I just got back from my first Killer Nashville conference AND my first visit to the state of Tennessee. As it turns out, I have a bunch of family living outside of Nashville and was able to not only get some writing inspiration, but also see family members I haven’t seen in years (and, in some cases, decades). The Nashville area is gorgeous and it was so nice to reconnect with my relatives.
I also got to do some sightseeing including a visit to the Parthenon (hey, Percy Jackson, look what I found!), tours of the Belmont and Vanderbilt campuses and a trip to Hattie B’s for some hot chicken (PS when they say hot, they mean HOT!).
The conference itself was a real eye-opener. I’ve never left a writing conference where I didn’t learn something, and this was no exception. I visited the mock crime scene several times to test my sleuthing skills. I attended a number of panels on craft and career management. And, most importantly, I networked. I met some incredible writers, made some new friends, and was given some heady perspective on my writing career. I hadn’t realized it before, but I was making some pretty major decisions about the direction of my career based on fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Fear of making the wrong choices.
For the past two years (almost) I’ve been inviting authors onto my blog to talk about their writing journey, the risks they’ve taken and the things that have inspired their work. As a result, I know that I’m not alone in feeling the pressure. I’ve learned a lot in the past four years of full-time writing, but the lessons never stop coming and for that I am immensely thankful.
Killer Nashville provides a really interesting mix of opportunities. Over the course of four days, I met four literary agents, two of whom requested materials. I took copious notes on the craft of writing (Jeffrey Deaver’s master class was amazing!). And I heard some inspiring success stories about self-publishing. This last point caused a whole lot of commotion in my brain. I self-published Wallflower Bloomingearly in my career, when I was still learning as I went. An indie publisher in Colorado picked up WB and its sequel Best Laid Plans & Other Disasters. A third book was in the contract, but life happens to all of us and book three was put on the backburner as I turned my focus to writing thrillers. And in doing so, I found myself back where I started with no agent and no publishing contract.
That was OK by me. I needed to work on my craft and revise my plan for moving forward. In the meantime, I published a short story and more pieces for ESME and Novelty Bride. I kept busy. I decided to start again with traditional publishing as my goal, and once the revisions were done on my first thriller manuscript, I started querying agents.
I’m still immersed in that process. I’d put the whole idea of ever self-publishing again on hold indefinitely, but when I heard J.A. Konrath speak at the conference, his words stopped me in my tracks. I love it when someone makes you throw out all your preconceived notions and take a hard look at what you’re doing. That’s what Joe’s talk did for me, and as the weekend progressed I heard more stories that continued to challenge the plans I’d made for my writing career.
When I got home, my husband (smart guy that he is) listened as I rambled about the direction of my writing career and asked a simple, but incredibly important question that I hadn’t been putting into words up until that moment: what are your career goals? Seems pretty basic, yes? This is advice I give to other writers all the time—define success, put your goals in writing, and so on—but somehow was overlooking for myself. And as I started to answer this question, I realized that my previous plans had been largely based in fear.
On the final day of the conference, Joe Konrath asked me what my take-away from the conference was. Here it is. No fear. As I move forward, I will make informed decisions based not on what everyone else is doing, not on what I think I SHOULD be doing, but based on what I WANT to be doing, what I feel is right for me, and what will help me reach myprofessional goals. Could mean traditional publishing, could mean self-publishing, or maybe some combination of both. It probably sounds simple, but sometimes you need a good kick in the pants to make you see things you should have been seeing all along. Thanks Joe!
And here we go!
Erick Mertz is a fiction author from Portland, Oregon. Published by Longbranch Productions, the forthcoming novella, The Mask Of Tomorrow is his debut work of book length fiction, and the first in The Strange Air Series of Oregon based supernatural mysteries. Prior to this book’s release, his fiction has been published in Goldman Review, The Los Angeles Review and The Bethany Reader.
In 2014, he self-produced The Measurable Blood audiobook, based on a short story of the same name, published in Mad Scientist Journal. His poetry can be found in Turtle Island Quarterly, Stone Boat, Dos Passos Review, Cirque Magazine, and most recently, Baldhip Magzine.
In a previous life while an English student at The University of Oregon, he was a late night DJ at 88.1 KWVA. Currently, he writes about new music at New Noise, Pennyblack Music and Bearded UK. He has written articles on Oregon history for 1859 Magazine, Coastal Living and Southern Oregon Magazine.
A baseball fanatic, beer and food enthusiast, and unapologetic music obsessive, Erick not only considers the Pacific Northwest his home, but also his perpetual muse. When he is not writing, he also works with community-based people with Developmental Disabilities, a field where he has worked since high school.
