative forces. Most contests require their judges to provide ENCOURAGING feedback but there are judges who are simply not going to jive with your pages.

You may unwittingly get a lot of practice not taking rejection personally.

My advice is to do it one score sheet at a time. If a loss was so massively rejectional, put it down and come back to it when you're ready. Even the worst scores might come back with helpful suggestions and you may find something helpful once you've prepared yourself.

Keep in mind that these kinds of "rejections" cannot hurt you. They don't ruin your chances of getting your best work in front of a coveted agent or editor. In fact, they do the opposite: contest feedback may point out a flaw you missed, a spot of slow pacing, an opening that doesn't work the way you thought.

Most contests deal with opening pages or a first chapter—the same partial that an agent or editor would see. If a contest helps you improve those pages, it also improves your chances of being read further, thereby reducing the probability of a rejection.

So, in a nutshell: like cures like. See? It's all quite scientific.

I can handle rejection a lot better now than I did back when I first started to submit my work. I can handle judge's comments better, too, because after entering dozens of contests, I've had enough feedback to know what works, what doesn't, and what is subjective commenting vs. objective feedback.

Although I'm now published, I'm not safely past the point of pain--thanks to the realm of reviews. I've had a handful of reviewers who didn't love my books as much as I do, so day brings another opportunity to be "rejected" again. My experiences have made me stronger and more capable of handling adversity. I won't say I'm immune to the pain of rejection but, these days, it'll take a lot more than a "no" to cause a setback for me.

After all, if a thing doesn't kill you, it can only make you stronger, right?

And that's pretty much homeopathy.


Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash at for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press) or stop by . Ash is also a contributing editor at the QueryTracker blog.  .

Monday, August 25, 2014

Weird Things Writers Do

by Holly West

Writers are a weird bunch. I can say this because I'm a writer, right?

Here are some of the weird things writers do:

1) We have an aversion to wearing pants.

When I first discovered this about writers, I couldn't stem the barrage of mental pictures I had of my writer friends sitting around, writing in their underwear. While I'm sure this is the case for some of them, I soon realized that this distaste for wearing pants didn't necessarily mean the total absence of apparel on one's bottom half. Apparently, pajamas, yoga pants, sweats, and shorts, don't count as pants. Given the frightening visions I'd been having, it was a comforting thought, especially since once these articles of clothing were eliminated from the pants category, I understood that I was a pants-less writer too.

I offer you this picture of the pjs I'm wearing now as proof (it's 3pm):

Friday, August 22, 2014

At the Heart of Poetry

As a college student just beginning to write poems, I heard Nina Cassian, a Romanian poet granted political asylum in the US, state her belief that poets should write the world's history books. Her statement shocked me. I was uncertain what she meant then, but as I've thought about it over the years, read and written more poetry, I've come to understand. 

Poems don't necessarily record the precise details of a person, event or place. Instead, they isolate a moment and shine a flashlight into its heart. In this way, poetry exposes emotion before it reaches the intellect, and moves the reader to discover the experience in new, perhaps more poignant ways.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

8 Female Characters That Are Strong AND Likeable.

There is a debate in literature and film that rages on like a Rush Limbaugh commentary: Can female characters be strong AND likeable? The obvious answer, of course, is yes, but the prevailing wisdom on the internet--found during a recent foray I made there--indicated otherwise: Strong females come across as bitchy, and nice girls are pushovers. Now, before you fly off the handle on me, keep in mind that I did not make this up. I found it on the web--and that means it has to be true. In this case, however, there were a lot of intelligent people, authors in general and Claire Messud in particular, weighing in on the matter, saying a lot of intelligent things that gave credence to the actual existence of a controversy.

But I don't want to rehash the controversy--and I do recommend you read the PW interview with Claire Messud. What I do want to do is to bring to your attention 8 female characters (in movies and books) who--through the skill and imagination of the their authors--are both strong and likeable. It was a difficult job, or would have been difficult anyway, had I not had access to some of the most facile and creative minds of our times--I speak, of course, about the ProseCons. I call them my ectopic writing brain. And so without further ado--it's almost 9pm EST and my bedtime approaches--here they are. (In the order they slipped into my inbox.)

