The Writer's Calling

WritingLife

I came to writing through vocabulary.

I’ve written stories since I was a child, with plots and intrigues that flowed easily.

Mimi, my grandmother, swore that I wrote my first story around the age of 7.

But my earliest memories were the weekly writing assignments in 3rd grade.

Mrs. Beatty gave us a list of 10 new vocabulary words every week with daily assignments.

We had to define them, spell them correctly, use them in sentences of our making, and the grand finale was the homework due Friday – writing a longer piece about whatever we wanted, so long as we used all the new words appropriately.

Most of the kids wrote essays. I made up stories with my classmates as characters. I had fun, the kids loved it, and thus, I found my writer’s calling.

Mom said I was the only one of us who willingly did this assignment. Apparently, my brothers hated it.

Simplicity is a beautiful thing.

Those 3rd grade writing assignments were fun. But writing has gotten more complicated and demanding in the years that followed.

Stories and plots flow as much as ever, but I now have a lot of resistance that I didn’t as a 9 year old.

I know this is what I’m meant to do. I have no doubt that writing is my destiny. But it’s hard, painful work.

Writing requires never-ending introspection into who I am and what motivates me, as well as observing people, interpreting who I think they are and figuring out what makes them tick. That’s a lonely job.

Although writing is rewarding, there’s never that sense of completion or that belief that I finally got it exactly right.

Jack Remick, an author and a former writing teacher of mine, said that final manuscript was an illusion.

He said he could go back to “Terminal Weird,” which he said won a lovely award and make improvements on those stories.

(For the record, this was the teacher who taught me the Cage-Escape-Quest-Dragons-Home story structure.)

His point was that you have to decide when a manuscript is good enough to let it go, but it will never be perfect.

How frustrating is that?

As a whole, I believe the writer’s calling is an honor. But like most honorable and worthwhile pursuits, it’s isolating and has many challenges that make me wish I had the calling to be a biologist or something.

That’s pretty kooky, really. I didn’t even like science when I was a kid.

What about some of you? Were you inspired to write as kids? Does inspiration come as easily now? Do you resist or go with the flow? I would love to hear some thoughts and stories.

The Story Behind Free Flying Press

RobertandI.jpg

I struggle with social media self-promotion.

I have never understood ‘branding’ or ‘author’s platform.’ Every time I hear about the need to ‘define my brand,’ I cringe. It’s one thing to offer my writing as a product, it’s another to make my self into ‘content.’ That is odious to me, this image of livestock burning flesh because some poor cow or horse just got branded - pun intended.

Natalya, the illustrator I just hired for “Why Roses Have Thorns” has made me see branding a little differently. Like many creatives, Natalya wears many hats and has collected a lot of tools to make a living.

Besides illustration, Natalya collaborates with people to figure out their social media marketing plan. She is passionate about ‘branding’ and claims she can talk about it all day.

“Defining your brand is simply telling the story of who you are.”

Well, ok. I can get behind that, especially because Free Flying Press can be utilized as my ‘brand.’ What Natalya had to say spurred some ideas of what the ‘brand’ of Free Flying Press could be.

This website has been up for 5 years, and it’s been an homage to my brother the entire time. Yet I have neither filled out his In Memoriam page or deleted it. Writing this blog prompted me to do just that. Click here if you’d like to see it.

Perhaps some random readers have noticed the various drawings of skydivers in the banners, and wondered what does skydiving have to do with dark-fantasy-love-stories-with-explicit-sex-scenes or innocent children’s fairy tales?

Well, nothing obviously. At least, not directly.

Years ago, when I was trying to find an agent and editor on the pathway to traditional publishing, I always considered the self-publishing path. The original name for this indie author vehicle was Freedom Junkie Press.

‘Freedom junkie’ was my first muse, so to speak. The phrase popped into my head during my first summer in Juneau, and that literally convinced me to stay and make Alaska my home, rather than enjoying it as the last stop of my vagabond bartender phase.