Currently, Erick lives in Portland with his wife and son.
Like an old house where no wall is straight and no corner is exactly square, my writing career has been a constant search for structural integrity.
I was always a writer. I used to wonder with gravelly suspicion about people who weren’t pre-occupied with words and sentences, and the challenge of penning a novel.
My father was an office man. He was a mechanical engineer to be exact. He was responsible for designing massive industrial conveyor systems all over, from Seward, Alaska to Tasmania. In his world, every corner had to be perfectly square, measured lines even, plans produced in triplicate. One of my first jobs was to run prints for him and I can still see his perfect engineer’s handwriting.
Even today, some thirty-five years later, I recall the phone number to his office. On certain days after school I would call him at work before he left. I would ask about his day, but my real purpose was to request some of the notepads and pens his employer kept hoarded in the supply closet. For me, that closet was like a candy store; the spiral bound notebooks delightful places for new writing.
We lived on a country road, connected to another country road, which led to another country road that ran along a fruit orchard. There was a cherry tree atop a small hill. The shadow of that cherry tree was the outside boundary of how far, at seven years old, I was allowed to walk by myself.
Every day after school, rain or shine, I would walk out to the cherry tree where my Dad could pick me up on his way home. I could pick out his headlights from the bend in the road more than a half-mile up. Those days when I requested notepads and pens were especially exciting. I would hop into his old Ford F-150, slide up onto the bench seat where he’d have a stack of them waiting for me. He never forgot.
“Write a good one, OK?” he would say before taking us that last mile back to the house.
Once completed, my Mom would sew construction paper covers onto my books. We treated the whole process like a cottage publishing enterprise: over breakfast, I would discuss cover design, afterward we would carefully select thread and I would oversee the binding before we presented the finished product on the table like a bookstore.
Looking back my parents were a supportive pair. I’m sure they looked at that collection of silly space opera pastiches and wondered what it would all add up to.
Dad said, “write a good one” and Mom served as my publisher. Still, I wonder what they thought of the road I was setting out on.
No one tells you how to do this, other than to usually say, don’t do something like that. It’s an impractical thing, writing, perhaps the most impractical thing of all. Even without a map to where I was going, I would not be deterred though. Writing was always the thing I was going to do, one way or another. Besides, all of the more practical careers like astronaut, baseball player and President were already taken.
So, I stocked up on spiral notebook pads and pens, and began the life’s work.
As I got older, my Dad began his process of parenting my aphorism. One of his favorites was, “be careful about making too many plans” which was odd for an engineer whose life output was a roll of blue printed plans.
More genuinely though, Dad would add, “all you’ll end up at the end of the day is a person biding their time.”
He was right. The longer you sit around in the “what” and “when” the more infirm your self-definition becomes. If you just do this thing, whether that thing is a book or an article or a blog, you become the action and not the plan.
Be the verb, right? That’s what he was saying. Be the action word.
Four years ago, I met Tom Robbins at a writer’s conference. He was alone at a banquet table, waiting impatiently for someone to bring him his dinner.
My fellow writers were afraid to walk up to Tom. Having already infused myself with some liquid courage, I had no such inhibitions.
“You’re Tom Robbins,” I said.
Feigning surprise, he replied, “I am.”
“Your writing has cost me a girlfriend or two,” I said.
Then he laughed. I mean, really laughed. “Hey, me too.”
I noticed that Tom was wearing an audacious pair of Converse All-Stars. They were covered in murals of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe.
“Nice shoes,” he said.
“That’s the secret,” he replied.
Then Tom Robbins shook his head with sage disgust. “No, kid. Be memorable.”
My first self-published book, The Mask Of Tomorrow will hit the ground later this fall. Sadly, my Dad won’t be there to see it. I’ll send Tom Robbins a copy, but what are the odds he reads it?
If my Dad was here though, I would tell him that him proudly that I’m publishing it myself, and that I wrote the first draft in pen in a spiral notebooks. I don’t know if he’d fully understand. But I at least believe he’d recognize where all of this came from.
A lack of square corners. Wobbly walls. Years in, it hardly seems to make a difference. The strange road is home.
Be yourself. Be memorable.
The Mask of Tomorrow
Way out in Canyon County, Oregon the shadows seem to cast just a little longer. Maybe it’s because of the way the sunrises over Tallow Creek. Maybe it’s how shafts of summer dusk light spill out from behind the jagged peaks of the Cascade Mountains.
Or maybe it’s something deeper still, something buried long ago out in the sage grass that is only now simmering to the surface.