Amy Dunne (Gone Girl)

1) For those of you who didn't read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, what are you waiting for? In the words of Joe Clifford, editor and author of Lamentation, Amy Dunne 'fights dirty, is self-centered(aware)/strong, believes in an eye for an eye, and refuses to lose, even if it means cutting off her nose to spite her face.' I agree, Joe, my kind of girl.

 Arya Stark (Game of Thrones)

2) All you Game of Thrones fans out there--and there are many--will have no trouble concurring with this choice. In the modern vernacular, she is quite simply 'the bomb,' but Garrett Calcaterra, writing coach, beer affeciando and author of Dreamwielder, says it better: 'Arya is smart, passionate yet calculating, and pisses in the face of traditional gender roles.'


Scarlett O'Hara (Gone With the Wind)

3) Almost everybody has read the book and/or seen the movie, and almost everybody likes Scarlett O'Hara. Susan Clayton-Goldner, novelist, poet and author of A Question of Mortality, explains why: 'Scarlett is hard-headed and has trouble behaving like a proper southern woman. She is an extreme character driven to get what she wants by any means necessary.' But why is it that we are attracted to Scarlett's resiliency and hard-headedness when we are distracted by these same traits in other women? Susan Clayton-Goldner again: 'Scarlett has pole to pole growth as a result of the events of the novel and goes from selfish and narcissistic to a woman who will do anything to survive.' And I agree with Susan, it's Scarlett's growth, the development of her character, that appeases us. Nowadays, I am not sure the reader would stay with that whole book to see what happens, but HBO and ESPN weren't around then, and the reader was more patient.

 Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan (The Help)

4) I am ashamed to say that I never read The Help. (But I watched the movie twice--does that count?) I also have to say that I am very partial to any character portrayed by Emma Stone, as is TJ Turner, government agent and author of Lincoln's Bodyguard: 'I love any character ever played by Emma Stone…ever.' Author, publicist and writing coach, Eliza Cross agrees: 'I loved the character of Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan in The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Skeeter is curious, open-minded, sassy, courageous, and determined to discover and uncover the truth. And she’s a writer, too—what’s not to love?'

 The Marquise de Merteuil (Dangerous Liaisons)

5) Here again, a riveting performance by Glenn Close does not hurt, but there are many reasons that the Marquise de Merteuill is both strong AND likeable. Dr. Suzana Flores, clinical pyschologist and author of Facehooked, explains: 'She is an intelligent, powerful, strong minded and shrewd woman. She remains on top of her game through careful manipulation. Her aim in life is revenge and to show society that a woman can be as ruthless as a man.'

 Scout Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird)

6) For those of you keeping track (mostly my mother and her Canasta group) this is the 4th time I have mentioned this book in a blog in the last year. Today, however, I am happy to quote Helen 'Scout Finch' Hanson, pilot and author of high-tech thrillers: 'Scout is bored with the pace of school, more concerned with climbing trees than social graces. Saying and asking shit that makes adults uncomfortable. Willing to brave a black eye for a just cause.'

 Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

7) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo took the world of literature by storm for a reason--and it most certainly wasn't Larson's seemingly unedited prose. The real reason was the most original, I-wish-I-had-thought-of-her, character, Lisbeth Salander. I rooted for this girl on such a visceral level, I found myself pinching myself to the point of drawing blood as I read. What more can you ask for when you create a character? My hat is off to the late Steig Larson. Jan Moran, perfume and beauty expert, and author of Scent of Triumph, described Lisbeth in 4 words: 'Smart as they come.'

 Dilsey Gibson (The Sound and the Fury)

8) Here's one you may not have thought of--I certainly didn't, not until I was reminded by English teacher, poet and novelist Conrad Tuerk: 'I love Dilsey, the black servant from The Sound and the Fury.  She's physically frail but has a strong moral foundation that holds the lunatic Compson household together. Her tenderness toward Benjy and disdain for Jason earn my admiration. She's one of Faulkner's finest creations.'

There were other suggestions, but as I had not read the book or seen the movie I felt it was disingenous to include them above, but I will list them here: Holly West, author of Mistress Of Fortune, nominated Kinsey Milhone, the PI from Sue Grafton's Alphabet Mystery series; Art Kerns, author of The Africa Contact, suggested Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief; and crime fiction author Sue Coletta recommended J.D. Robb's (aka Nora Roberts) Lieutenant Eve Dallas.