I thought ‘Freedom Junkie’ would be the name of a book, but it ended up being more an underlying theme of my life for close to 20 years.

When I decided on the self-published road, ‘freedom junkie’ seemed an excellent fit for the DIY mentality. I even started the domain in cyberspace: freedomjunkie.com.

Unfortunately, I didn’t protect it, which is what we do when we don’t act on an idea.

Anyway, somebody bought freedomjunkie.com after my ownership of the name expired.

Much later, whoever had bought it sold the name to a Life Coach out of Anchorage who used the expression ‘for realz’ all over her site. It made me sad and kind of sick to my stomach. But no way in hell was I going to purchase a domain name of freedomjunkie.net with this kind of thing around. The time had come to let that name go.

And then, my brother died around the time I finished the final manuscript of “Ella Bandita and the Wanderer.” After the tailspin of grief and apathy wore off enough to pull myself together to get back on track, it was time to come up with a new name for my press.

That’s where the skydivers come in.

Robert’s 10-way team in the 90’s.

Robert’s 10-way team in the 90’s.

Robert had been a skydiving champion in the prime of his life. His team won the nationals twice in the 10-way formation 2 years in a row before he switched to freeflying.

Freeflying skydiving was very new and very experimental at the time he got involved with it. The team was a trio of 2 freeflyers and a cameraman that keeps up with them to get the best shots. It’s a very acrobatic and creative form of skydiving with flyers doing crazy, aerial stunts as they’re hurtling towards the ground at about 170mph.

Robert’s team, Z Airtime, won 1st place at the X-games their first year and 2nd place the next year. Here’s a video of their work that Brian Germain posted on Youtube recently. Robert is the one on the left in the below still, the barefoot skydiver, and the one hamming it up.

Team Z-AirTime was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I was forever bonded with two of the most amazing people I have ever met. Robert Mahaffey, brilliant wild man of the team, was an incredible athlete in everything he tried.

Lots of things happened between this gorgeous time in Robert’s life and the dark times that led to his death in November 2012.

So in late 2013 or early 2014, when I was ready to get my writing off the ground and it was time to find a new name for my self-publishing vehicle, Free Flying Press had a nice ring to it. It gave me a lot of peace to honor Robert in this way.

Besides knowing he would have loved the attention and the compliment, Robert’s skydiving years were the happiest time of his life. He had found his people, his calling, and even his portal to freedom.

Somehow that elusive freedom is a primary motivator behind this DIY press. The freedom to craft my stories as I see fit rather than follow arbitrary rules that I don’t agree with is my favorite advantage, and I’m willing to sacrifice the validation and prestige of traditional publishing in order to have it.

DISCLAIMER: For all anybody knows, my writing sucks and I’m not good enough to get published. See for yourself and decide: here are some blogs of excerpts of my work-in-progress here and here.

Besides freedom, there are other themes that informed my life, Robert’s life, and the stories behind this press. But those are subjects for other blogs.

To conclude, doesn’t the image of freeflying skydivers somersaulting through the air as they’re rushing towards earth at breakneck speed present an image of ultimate risk and ultimate freedom?

And if that isn’t the essence of an unforgettable, bad-ass ‘brand,’ then what is?

The graphic designer flipped the image, but you can see the stunt that inspired the Free Flying Press logo in the video above if you watch almost to the end.

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Who is the Critical Mass? On the Road #12

OnTheRoad

Hey y'all,

Although it was a stroke of luck to get any space at the Alaska State Fair since I didn't get on it until the very last minute - and I am grateful to Denise of Non Essentials (homemade natural skincare) for giving me that space - I am nonetheless exceedingly relieved that I wasn't at the State Fair every day, much less paid exorbitant rates for a booth there.

There was something about the fair that made me think of the Celestine Prophecy and the Critical Mass, those select individuals awake to the spiritual journey of their lives, and will thus raise the human race to a higher level of existence.   

Even if this is an act of love for all of humanity, one could still argue the concept of a Critical Mass as another form of elitism - sugar-coated and with the new age stamp of approval - but still a statement that some people matter and most people don't.

