Today’s Craft Thursday entry is from my Jaye’s Office Hours vlog. James asked me how to avoid writing cliched stories, and this is my answer. Did you know I have lots of craft posts over on my Youtube channel? Subscribe today so you never miss a video!
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One of the interesting things you realize when you hang out with creative people is that most creatives are not one-dimensionally creative. For example, many of the writers and musicians and painters I know also love to cook. A painter I know loves to sew and a musician friend is also into photography.
I mention this on Craft Thursday because it’s important for us all to remember that being creative is not a means to an end. Creativity is a way of life.
It’s important to remember this because there will be times when you feel burned out from writing. Sometimes this burn out is simply resistance. Other times, it’s your subconscious telling you it needs some time to replenish itself. Ironically, one of the best ways to refill your creative well is to be creative–just in a different way.
I was complaining to my husband the other day that every time I sit down to write, I hit a wall. I have about five books waiting to be written, but when I try to put words to paper I freeze up. Mr. Jaye reminded me that I’ve just come out of a pretty intense period of change. He suggested I take a break for a little bit, and give myself permission to do things for fun.
The truth is that at this point in my career, anything I write carries a lot of weight behind it. The weight of expectations, the weight of income, the weight of defining myself in my industry, etc. So I decided that instead of just retreating into Candy Crush or making myself crazy by investing too much energy in the election drama, I needed to be creative in a different way.
That’s when I remembered how much I used to love to paint. It’s been probably fifteen years since I’ve taken a painting class or done a project for fun, but that’s okay. I’m not doing this to prove myself to anyone. I’m doing it to inspire myself to be creative. So out came my old portfolio and my old black tacklebox filled with tubes of paint, brushes, sketching pencils, and those marvelous gummy erasers. Something sort of magical happened when the scent of the supplies hit me. I got excited.
I went to the art store and bought a kit to paint a cheesy painting of a water mill next to a river. It’s going to take me a long time because I’m an incredibly bad sketcher and the painting is pretty detailed. That’s all right. It’s fun to lose myself for an hour or two sketching tiny leaves and a water mill. That’s call flow, my friends. Flow is where the magic happens.
The other great thing about this project is that its visual and tactile. Writing is such a cerebral practice. You’re in your head so much that sometimes it’s hard to find your way back out. With my painting, it’s nice to get my hands dirty and see the picture coming together as I work.
Anyway, my point is that f you’re finding yourself stuck, don’t beat up your muse (or yourself). Try switching gears a little. You don’t have to be good at your other creative pursuits. That’s not the point. Being creative is about indulging your curiosity and your sense of play. You don’t have to do “serious” art either. Try some subversive cross-stitch or try a new recipe for dinner or create a vision board using pictures you cut out of a magazine. Some people might call these projects silly, but those people do not understand how critical play is to the creative mind. So ignore the haters and go try something new. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself itching to write again too. And the best part? Being creative is way more fun than beating yourself up for not always being a word machine.
Writing should be fun sometimes, remember? That’s why you started doing it, right? Creative play helps you get back to that beginner’s enthusiastic mind.
Question: What other forms of creativity do you do besides writing?
Urban Fantasy fans won’t want to miss this blockbuster anthology that features some of the most beloved characters of the genre teaming up in cross-over stories.
Sabina Kane fans will be especially excited to see Sabina, Adam and Mr. Giggles again. In the story “Ladies’ Fight,” which I co-wrote with Caitlin Kittredge, Sabina and the gang team up with Ava the hellhound and Leo the reaper to hunt down an enchanted scythe. The fur really flies when the hairless cat demon meets a hellhound.
Buy it now!