Now, I have a confession to make: there is a reason I started this project (besides the fact that I am putting off cleaning the garage, a task I despise.) The reason is the editorial feedback I received from my literary agency in regards to the recent revision I submitted. Let's put it this way: it was suggested I spend some time with 2 of my characters, both of whom are female. So, before I attempted this, I decided to study 8 female characters that are strong AND likeable, because wearing women's underwear and eating quiche for a week wasn't helping me develop my female voice

Thanks again to my friends at Kimeberley Cameron & Associates, especially my friend and agent Liz Kracht, and Josey Gist, who is likely shopping for more red ink at this time. And thanks to the ProseCons, the best group of authors on the internet; please click on the photos to your right to find out more about us. And help me: Who are your favorite female characters? Please leave your ideas in the comments below: I need the help and Josey and Liz are running out of red ink! Thanks.

Peter Hogenkamp is a physician and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; and The Intern, a serialized novel based loosely on Peter's internship, published bi-weekly on #Wattpad. Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of Prose&Cons; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous), and LinkedIn (Tweets, Novels and Blogs); and a Beta-reader at StoryShelter. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. He can be reached at or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at


Saturday, August 16, 2014

10 Movies That Broke Taboos

by Dr. Suzana E. Flores

The word “taboo” comes from the Tongan tapu or Fijian tabu. The term was translated as meaning “forbidden, cursed, or unclean.” The word has been expanded to relate to any area of human activity or custom that is forbidden based on societal norms, moral judgment and religious beliefs. 
Film has long challenged societal taboos, pushing the envelope and disrupting what society deems proper and acceptable. Over time, however, the shock of the new is no longer shocking and taboos become commonplace. Here are 10 films that broke cinematic taboos:

1. Women in Love – First Male Full Frontal Nudity 

Women in Love (1969), adapted from D.H. Lawrence’s novel of the same name, is considered by many to be the Holy Grail of male nudity in cinema. Full-frontal shots and explicit homoeroticism are featured during a naked wrestling match between Oliver Reed and Alan Bates. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014



Arthur Kerns

On August 12, 2014, The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article written by Shirley Wang titled “Sharpen Your Dream Skills.” It dealt with “lucid dreaming,” where sleeping people are aware they are in a dream and are able to control elements in their dream once they realize they’re dreaming. Persons sometimes have to figuratively pinch themselves to know whether they are in reality or in a dream. After trying to remember some of mine the thought occurred, how has this phenomenon worked in my fiction?

At conferences and workshops I’ve talked with readers and writers who dislike an author inserting a character’s dream. Some considered the use of dreams by an author as pretentious, others enjoy them. Like all literary devices, if used they should be there for a purpose.

Nice, France

Thinking back to my use of dreams, Hayden Stone, the CIA operative in The Riviera Contract usually dreams after he has eliminated a member of the opposition. I wanted to show what he had done did affect him even though on the conscious level he believes he is in control of his emotions.

At the end of the novel, after he has had a successful one-on-one with Hassan the terrorist who throughout the book has been trying to kill him, he has one of those vivid Technicolor dreams. The scene ends with Hassan becoming more than just a face and name, but a person when he says, “I am not one of those al Qaeda, who are the living dead. I am a Palestinian!” Hassan’s last words are, “The smell of an orange grove in spring.”

That night Stone has one of those lucid dreams we’ve been talking about:

In the dark of Saturday morning, Stone had a vivid dream. At first, he though he was in Southern California, because he was standing in bare feet next to a pleasant ocean. Bent pine and cypress trees lined the shore. Around his dwelling grew orange and lemon trees. Then he saw broken Doric columns and what he took for as Roman ruins scattered in his citrus grove. An elderly man in a faded, blue suit drifted toward him, a man with fierce almond eyes that matched his dark, pockmarked skin. The face became familiar the closer he came.
With a bloody hand, Hassan offered him a lemon.
Stone awoke with a start, then lay sleepless for two hours.

This time the event affected Hayden Stone consciously. The reader is left to decide whether in the dream Stone reaches out and takes Hassan’s “bitter lemon.”