Although I found the message to be inspiring, hopeful, and way groovy, The Celestine Prophecy is also one of the most badly written books I've ever read, so I couldn't take it completely seriously. Yet, some of the most intelligent people I know have eaten it up, and I don't know what to make of that.   

For those heartfelt idealists who really want to believe in the potential of all humanity, but feel the pull to...get in touch with their tendencies towards elitism…I suggest you go hang out at the State Fair. Even better, try to pursue your dream at the State Fair, and you'll get in touch real fast with your inner snob. Anybody who has ever spent any time in any customer service job knows just how awful, stupid, and downright annoying people can be.  

And at the Alaska State Fair, as I was commiserating with Denise, the lovely woman who let me set up a table on her "porch" free of charge, about the oblivious rudeness of those who come into her booth, I was struck by all the people. Swarms of people streaming by me with their hair spray-painted in rainbow colors, outlandish designs that will take the better part of the night and next day to wash out, designs painted on their faces, in tight hip-slung jeans in varying stages of fat and thin, with quite a few Mabelline cosmetics covering teenage faces that don't need make-up, and the scruffy teenage boys in their shapeless clothes. Not to mention tourists with their sparkling white, comfortable, "walking shoes" and their name tags. This sea of humanity walking back and forth was striking in their ordinariness, and there were so many of them. It occurred to me how few of these people really seemed interesting or vivid. Denise agreed and remarked that she was shocked that so many young women looked tired to her, and even more haggard than she was in her early fifties. 

"When I was young, I was young," she said. "These girls I know are young, but they already seem old."

On a positive note, a beautiful mother/daughter duo got my attention as they approached Denise's booth. I noticed them immediately because they had the same eyes - large and almond shaped, slightly Asian, and bright green. The mother was in her mid forties with her hair short and her clothes practical; she wasn't trying to impress anybody. Her daughter had her long hair in a ponytail, no make-up. She was about fifteen and absolutely beautiful in an effortless, natural way and her manners matched her looks. They spent quite a bit of time in Denise's shop and made her day, not only because they spent some money, but because they looked over her products with appreciation.  They stopped at my table for a minute. They didn’t buy anything but I didn’t care. They were not only pleasant and respectful, they were very present.

If I had to pick shoo-ins to the Critical Mass of those who are truly alive, I’d definitely choose these two. 

These ladies were a vast improvement over the stout dowager clad in a pink sweat suit with a goofy cartoon character on the front. She announced that she didn't read fiction, only the Bible; and she certainly didn't read fairy tales since she was a Christian.

"But I have many friends who do and I don't hold it against them," she puffed up.  "And I don't hold it against you for writing them."

I'm sure she felt the greatness of her spirit as she told me that and reveled in the righteousness of the narrow world of those who do not think. Perhaps she's an eager participant in book burning parties. 

Shortly after that exchange, I found myself thinking of the Critical Mass and wondering if maybe there wasn't something to it.

I'm sure this lady was certain that she was part of the Critical Mass of those who had been saved by Jesus. She certainly believes she's right and maybe she is...Who am I to say otherwise? Maybe we all are supposed to be mindless dogma junkies who live by a checklist of good behavior and see the Devil in fairy tales. Perhaps they really are the saved. Who knows?

If they are though, I will gladly go to Hell. Who wants to hang out with people like that for all eternity? 

So, who are those who make up the Critical Mass?

Call me selfish, call me vain…but in my world, the Critical Mass are those people who say:  

"Oh!  I would love to buy your book because I believe in supporting local artists."

Peace,

Montgomery

This is from a journal I took of a DIY booktour/roadtrip I did in 2005/2006. You can find the previous entry here.

 

Writer's Block in a Sex Scene? How to Open Up and Break Through

WriterBlock-SexScene

Writer’s block hits in so many different ways.