Amazon | B&N | Indiebound | iBooks | Kobo
Worlds collide when two different urban fantasy series meet in each of the ten electrifying stories in this collaborative project, featuring beloved characters such as Peter Octavian and Dahlia Lynley-Chivers, Joanne Walker and Harper Blaine, Joe Ledger and Special Agent Franks, Sabina Kane and Ava. Urban Allies melds the talents of some of the most high-profile authors in the genre today—many of whom are working together for the first time—to give readers a chance to see their favorite characters in an imaginative and fresh way.
Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden
Carrie Vaughn and Diana Rowland
Jonathan Maberry and Larry Correia
Kelley Armstrong and Seanan Mcguire
Joseph Nassise and Sam Witt
Steven Savile And Craig Schaefer
David Wellington and Weston Ochse
Stephen Blackmoore and Jeff Somers
C. E. Murphy and Kat Richardson
Jaye Wells and Caitlin Kittredge
Here’s what reviewers are saying about it:
Library Journal (Starred Review)
These ten shared stories bring together the work of 20 different authors. “Ladies’ Fight” matches up Caitlin Kittredge’s hellhound Ava and reaper Leo with Jaye Wells’s Chosen, Sabina Kane, her partner Adam, and demon Giguhl as they search for the Grim Reaper’s scythe. In “Tailed,” Seanan McGuire’s Verity Price hunts a cryptid poacher and discovers a werewolf with her kids and Kelley Armstrong’s Elena, Kate, and Logan. More pairings of fan-favorite characters, including Peter Octavian and Dahlia Lynley-Chivers, and JoeLedger and Agent Franks, bring fresh outings and fun crossovers sure to delight many readers. Verdict This anthology highlights incredible authors and their best lead protagonists. Readers will devour these stories, which answer the question many fans pose: “What if these two characters met?”
RT Book Reviews – 4 ½ Stars and a Top Pick
Literary mashups are no easy feat, but thanks to some excellent pairings and the work of a group of wonderfully talented writers, this collection is enormously fun from beginning to end, particularly for series fans. The teamwork on display in these stories yields some fascinating results, providing authors and readers with a wonderfully imaginative way to explore and reimagine some beloved characters and settings and offering the chance to see what happens when those characters and worlds suddenly collide. Devotees of the featured series will feel right at home with most of these scenarios, but newcomers will have no trouble at all diving into each of these stories, and will no doubt come out with a new list of must-reads as a result.
Authors such as Kelley Armstrong, Charlaine Harris, Caitlin Kittredge, and Jonathan Maberry combine their distinctive talents in this unique collection, where 20 best-selling urban-fantasy authors teamed up on 10 original short stories featuring their series characters…“Pig Roast” is a fun, fast-paced read, while “The Lessons of Room 19” is both a creepy read and a smart commentary on the haunting nature of grief. “Blood for Blood” introduces Peter Octavian to Dahlia Lynley-Chivers, and their dangerous adventure will have readers flipping the pages. Once readers arrive at “Spite House,” they will wonder how it is possible that Seattle PIs Harper Blaine and Joanne Walker have never met before. Most of the stories serve as a nice introduction to these individual series and will send readers unfamiliar with these characters back to library shelves to find the backlist. Recommended for fantasy collections.
“An all-star roster of 20 urban fantasy authors headlines this collection of 10 crossover adventures, each of which sees two writers pitting their signature heroes against shared threats…Nassise (Midian Unmade) has assembled an admirable group of contributors who do a good if sometimes uneven job of blending both styles and toy boxes. The tales lean more toward the darker fantasy or horror end of the spectrum, making for an occasionally gory spectacle. Readers will undoubtedly get a kick out of seeing their favorite heroes solving cases together and will enjoy being introduced to new characters and settings. (Aug.)
Buy Urban Allies now!
Amazon | B&N | Indiebound | iBooks
Are you a creator or a consumer?
It’s a question I think about a lot these days. So much of our energy seems to be focused on consuming, chewing each other up and digesting whatever is offered without thought or principle.
I’m scared. I’m sad. I’m angry. I know this is because I have spent too much time lately consuming the garbage I’m seeing here and elsewhere online and in the news. As the old saying goes, “garage in, garbage out.”