Those interested may read the referenced article online at the Wall Street Journal. Sharpen Your Dream Skills, by Shirley S. Wang

Arthur Kerns is a retired FBI special agent and past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO). His award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. In March 2013 Diversion Books, Inc. published his espionage thriller, The Riviera Contractand in May 2014 the sequel, The African Contract.

You can visit him on

Monday, August 11, 2014

What's In The Trunk?!

Our blog address says it best: a unique and portable magic. Books. They can make us stay up late at night, miss our train stop, forget our problems, or teach us something, as in Mia Thompson’s post Six Things to do when Attacked or Abducted. That magical little book can transport us to breathtaking Rio de Janeiro, as in Conrad Turek’s post Ascending, or propel us to the future, to a foreign world we do not know, or throw us back to an era long ago.  Books can make us laugh, cry, or shiver with fear. We fall in love with the characters we read about either by relating to them in some way, or by wishing we could be more like them.
Image from Dishin’ the Dirt with My Friends.
Eliza Cross posted 20 Great Books That Sparked an Early Love of Reading and reminded us why we fell in love with books as children. Holly West gave us all a gift with her post Good Summer Reads. When someone recommends a book, they are passing along its magic. The book touched them in some way and they want to share that experience with us. I’m sure our resident clinical psychiatrist, Dr. Suzana Flores, could analyse why, as she did in the comment section of Childless by Choice. But I won’t attempt to guess.
As a writer, I love when my stories take a hard right turn to somewhere I never expected. Or when my characters behave in a way that shocks, frightens, or makes me laugh out loud.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Authentic Curiosity

It’s a mystery that people need stories. We don’t know where that element of human nature comes from, but our fascination with books, and movies is clear evidence that it is true. There is some deep inner need to the human psyche that demands them. But where do they come from? To me, (and hopefully many people reading these posts) that need is best fulfilled through the written word, through the writer.

In my last post I talked about Pulling the Plug, or really, getting to know and believe in your self as a writer. And I dug up a great example from Andre Dubus III, who happened to deliver the keynote and Master Class at the Antioch Writer’s Workshop this year. I was lucky enough to be there to hear him talk first hand, and he used the same example for us. Andre posed it as a simple question: If you can go a whole year without writing, then you’re probably not a writer and you need to go find what you were meant to be.

Andre Dubus III delivering the Keynote Address at the 2014Anitoch Writer's Workshop

20 Great Books That Sparked an Early Love of Reading


During the sixth grade at Whittier Elementary in Boulder, I worked in the school library. Several times a week I was excused from the chaotic classroom to the quiet sanctuary of the library to shelve books, write overdue notices and straighten the card catalog, mostly unsupervised. It was a sweet gig.

Near the end of the year, the librarian said she would reward each of us volunteers with a brand-new copy of our favorite book. The Boxcar Children and Little House on the Prairie were popular choices that year, but I selected a quirky, lesser-known title I'd discovered on the fiction shelf.

Miss Osborne-the-Mop by Wilson Gage is a summertime tale of two bored siblings who magically bring a dust mop to life. Miss Osborne tirelessly performs their chores—at least in the beginning of the story—until she develops her own ideas and begins wreaking havoc as only a live mop can. With plenty of plot twists and conflict, I remember it was the first book I read straight through over a weekend—and then I was hooked.

I witnessed a similar transformation with my twelve-year-old son. He has never really loved to read, but that changed this summer when he read Wonder, a 300-page novel by R. J. Palacio that he couldn't put down. That's how it happens, it seems; we finally connect with a great book, and then we understand what all the fuss is about reading.

I asked The Prose Cons to share some of the first early books they really enjoyed reading. Illustrating the diversity of our authors, they came back with some great responses—and the group didn't have a single duplicate. Here's what the Cons had to say:

Off the Top of My Head

My quarter.  My hail.
Hail is an itinerant menace in North Texas, and consequently, roofers are atop my head today.  While I’m grateful for their expertise and daring, the constant banging jars my synaptic transmission.  From a writer’s perspective, this wouldn’t seem to inspire creative thoughts. 

Yet, the search for Advil has encouraged my mental gears to ka-chug on the possibilities.   
As my fingers bounce off the keyboard with every new thud, I realize, they can see inside the windows of second floors for blocks.  Add a decent set of binoculars, and the secrets of an entire neighborhood lay naked.  With a digital camera, roofers can acquire proof in hi-res.