Technically, right now, I’m not “blocked” per the usual meaning, because I’m writing regularly. Even if I’m in a slack phase in my writing, I am making progress on the crucial second draft of “The Shepherd and the Courtesan” (working title only), and I have to keep up on the blog.

Since I was blocked in the truest sense of the phrase for years in that I didn’t write at all, what’s holding me up now is not that much of a big deal.

But I do find it interesting.

There’s one scene that’s holding me up – the first sex scene between the Shepherd and the Courtesan. This scene does not happen right away in this novel.

In fact, it doesn’t happen until the second half of the novel, and there are a several sex scenes before we even get to them, which are juicier, more transgressive, and more exciting.

Before we get to this, we have the psychological BDSM sex scenes between the Patron’s Daughter and the Brute – neither of them main characters – while the main character, Addie, who will later become the Courtesan, acts as voyeur.

We get to Addie’s flight to the Capital City, and none of the sex scenes with her as a Courtesan for the sake of pacing. But we do get the first sex scene between the Shepherd and the Woman who would become Ella Bandita; and the first sex scene between the Shepherd and the Courtesan is right after that.

But the difference between all the other sex scenes and this is that this sex scene between the Shepherd and the Courtesan is rooted in tenderness, whereas the others have some element of drama and intrigue.

Also in the scene between these characters, I’m writing about those who are not the usual players in an erotic scene, mainly because of age and ageism. The Shepherd is 50, and the Courtesan is 60. They are still true to the usual standard of romantic fantasy in that both characters are exceptionally attractive.

In an erotic scene, the Courtesan suspends disbelief because she’s been very sexual for more than 40 years; and any woman who stays active keeps her juice much longer than those who don’t.

The Shepherd, however, has been mostly solitary and without a mate for 25 years. There is a lot of vulnerability there. I’m resistant to writing about that, and I wonder why.

I wasn’t resistant to writing about the psychological and physical violence between the Brute and the Patron’s Daughter; for the record, that’s not the kind of scene I live through in my personal life, and perhaps that’s why. I’m emotionally detached.

So maybe I can’t be emotionally detached at the thought of a character who had embraced his solitude, and was now suddenly confronted with emotional and sexual intimacy, along with the fears that would entail. That hits closer to home to my experience.

Then I arrive at the logistics of impotence. Erectile dysfunction is reasonable to expect in a middle-aged man who has not had sex in a quarter century. That likelihood cannot be ignored because it would render the scene ridiculous, even in a “fantasy.”

Oh, and then there’s the logistics of being a woman writing a sex scene from the POV of a man. I’ve done it before with the Wanderer in the previous novel, but it adds a whole new level of awkwardness to writing it.

Since Viagra is not an option for a story set in pre-Industrial fairy tale times, I consulted with my Tantra teacher on natural methods to induce a solid hard-on for the good Shepherd. She shared the finger-in-anus-to-massage-the-prostrate technique that she claims would raise an erection in a dead man. (Ok, I exaggerate.)

Although that information is very pragmatic, I couldn’t figure out a graceful, poetic way to introduce it in the scene. And the long-celibate Shepherd is more likely to be scared off with a move like that. Maybe I’ll use it later in the story once they get better acquainted.

For their first time, I went with tender loving care, encouragement, tantric breathing, and palpating the perineum. Although there’s no guarantee those gentler methods would be effective in real life, who is to say that’s impossible? It only has to be in the realm of possibility, and that is good enough for me.

As far as insights and how-to advice, I think I led by example. You can write a blog or a Facebook Note, and open up to strangers. Writing this post gave relief to my shyness. I've never used Facebook Live or Instagram Live, but I bet that would lead to some pretty out there input, and there’s always something useful.

If you prefer a more intimate place to get feedback is talk about it with people face-to-face. Discuss the sex scene with close friends or your writers’ group. I will need to do this eventually for that masculine perspective on those sex scenes told from the man’s experience. But even without that, other perspectives can be very helpful in fleshing out a challenging what ifs and snafus. And talking about it in person is likely to break you out of your reticence.

I’m ready to take on that sex scene now. How do you handle being shy about writing a descriptive sex scene?