What took place in the early-1980’s around the burned out mill town of Josephine is one of countless untold chapters in the story of the American west. It is but a tiny, haunted sliver of a larger saga that began long before any one living there now can remember.
Taking place in a world teeming with glassy eyed drifters, stoic ranchers, heavy-pouring bartenders, and a few honest cops, The Strange Air Series of supernatural mysteries explores the unfurling of a long held cosmic secrets that threaten the rusted out husk of the American dream.
The debut book in the series, The Mask Of Tomorrow will be published in Autumn 2018. Subscribe at www.erickmertzauthor.com for updates on it’s release.
Bert Edens has been making up stories since he was old enough to talk, a habit which tended to get his hind-end tanned and his nose stuck in a corner. Along the way, he decided to start writing some of them down. His youth was filled with imaginative creations of everything from sci-fi epics to send-ups of the “Friday the 13th” series. His first print credit was a story about his older son, Zak, published in the 2001 anthology “Living Miracles: Stories of Hope from Parents of Premature Children”. Life then got in the way, so to speak, as he focused on raising his two sons and becoming a widower, the latter not by choice, of course. He has recently had two flash fiction pieces published in anthologies, had a non-fiction piece published in a magazine for disability awareness, and has multiple stories accepted for publication with countless others submitted and looking for homes.
Bert lives in Arkansas with his amazing wife, Carrie, whom he married in June 2018, and older son Zak, with his younger son Josh living nearby. Besides being a writer and editor, Bert spends his spare time teaching martial arts, working security, and doing application development and customer support for an Arkansas-based technology company.
You can read all you want about Bert at his website www.bert-edens.com.
Pain. The best stories come from pain.
We all love a happy ending full of hugs, kisses, rainbows, and riding off into the proverbial sunset, but the most powerful, visceral reactions readers experience come from stories that set their hearts, minds, and souls on end. Flip-flop their expectations of how things should be and give them sinister glances into how things could be, and you will hold their attention.
There is some semblance of schadenfreude in reading about other people’s suffering. You can lose yourself in the story, feel the pain and heartache, and cry along with them. Yet, when it’s all done, you can just close the book and be done with it. You can revel in that fact that, whew at least that wasn’t you.
While I write and have been published in many genres, dark fiction always seems to be where the stories flow like a river as I’m putting them to paper. People who know me but are just learning I’m a writer are often surprised by this, because I tend to be the epitome of an eternal optimist. I have a ready smile and word of encouragement that is genuine because I truly want everyone to be happy, even those who have harmed me or those I love. I can’t wish ill will on anyone because I’ve been there and felt those barbs.
I write about children being abused, be it physically, emotionally, or sexually, not because I espouse that kind of cruelty, but because I know what it’s like. My childhood was full of countless challenges that affected me well into my first marriage because I honestly had no idea what a healthy relationship looked like. I struggled, we struggled, and I grew while Jann had the patience of Job waiting for me to start acting like an adult, husband, and father.
Broken adults come from broken children. Broken adults make the best artists, both before and after they have been reassembled, the cracks and flaws filled with mortar. But those scars are still visible, often glowing and pulsing and bleeding, and they are my Muse.
I write about death not because I enjoy it, but because I have known potential and real loss. I have sat in a chapel outside the NICU as doctors stopped and restarted Zak’s heart, hoping to reset a potentially fatal arrythmia. Jann and I held each other close knowing there was a chance, however slight, his heart would not restart. We had already almost lost him at birth, and here we were again, just a few days later, having to face that possibility again.
All through Zak’s youth, we worried about every little thing. He was fragile, and we were worried that every little illness, bump, bruise, or that next doctor visit would be when he would fracture. Tip-toeing on egg shells is no way to go through life, especially as I was still finding my way before all this extra emotion and stress and pain was heaped onto our marriage.
But potential loss is a mere sliver of a shadow compared to the engulfing darkness of actual loss. In January 2011, Jann died suddenly and literally in my arms. All our worlds were shattered by that single moment. Zak and Josh were seventeen and fourteen, respectively, when she died. While it was hard on Zak, Josh was much closer to his mother than to me, and it was devastating to him. Losing a parent is the natural order of things, but you expect it to happen when you’re in your forties or fifties, not when you’re a teen.
When that tsunami of pain and suffering hits, all you can do is lean into it, brace your feet, and suffer the force of the waves, hoping you don’t drown. But the funny thing about water, even a tsunami, is that it only flows in one direction, just like life. So, you go where it takes you because you can’t go back. You go to bed every night relieved you haven’t drowned, at least not today, then wake up the next morning and tread water as best you can. Again. And again. And again.