Photo by CA Hairy Bear

The lady with the poodles, is she noon-trysting with a coworker?  The man who fires up the leaf blower at dawn, is he rolling a corpse in the shower curtain? Or the biddy who grouches at the kids, is she slipping more arsenic into her husband’s Cream of Wheat?

Happens every day.  Somewhere. 

Photo by June Yarham

Maybe roofers have a blackmail syndicate that extracts huge amounts of cash from the unwitting (does that = witless?) and spied-upon.  The daytime hammer job is merely a cover for the covert activity afoot.  Snap a few pics and rake in a pile of unmarked Ben Franklins.  Makes even a 100+ degree day worth the time on #30 black felt.   

Photo by Chuck Coker

But why stop at extortion?  With such a vantage point, an enterprising type could case the entire street.  Who drives the latest Beamer?  Who drips in gold and diamonds?  Who owns the bleeding-edge tech?

Photo by Brice Canonne
It’d be too risky for a roofer to burgle from the same streets on which he tacked down the Weathered Wood shingles.  Too many security cameras.  Maybe the poodle lady was more observant than she appeared.  So maybe the syndicate exchanges this information between the gang--, er roofing parties, a la Strangers on a Train.

You take my street.  I’ll take yours.

On my short street alone, roofers have replaced over two dozen house tops in the last three months.  Multiply that with all the streets in all the towns battered by the monster hail storm of ’14, and opportunity for wealth-fleecing abounds.

I hope someone enterprising takes advantage of this emerging market sector.  Even I’m drawn to the lucrative nature of the proposition. I'd make a great ringleader.  Myers-Briggs * says so.  But, I would need a stealthy partner to make this work.  Someone lithe, artful, and most importantly, not afraid of heights.

Helen Hanson works in the high-tech sector, which informs her geeky thrillers. According to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, she wrote # 1 bestselling technothriller, 3 LIES, with “an artistry that is hard to deny.”  * According to Myers-Briggs, she is an ENTJ.

Currently, she’s writing a sequel to 3 LIES. You can find her thrillers in the usual places. And you can find her at coddling a goblet of red.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Day My First Box of Books Arrived

A former professor of mine at Florida International University, Campbell McGrath, once told me, “The saddest day in a writer’s life is the day his first box of books arrives.” At the time, I thought he was nuts. Ever since I decided I wanted to turn this writing stuff into a career, I’d been singularly driven. Book deal or bust. Then again, I’ve always been a bit obsessive.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Childless By Choice

by Dr. Suzana E. Flores

Mike, a 38-year-old, attorney has a profile where he clearly states that he does not want to have children. Several women he’s dated through this dating site have tried to change his mind by telling him that he would make such a great father if he “weren’t so selfish.”

Christina, a 35-year-old, freelance writer said that she has been marked as the black sheep of her family. She can’t attend one family holiday without someone “casually” mentioning over dinner how women who wait too long to reproduce will surely regret it, because one day they will wake up “with a shriveled up uterus” and will die alone.

Silvia, a married 38-year-old psychologist (and a very dear friend) said, “I certainly lean on the side of not having children." She's "about 98% certain" she doesn't want children, but she still likes having the option available.

I’m 30-years-old (cough, cough), okay add 10 years to that, and I’ve NEVER wanted children. As far as I can remember the thought of having children made me cringe. Despite this, given societal expectations and the biological tick-tock issue, at one time my husband and I figured we should seriously consider this possibility. We both ended up experiencing severe anxiety. The mere thought of losing our freedom, restricting our travel plans, and taking on all the obligations involved in parenthood, made our life appear hectic and (truthfully) quite miserable. We had to admit to ourselves, and each other, that given everything that we’d have to give up – the many things that we love about our life together – having children just seemed so…inconvenient.