I don’t want to be angry or bitter. I don’t want to believe that this world is unsalvageable or that people are not basically good. I don’t want to lose hope.
Yet, I know the source of hope always lies in creation. Luckily, my life centers on being creative and sharing those creations with others. I know magic exists in this world and in people because I have seen it over and over through stories and paintings, architecture and songs. I have seen strangers be kind. I have seen miracles in the mundane. I have seen humility in the magnificent.
Even if you’re not “a creative” you can still foster a positive creator mentality in your own life.
Creator Mentality means that you:
do instead of complain
make instead of destroy
build instead of tear down
share instead of hoard
foster curiosity instead of suspicion
compliment instead of insult
think instead of obey
build up instead of tear down
join communities instead of factions
are open and present instead of closed and anxious
Imagination, progress, change–these are the vehicles of creation. The fuels of this miraculous engine are curiosity, delight, and enthusiasm.
It’s a choice you have to make every day. Some days it’s harder than others. We’re not perfect, but we have potential.
Today, I choose creation. I hope you will, too.
I’m finally back home after a whirlwind, two-week trip. First, I went to Greensburg, PA to do my final MFA residency at Seton Hill. That week culminated with my thesis defense and graduation. My husband came up for the festivities and surprised me by showing up with my mom and step-father. I am notoriously hard to surprise, but they managed it somehow. It was great to have my own little cheering section at the ceremony. I even made it through without too many tears, although I’d be lying if I said there were none.
The day after graduation, the four of us headed to Fallingwater for the day. In college, I studied art history with a concentration on American art and architecture so this was a major deal. It’s about as close to a religious experience as I get (outside of libraries and bookstores), and I might have cried there, too. Let’s just say it was an emotional week in a great way all around.
After having the esteemed Dr. Nicole Peeler play party host and tour guide in Pittsburgh, we said goodbye to my parents and headed down to Virginia for a few days. Near Charlottesville, there is a great area with lots of wineries and great restaurants and some of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet. We got to attend a talk and interview with Butch Taylor and Stuart Gunter, both wonderful musicians and very friendly people. We also bought some gorgeous photographs by Steve Edgar, who is both a talented photographer and a musician. And, of course, there was lots of wine “tasting” and delicious food eating. It was a pretty perfect trip all around.
Now I’m back home and settling in for my post-MFA life. I’m already working on a couple of new projects because working keeps me out of trouble. I’m also looking forward to more time to read for pleasure, a luxury I wasn’t afforded for the last two-and-a-half years of graduate school. Of course, I’m always reading about five books at a time and some of those are research for a secret project.
Coming up this month, the URBAN ALLIES anthology is coming out. I’m super excited about this one. They took several bestselling urban fantasy authors, paired us up, and had us write cross-over stories that combined our worlds. I co-wrote a story called Ladies’ Fight with Caitlin Kittredge that combines Ava from her Hellhound Chronicles and my own Sabina Kane. I can’t tell you how much fun it was to write Sabina, Adam and Mr. Giggles again. I think you’ll love that story and all of the amazing offerings from Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden, Jonathan Mayberry, Kelley Armstrong, Seanan McGuire, and so many other talented UF authors.
Preorder Urban Allies now!
But that’s not all!
I’m also working on a print version of my second Meridian Six story, Children of Ash. The ebook has been out for a while, but I’ve been getting loads of emails asking for print, too. Hopefully that will be ready to buy in the next couple of weeks. If you’re curious about that series, click here for a blurb and free preview of both books.
I hope summer is treating you all well. Happy reading!
I recently sat down for an interview with Authornomics to discuss the writing life and my career.
Here’s a sneak peek:
You’ve written about writers needing to be more flexible. What strategies do you have for writers who are looking to get out of their comfort zone? Do you ever struggle with flexibility? Why is being flexible so important?