For anybody who’d like a nibble - and this is only a nibble - because sex is part of the background, not the main event in the scene, click here to view this excerpt out of my work-in-progress, “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.”

Changing a Novel That's Already Out There

HeartofLoneWolf-Fantasy

So I wrote and self-published a novel almost five years ago. At that time, I wrote, rewrote, and rewrote again, then edited and polished; my goal was getting an agent, an editor, and a publishing house. So I knocked myself out to meet all their nitpicking details, like a modest word count. What ended up happening was an over-rewritten novel that had lost a precious measure of juice and the lingering annoyance that something’s just not right 

There wasn’t adequate backstory needed to make the central character more sympathetic, instead of one who readers couldn’t connect with – except those who had suffered enough loss in their personal lives to read between the lines and understand her. I took out at least 75 pages of that backstory, as well as a chapter that had won 3rd place in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror category of the Southwest Writers Contest. That 75 pages held a lot of information about the relationship, or non-relationship between the unnamed Patron’s daughter who would become Ella Bandita and her father. It also told the story of her crush, the Horse Trainer who had Come as A Vagabond from his point of view.

Ella Bandita and the Wanderer was my 1st finished novel. First novels are seldom, if ever, an author’s best work. In the novel, “The World According to Garp,” by John Irving, the main character, Garp, was also a novelist; and his editor praised his first novel as a fine story, with the caveat that it was still “just a first novel.” So, got that. But it still doesn’t feel good to read the more critical reviews and know that they’re right. My partner put it simply: “Something’s missing. 

So I’m putting most of those cut out parts back in to complete the story, even though it will be such a pain in the ass to redesign and reformat the novel. I’ll have to update the copyright as well, and the novel needs a new title. In other words, this is a hassle and I’m not too sure that the novel will be that much improved for adding some missing pieces. It will still be a first novel. But I hope the series will be better for it.

I realize that much of what I wrote in my journal of the writer’s process makes no sense to anybody but me, and perhaps the SEO gods will frown upon me. But what the hell - it’s my blog and sometimes one must do whatever one wants.

Wanna Get Excited About Writing? Talk About It!

ExcitedAboutWriting

A fairly common piece of writing advice is to not talk about your novel while you’re writing it.

I think that holds true when I’m in rough draft, because the unsolicited feedback that often comes when somebody feels they can improve upon your ideas can really psych writers out, or distract us into going in the wrong direction, which ultimately creates more work to correct, if we don’t give up out of frustration.  

But that’s only in the beginning. After a point, it’s incredible how talking about your work can create more excitement for it.

Yesterday, I was working out with my friend, and Laura asked the usual question: “What have you been doing since I saw you last.”

My answer: “Writing.”

That is most of what I’m doing right now.

2nd draft is a slower process because I focus on keeping the details straight, so there is a novel that is done at the end of this. A novel that needs a developmental edit, some rewrites, and polish, but still a finished novel - whereas the rough draft is a mess.

Anyway, she asked me what the story was about, and I told her it’s a triad of love stories involving seduction, fascination, and rivalry.

The Shepherd and the Courtesan are together to tell their stories of Ella Bandita, the predatory seductress who had abandoned both of them. The Shepherd has never gotten over her, and neither has the Courtesan.

The Courtesan’s goal is to know for certain that Ella Bandita is dead. To entice the Shepherd to stay and swap stories with her, she tells him of her transformation from an ugly, embittered, hard-labor peasant named Addie to the glamorous and irresistible Courtesan known as Adrianna the Beautiful.

This is the 2nd novel in a series of 4. Ella Bandita is the central character, however she is not the main character in this particular novel, nor will she be in the 4th.

In this one, Ella Bandita is a secondary character in the background, present only through dreams and memories in the stories the protagonists share with each other.

Through sharing their stories and the time they spend together, the Shepherd and the Courtesan find a chance for redemption and healing, but only if they are willing to let go.