Friday, August 1, 2014

What's Your Dream? The Writer's Journey

SCENT OF TRIUMPH by Jan Moran Book Cover"What's your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don't; but keep on dreamin' - this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin'."
That's one of my favorite lines from the movie, Pretty Woman.
As writers, our job is dreams. That's the currency of our journey. We dream up stories, breathe life into characters, and hope like heck that readers and editors appreciate it enough to keep us in business. Even if they don't, we keep on writing. Because That's. Who. We. Are.
Everyone wants to hear a success story, a triumph over the odds. Fortunately, I have one for you today. Not every day, of course, but today I do. Two, in fact. Will you humor me?
In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell called this account of triumph a monomyth, or the Hero's Journey. He wrote: "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."  
Yep, that sums it. Interesting that the title of my book is Scent of Triumph.

The Writer's Journey

There is no one journey, no correct path. Every writer comes to the craft from a world of different experiences -- that's what makes each voice unique. 
For me, the journey to fiction publication (I'd already published nonfiction books and articles) started fifteen years ago when I fell in love with the character of Danielle Bretancourt, a talented French perfumer, and imagined what her life might have been like during World War II. She emerged in my mind as real as anyone I’d ever known. 
When I couldn't find an agent or publisher, I turned to self-publishing and let 'er rip. Slowly, the book found its readers, those who loved the story and spread the word among fellow readers.
I kept querying, kept editing and writing, and finally clicked with an agent (thank you, Jenny Bent), and publisher (thank you, St. Martin's Press). Here's what happened next...

The Writing Process

St. Martin's Press at the Flatiron Building in New YorkThroughout the revision process, we trimmed 40,000 words (I was a little wordy), and added 14,000. A good editor helps a writer hone in on the essence of the story. From pacing to point-of-view, and everything in between, no stone – er, word — was left unturned.
Had I known the extent of rewriting involved, I might have run screaming from the Flatiron Building in New York. But I emerged a stronger writer, one who could fearlessly toss the last several chapters and create a new scenario for the ending. Funny enough, the last chapter that emerged was virtually untouched during the edits.
One of my favorite additions to the original self-published manuscript of Scent of Triumph came when Jennifer Weis and assistant editors Molly Traver and Sylvan Creekmore suggested I add some quotes at the beginning of each chapter, which I envisioned in the form of a journal entry that a perfumer might keep to record impressions and ideas — rather like an idea journal a writer might keep (and which I do). I had a wonderful time researching this new feature and molding it to the story.
Every journal entry references something in the corresponding chapter; it might be a note in perfumery, an impression, a thought, an observance. Some might be metaphorical. This new feature allowed me to delve deeper into Danielle’s character, and to experience the world around her through her artist eyes. Again, this intense editorial process strengthened my work, and for that I am grateful.

Another Road Less Travelled

FLAWLESS.Hostile Beauty Book Cover by Jan MoranI promised two stories, so here is the second. Agent Jenny encouraged me to follow a hybrid path -- two roads converged, if you will... Two years ago I had no idea what that was. So, in addition to writing historical fiction for St. Martin's Press, I'm also writing contemporary fiction as an Indie.
Indie, yes, but hardly alone. I call this the author-preneur path, where one gathers pros along the way -- professional book industry editors, proofreaders, cover designers, book formatters, etc. Agent Jenny is selling foreign rights and other rights, while I handle ebooks (my forte) and print books (less than a forte).The writer becomes an entrepreneur, a publisher, a chief marketing officer, and a head-honcho-buck-stops-here CEO.
Which I really enjoy, too. Each path -- indie and traditional -- has its unique scenery along the way, but both paths lead to the same destination: The Reader.
Isn't that the point? We write to entertain, to enlighten, to educate -- regardless of the medium.
My new Hostile Beauty series -- Flawless is the first title -- grew out of a desire to write smart contemporary fiction for women. Real life business mixed with real life relationships. Harvard MBA sagas combined with love and best-friends-forever stuff. You know, like life -- only better. (Actually, that depends on your life.)

The Hero's Journey

To me, the gist of the hero's journey and the writer's journey is tell a fine tale and to sprinkle inspiration, hope, excitement, and encouragement throughout the story. My writing might not bring about world peace, but I hope it inspires those who like to read what I write. I write to entertain, to share life's experiences, and to offer respite from the vagaries of the day.
If you're writing, please know that there is more than one path to reach your destination. Take one step at a time. And I hope we meet on the journey. 
Because as Vivian in Pretty Woman said, "I think you have a lot of special gifts." 