Flexibility is important in that every book offers new challenges. The more tools a writer has in their toolbox, the easier it is to duck and weave when new problems pop up. I also think we have to be less invested the in the mythologies we create about our writing. If you tell yourself that “real writers” don’t do this or that you could be actively working against your own progress. We get too invested in “shoulds” and acting like writing has to feel like punishment to be legitimate that we forget that writing can and should be fun a lot of the time. Being flexible allows more space for play.
When I’m teaching writing classes, I tend to mention the same craft books over and over. So for today’s Craft Thursday, I thought I’d share the titles with you and why I like them. This is by no means an exhaustive list of every good craft and writing life book I’ve read. It’s just a list of the ones I name-check most.
1. Fiction First Aid Raymond Obstfeld: Great overview of common problems that plague a lot of manuscripts. Good to read prior to revision to help diagnose problems. I don’t think I read this straight through, but I’ve referred to it again and again over the years.
2. Writing & Personality by John K DiTiberio & George Jensen: This book used Meyers-Briggs personality to help explain how each type approaches large writing projects. I can not overstate how much this book did to help me find my process. I reread the section on my time at least twice a year–or whenever I try to convince myself that I’d have an easier time if I plotted (hint: I wouldn’t). Note: I’ve had trouble finding new copies of this book, but you might get lucky and run into at a used book store.
3. Rules for the Dance by Mary Oliver: I don’t know why it took me so long to discover Mary Oliver’s poetry, but now that I have, I’m totally in love. This book is Oliver’s primer on writing and reading metrical verse. You might have learned some of the information about meter in high school, but if you’re like me, the only one you could reliably name was “iambic pentameter.” I suggest this book because understanding the rhythm of language will help your prose crackle with emotion and texture. If you don’t read this book, you should at a minimum start trying to read more poetry and music lyrics. Trust me, it will help you become a better writer.
4. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield: This is not a craft book–it’s a writing life survival manual. I probably have as many books about how to survive being a writer as I do how to become a better one. This is a great, easy-to-read book that is worth rereading at least once a year.
5. The Anatomy of Story by John Truby: Truby’s background is in screenwriting, but the way he constructs his stories is very similar to my own process. By that I mean, he advocates an organic approach. Instead of plotting, the prework here is focused on character creation and world building. The book is filled with writing exercises and great advice. It can be a bit dense, but it’s definitely worth a read.
6. Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card: Character creation is one of my strengths, but I read this because I was writing a book with multiple POV characters and wanted to be sure I wasn’t missing anything. He introduces both topics in a clear way that’s great for newer writers. However, for my money, the best thing in this book is Card’s MICE Quotient. I won’t tell you what it is, but it sort of blew my mind.
What are your favorite craft books?
One of the best skills you can foster as a writer is that of self-permission. I’m not talking about rationalizing destructive behavior or justifying crappy choices. Instead, you need to learn how to stop looking toward society, your friends and family, etc for permission to follow your instincts.
The greatest gift I gave myself as a new writer was permission to be a novice. After beating myself up for not writing brilliant prose and force-feeding myself every nugget of advice I could find from the experts, I finally threw up my hands and admitted that I wasn’t supposed to be good yet. I’d never written a book before, so how could I expect to be good at it?
Giving myself permission to be a beginner opened a door inside of me. Suddenly, I was free to play and experiment. To laugh at myself and let myself grow. More importantly, it allowed me to complete my first novel. I told myself I just needed to get it down. It didn’t have to be good–it just had to be done.
Since then, I’ve had to give myself permission to do lots of other things I found scary. I gave myself permission to go back to grad school even though everyone thought it was crazy. I gave myself permission to write a new genre. I even gave myself permission to take a break when I felt burned out.