The appeal of this novel is discovering the labyrinth of life experiences that make a human being who they are. The Shepherd’s character is complex, but his solitary life is simple. His relationship with the Woman who would become known as Ella Bandita, Thief of Hearts, is the only unusual circumstance of his life.

The Courtesan’s character is complex with an incredible life story, and at least half the pages in the novel are spent on who she is and how she came to be that way. I suppose this is excessive “backstory,” but I don’t care. Because the Courtesan’s origin story is that juicy. Her stories propel the story forward between the Shepherd and the Courtesan, so it’s staying.

As I told Laura more, especially because there will be plenty of sex scenes, Laura got excited and said she wanted to read it. Of course, her enthusiasm made me want to keep writing the book.

I needed that.

This draft is excruciating became it tests me in an area where I’m weak – patience. So although I would have been unwise to talk about this in the early stages, I found the sweet spot of talking about my work at a moment when I needed some juice to keep writing.

Laura got me excited about a story that I was starting to feel jaded about. That would not have happened if I had not talked to her about it.

So yeah, you writers out there, give it a try so long as you’re not in rough draft.

Read a Lot and Write a Lot

Writing.Advice

Stephen King offered this pithy gem of advice in his fabulous book for scribes, “On Writing,” and he considered it crucial enough that he repeated “read a lot and write a lot” throughout the book. As much as I admire Mr. King for “On Writing,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” and the sheer mass of work he produced (I’m not a fan of horror), I have a slight tweak to add.

Read a lot, but read selectively. Write a lot.

The reason why is that I have found that whatever I’m reading affects the way I write. Although it probably affects character and plot development in ways that I’m not aware of, my biggest concern is the effect on the beauty and quality of the writing. In other words, if I’m indulging in a juicy piece of mind candy to escape from reality – and we all do it, chances are it’s not written in the gorgeous style of quality literary fiction. Chances are, the editing may not be that great either. But if the story is engaging, pulls me in, and I’m enjoying the read, I don’t care because I’m getting what I want out of it. However, I’m not thrilled when that less than high quality style of writing is coming from my fingers as I’m typing happily, especially if I’m in the 3rd or 4th rewrite. So it’s probably best to read the most sumptuous, lyrical, poetic prose I can get my hands on, especially while I’m in the later stages of rewriting, editing, and polishing.

I have found that what we read influences not just what we write, but how. This is especially true of the fiction we read while growing up. For instance, before I found my niche where I belonged, I tried my hand at writing a mystery. Why? Because I grew up reading Agatha Christie mysteries. I read all of them by the time I finished my teens. Between the pages of those deceptively simple tomes was a brilliant brainteaser of a Whodunit. Nobody did the Whodunit better than Agatha Christie. Nobody even came close. And the reason why is because it’s f***ing difficult. It wasn’t long before I found out that I sucked at writing mysteries in general, and the Whodonit in particular. 

Yet there was no way I wasn’t influenced by Agatha Christie’s work. I read too much of her when I was young for any other outcome. How? What gift did I receive from the pages of those mystery novels I couldn’t write? Strict and obsessive attention to detail. From what I read, Agatha Christie didn’t neglect a single detail in her books, that’s why when the reader and the innocent characters in her stories finally got to Whodunit, every detail offered up was presented, including the details that she sneaked in. Not a single detail was wasted, whether it was to throw us off the path, or stacked to build a case for the murderer who had actually done it.

As a reader, I notice the abandonment of details - usually in subplot storylines that don’t conclude or even in the main story itself – and every time, I’m irritated with the sloppy, lazy writing and editing. I’m especially annoyed because those works actually got published. As a writer, I do my best to avoid that. Hopefully, I succeed in the goal of getting all stories and details to round out to a satisfying ending. 

So those influences come out in sneaky and surprising ways.

Read a lot and write a lot. But be selective in your reading choices.

If you would like more of Mr. King’s pithy advice about writing, read his book, “On Writing.” In the meantime, here’s this blog: https://jerryjenkins.com/stephen-king-writing-advice/