The Art of Poetic Space

Before I was an active writer, I was a reader with a passion for fantasy art. I discovered Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series when I was in college and embarked on my own version of fangirl geekdom.

Fast forward a decade or two and you’ll still find me at the comic conventions. There is something wonderful about a comic book—it’s not just reading with pictures. It’s a story with art—and the two are inextricably connected.
Charles Vess
Comics intrigue me because of their brevity—so much story and action packed into tiny frames. One has to really get into the story to fully appreciate the nuances of each angle, each line, each visual. Eventually, I came across the work of Charles Vess, who illustrated my favorite issue of Sandman.

I met him at the Baltimore Comic Con one August, where he spoke about the concept of poetic space.

Images and Words

I’m not surprised to hear such a term coming from this artist. You know the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words?” His pictures actually are: entire volumes have the power to spring from a single illustrated page.

Vess said poetic space leaves room for the reader to fill in the details and participate in the experience. When asked how much poetic space an artist should use, he replied: “As much as possible!”

As a writer, I was intrigued by his notions of poetic space and, with it in mind, I examined my style of writing. Did it exist in my work? Should it exist in my work? After all, writing is not drawing. A painting may invoke emotion and meditation but a book—well, a reader would only know what we told them.

However, there’s a point where enough is enough, already. Endless lines of description begin to sound more like a shopping list. Yeah, you get a picture, but is it fun reading? Meh. Not really.

Poetic Space Equals Wiggle Room

The balancing point is a thin line. Trouble is, everyone places that line differently.

I’m a contest junkie. I can honestly say my first pages have been read, shred, scoured, devoured, chewed up, spit out, praised, razed and a slew of other critiquing verbs by at least a hundred different judges. They all had individual ideas of how much—or how little—description my opening pages should have.

We’ve heard it time and time again—action should predominate those early pages. Hook the reader. Draw them in. Backstory and narrative summary can come later. Or…can it?

My story has a first person point of view so it’s not like the narrator is going to spend a ton of time talking about her own appearance in the first pages. Yet, I had more than a handful of people wanting for more—I can’t count all the times I got “I don’t even know what she looks like.”

However, I got far more compliments on the intrigue and the hook. If the contest only gave the first few pages, I can let the crits slid.

Why? Because of poetic space.

If someone is only going to read the first five pages, their minds can fill in those missing details, if they need to. The rest of the story has plenty of space to flush out those details later.

If, on the other hand, those first five pages don’t have anything else to grab onto, all the poetic space in the world won’t redeem them. There’s the balance: poetic space is a tool to be used along with every other device writers use to create our stories.

Engaging the Reader

Vess’s remarks backed up a small conversation I had with my editor, Rose Mambert of Pink Narcissus Press. We were discussing some cover sketches and she said she didn’t have a clear idea of what the protagonist looked like but knew the hero looked nothing like the sketches. The part about my main character concerned me. Did I need to go back and revise?

“No,” Rose said. “A physical description of Sophie is not so important. Readers will fill in all those missing details, anyway. Though if there's a picture of her on the cover, that will probably stick in the readers' mind, so we do want it to match up with how you envision her.”

Whew. Poetic space to the rescue.

In a splendid interview, Vess spoke more on the topic of poetic space in his discussion of artist Frantisek Kupka. He said there’s a trend in fantasy art to show every detail, and light the subject in such a way that it eliminates all the mysterious shadows. No room left for the reader’s interpretation.

Poetic Space Enhances Our Stories

As writers, we, too, need to incorporate those mysterious shadows into our characters. If you lay everything out on the line in high definition perfection, then there is no subtle nuance to develop later. No place for a telling quirk. No room for a surprising flaw.

That would be an affront to our writers’ sensibilities. It’s our need to peer into the shadows and come up with our own interpretations that makes us writers in the first place. We look into the vague and the subtle and we pull a story out of it.

Out of the poetic space.

It’s a service, as well, according to Vess. When we have to supply our own imagination to fill in that poetic space, we train ourselves to continue the story. We become more proficient in telling the stories running through our brains.

We develop our creative senses. We become better writers.

So. Poetic space. Who knows? It just might be our redemption.

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash at for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press) or stop by . Ash is also a contributing editor at the QueryTracker blog.  .