Giving up and just sinking is not an option when you’re suddenly the sole provider and role model for your boys. How can they be strong and keep afloat when you’ve resigned to sitting on the ocean floor, waiting for the end?
Praise on how well you have done despite your loss rolls like water off a duck’s back because you know it’s a farce. There’s no high praise in enduring every day, week, month, and year when you know all you did was survive, sometimes despite yourself. No magical formula exists for surviving pain and loss. You just simply do what you must do.
I write about pain because I have seen it in in others, some of which I can offer empathy for, some of which I can’t. From the time he was fourteen to fifteen, Josh lost five people close to him: his great-grandfather, his mother, his aunt, his uncle, and his best friend. His mother and best friend were the most devastating, because he not only lost the person he was closest to, only seven months later, he lost the one person he could talk to about it. Celia was only fourteen when she died, and for Josh, it was like a second tsunami just as he was gulping for breath from the first one.
Then there’s the pain I can’t understand and hope to never experience, and that is the annihilating feeling of losing your child. In December 2007, four days after Christmas and eight years before Carrie and I started dating, she lost her daughter Amanda at 12 years of age. The loss of a child is perhaps the most insidious and long-term pain, for it relegates the survivor to a lifetime of missed milestones and what-ifs. I know every June, when Amanda’s birthday comes around, and every Christmas, Carrie will get lost in thoughts about her daughter. Family gatherings full of chattering and bubbly children opening gifts only hammers home that sharpened stake of grief. I can’t know what she’s feeling. All I can do is hold her and let her know she’s not alone.
But what do we do with pain, once we’ve spotted that feeble pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel and realize the darkness might eventually go away? If you’re an artist, you create. You gather the pain into your arms, caress it, whisper to it, love it, mold it, smooth it, mix it with the happiness you have enjoyed, and create. Because, while you may never be able to truly close the book on that pain, those who experience and read about it can.
A guide for parents of premature babies discusses the experiences of the parents of twenty premature babies and the stories of their ordeals, as well as providing tips on dealing with feelings of anger and depression. 10,000 first printing.
Find Bert on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Where to Buy Living Miracles
Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. Editing grew out of her love of the craft of writing.
Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Lately she ventured into Steampunk as Julia Verne St. John.
f you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: www.ireneradford.net. Or you can follow her on Facebook as Phyllis Irene Radford, or on twitter @radford_irene25
You can also read advance copies of new books on Irene’s Patreon Account: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=5806073
Reading a book imbued with spirituality and later trying to write those qualities into my own work has fascinated me for a long time. Spirituality is more than religion. To me it is a spiritual character, someone who lives their faith and has a personal relationship with their beliefs. Their faith guides every decision they make even when they question the advisability of the decision.
For them there is no division between the divine and reality.
I played with these ideas in Guardian of the Vision, Merlin’s Descendants #3. https://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/guardian-of-the-vision/
Griffin Kirkwood is a Roman Catholic priest who must wrestle with the strict teaching of his religion, weighing those truths against the truth of Magical talents in himself and his family. “A spell is nothing more than a prayer.”
I started to see that faith is more than emotion, but it needs to invoke and emotional response from the reader. That is hard to do but begins on a character level. The writer, and the reader needs to bond closely to the character and understand what they believe and why.
Then came the Confederated of Star System series by C.F. Bentley. https://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/harmony/
Sissy dove head first into my life and would not go away until I told her story. An undereducated factory worker, our heroine found herself dragged into the Temple Caste and made High Priestess because the powers that be thought she’d be malleable and do as she was told. They learned otherwise. But finally given the right and the means to read the history of Harmony, both goddess and planet, she has questions that she cannot reconcile with her very direct and magical connection to her home and her faith. No one messes with the avatar of a goddess, even when she is forced into exile on a space station.
That series exhausted me, and I went back to more mundane topics. Until…
My best friend and co-writer, Bob Brown, came up with a new anthology idea. We’d already co-edited and written for Alternative Truths, which hit several Amazon bestseller lists, and More Alternative Truths. He published a couple of other books without me while I wrote a couple books on my own. But then I got a phone call. “Want to edit Alternative Theologies?”
How could I say no?
We racked up almost 150 submissions. In every open call anthologies there a few inappropriate pieces. Some in the “What were you thinking?” category that make me head for the hand sanitizers. There are a few that are beautifully written pieces that don’t quite fit theme. We bought two of those for the next anthology “Alternative Apocalypses.”