The point is that your creative life is your responsibility. There is no fairy craft mother who’s going to point you on the right path or look out for you. More likely, you will run into lots of people with their own agenda or products to sell who are great at pretending to be looking out for you. Long-term happiness in the creative entrepreneurial life requires that you get good at becoming your own advocate. It requires the courage to give yourself permission to make choices that go against conventional wisdom and to ignore the voices of people who are terrified you’ll be the crab to escape the pot.
It also requires that you get very honest about why you’re doing this. Are you writing because you want to be a millionaire (best of luck with that, friend) or are you writing because telling your story is as critical to your existence as oxygen? Maybe you fall somewhere in the middle (most of us do), and you need to decide where your hard lines exist and where you’re willing to compromise. If you’re in this for money, give yourself permission to ignore the people who are in it for art, and vice versa. Repeat after me: The existence of a different approach is not an indictment of your approach.
So, my friends, tell me: What scary writing thing did you have to give yourself permission to do?
April 23-24, I’ll be at DFW Con in downtown Ft. Worth. I first attended this event two years ago and found it to be a rally great experience. I’m excited to be presenting again this year. The guest of honor this year is Christopher Golden, and there are a ton of great speakers lined up. If you’re in or near DFW, you should check it out!
More info about DFW Con can be found here.
Saturday, 4:00-4:50. Workshop – So Here’s My Problem. Room 202B.
Instructors will help writers with whatever writing challenge they bring to the table. Each of the FOUR writers will have 11 minutes to discuss their problem and receive feedback from the instructors.
Moderator: Melissa Lenhardt
Panelists: Jaye Wells, Paul Black, Steven Salpeter, Nadia Cornier, Tara McKelvey
Sunday, 8:00-8:50 am. Panel – Independent & Small Press Publishing. Room 202C.
A panel on independent and small press publishing.
Moderator: D.L. Young
Panelists: Laura Maisano, Pamela Skjolsvik, Jaye Wells, David Doub, Harry Hall, Lindsay Cummings
Sunday, 11:00-11:50 am. Delivering Your Pops and Payoffs. Room 202B.
Good stories don’t happen by accident. To master the art of delivering satisfying tales, writers must learn how to effectively make story promises in Act One as well as how to deliver satisfying payoffs by The End. This class will explore the types of promises you must make from the first line of your story, demonstrate a variety of tools you can use to make those promises, and offer strategies to avoid cheating your readers out of satisfying payoffs.
The long-awaited sequel to Meridian Six is finally here! The novella comes in at a whopping 40,000 words, which is almost a novel but not quite. With the story growing so much, I’m considering writing a full-length novel in this world if the demand exists for more of these stories.
A masterful fusion of post-apocalyptic fiction, dark fantasy, and subtle social commentary, this is, simply put, the best self-published vampire story I have read in my 20 years of reviewing. And it’s just the beginning of a series that has the potential to change the landscape of genre fiction. Mark my words: It’s that good. -Paul Goat Allen on Meridian Six
The exciting second installment of the Meridian Six series …
Freedom is a luxury paid for with blood.
Several months after their first victory over the vampires, Meridian Six and her band of rebels are called in to Book Mountain for a brand new mission. The leader of another rebel group needs help saving children who were captured by the Troika and sent to Krovgorod, the worst of the vampire labor camps. Getting inside the prison camp will be simple, but escaping it will be hell.
Red means life.
Buy Children of Ash now!
Note: iBooks and Nook are coming. I’ll update this post with links once they are available.
If you have not yet read the first novella in this series, please check out Meridian Six.
In a world at war, freedom is a luxury paid for with blood.
The daughter of a rebel leader, Meridian Six was used as a propaganda tool and blood slave to her vampire captors for years after her mother died. When she finally escapes, she runs toward a red light signal that leads the way to the underground world of human rebels. All she wants is freedom, but what she finds instead of a rebellion in search of a hero–and for some reason they think she fits the bill. The vampires used her famous name as a tool of oppression, but now the humans want to use it to inspire a revolution.
Buy Meridian Six now!