And then there is the good stuff. The really good stuff that made us cry when we had to choose one from among four with similar themes.
In reading the stories I had to sit up and take notice, then I had to think. Think about my own beliefs, think about how the authors presented themes, think about the readers who would also think, even if they ended up throwing the entire collection against the wall. I thought about the stories when they made me laugh, or made me cry, or made my heart swell with new faith and affirmation.
This collection does not bash or denounce religion. It does rail against those who pervert the teaching of their faith. It examines why we believe, crave believing in something bigger and grander than ourselves. And it gives me new foundations for my own beliefs.
Believe what you will, in the deity who speaks to you. And I hope you can read these stories and think.
People have great book ideas. Yet despite their best efforts, they find it nearly impossible to complete a single chapter. All too soon they give up, disheartened. In this slender, easy-to-use volume, Phyllis Irene Radford--author of over forty books, and editor of twenty-five books, and fifteen anthologies—gently guides writers through plot structure, realistic characters, dynamic writing, organizational tools, and the publishing industry from an insider’s point of view. So, if you’ve ever thought about writing a novel, this book can help you create a dynamic beginning, conquer the muddle in the middle, and write a powerful and satisfying ending with an experienced teacher holding your hand and giving examples.
Find Phyllis on Facebook:
Where to Buy Committing a Novel
Jodi Bowersox has worn many hats in her life--actress, seamstress, designer, business owner, homeschool teacher, kid's choir director, and artist--but she spends most of her time these days on her latest passion, romance novels.
As an award winning watercolor artist , Jodi specializes in pet portraits, and as a seamstress, she creates women's vests out of men's ties. You can view all her creative endeavors as well as read samples of her books at www.jodibowersox.com.
Jodi lives in the heart of Colorado Springs with her husband and too many cats where they never get tired of looking at the mountain views
I've have been a writer all my life from 4-H news reporting through bad Jr. High poetry to slightly better college poetry to plays, skits, children's programs, children's picture books, and finally, full length fiction.
It was my mother (a long time Romance reader) who encouraged me to try writing that first Romance in 2011. I had a glimmer of an idea, put my fingers to the keyboard, and I was off. It has been my obsession ever since, and I am currently in the middle of my twelfth novel.
What I write would mostly fall in the Romance category, but I'm not one who likes getting put in a box. I have books in Suspense, Faith Fiction, Time Travel, and Small Town categories, and my Work In Progress is a Sci Fi Rom Com.
I have found inspiration for storylines in many places. Several of my books were sparked by a real event in my life---a perturbing incident, a horse accident, and a ride up Pikes Peak in a thunder storm (Interiors By Design; Horses, Adrenaline, and Love; and JOLT). And some were just dropped out of the sky as something I felt the need to write (Rocky Mountain Series). And that Sci Fi Rom Com? Rocky Mountain Redemption has a character who is an author, and Mars Madness is one of the books I attributed to her. I just thought it would be fun to write her books...
The lesson I've learned is patience. You will not be a successful author overnight. (Or at least it is highly unlikely.) Just keep writing. Write what you love, and try not to worry about those that don't appreciate what you do.
If I have any advice for aspiring writers, it's to find that person who will tell you the truth about your book... before your reviewers do. Then be willing to make changes.
Some of my favorite authors are Lois McMaster Bujold (sci fi/fantasy), Tamara Leigh (historical romance), Barbara Nickless (suspense), Marianna Jameson (contemporary romance), J.K. Rowling (fantasy), and Douglas Adams (sci fi comedy).
I'd love to meet any of these people (all those who are still alive, anyway!) just to tell them how much I appreciate their attention to detail, their amazing characters, their consistency in writing good books over and over and for all the laughs, tears, and joy they've brought to my life.
Jive: An American Time-Travel Romance (Lightning Riders Book 3)
Time agent Jewel Jamison promised a young Jack Cavanaugh that she'd be his 26th birthday present. She'd hoped for a fling with the man she'd become obsessed with in the history books, but Jack, having waited ten years for the sexy Jewel to show up in 1919, has plans to build a life together.
Before they can even begin to explore the possibilities, however, Jewel realizes that the timeline is now missing something -- namely World War I. A full-scale "time crisis" is raging as two factions battle through history--one trying to erase war and the other trying to erase time travel and all traces of it. Including traces like Jack Cavanaugh.
As the "Time War" rages, Jewel has to choose: keep her promise to Jack and stay out of the war or break her promise in order to save him.
Where to Buy Jive
I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
Be My Guest!
#WhatsYourStory? Are you an author? I'd love to hear your story and so would my readers. Email me for more information.