Q: What are you working on?
A: I am in the rewrite and editing stage of the first four volumes of Part One (The Flame Ignites) of my serialized novel, A Wizard’s Life.
A Wizard’s Life is an adult, epic fantasy intended for those readers who grew up on J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling and Robert Jordan but who now seek fantasy with adult themes and content. The series is the autobiographical account of a master wizard, Götling Hans Velsing, beginning with his discovery of his talents and extending through his apprenticeship. In the midst of a global war against an army of undead and the threat of the return of an ancient evil, young Götling becomes the last hope of the Empire. As the Inquisition takes over his home after he is accused of being a witch, Götling must also deal with the consequences to a tragic love triangle. From the simple world of peasants, he is thrust into the mysteries of the Academy of Arcane Arts, the political intrigues of the court and of the mages, and the complications of his society, while also coming to terms with his emerging manhood, his rising powers, and the needs of his heart. The tale is set in Midgard, a parallel world roughly analogous to Europe in our 10th to 11th century. The Teutonic faith is the dominant religion and the geography is similar to our own.
I have been working on the project for 4 years now. It is approximately 650,000 words long, to be divided over 4 volumes.
Q: How does your work differ from others of its genre?
A: I have my own voice. My perspective is my own. My style is my own.
There is no confusing me with any other author.
My work is deeply layered. Meaning lies within meaning. The reader may delve as deep or as shallow as they wish and still come up rewarded.
I work in symbols, parallels, allegories, simile, and metaphor.
I write from the gut to touch the heart. But I also reach into the head to promote thought.
My work is deeply emotional and deeply personal.
I am both spiritual and intellectual.
I write for women, and I write for men.
I write in wonderment at how truly amazing we all are. I also write in fear of what our weaknesses and our laziness and our prejudices may allow.
I write to awaken and to instigate.
I offer hope.
I present new ways of looking at the universe. I compel my readers to question their conceptions. I ask them to look into themselves, and I expose the flaws of our nature and of our civilization while celebrating the strengths.
I tackle large issues all the way from the meaning of existence and the nature of reality to social mores and the human condition.
I am not afraid to shock. I will say what others fear to say.
I elicit a wide variety of emotional reaction, including love and hate and humor and suspense and terror.
First and foremost, I entertain.
I launch my audience on a rollercoaster ride of thrill and adventure, throttling forward and rocketing up and down and to the curve, and then I sail into serenity.
I journey to shores both known and unknown.
My words are music. I compose symphonies of prose.
My writing is visceral. It is visual, and it is tactile, auditory and olfactory, and it tickles the tongue.
I tell human tales.
I disclose the lives and personalities of intriguing characters who are caught in intriguing situations and who are involved in intriguing relations.
I am a visionary who transports my readers out of their seats and places them in a new reality where they live a life that is not their own. I take my readers to worlds they have never seen to show them the worlds inside themselves.
I write fantasy for adults. I work with mature content, themes, and concerns.
Simultaneously, I open the door to the child within.
I provoke wonder.
Q: Why do you write what you write?
A: I came to fantasy out of a need to escape.
In late 2009, I lost my job, my income, my home, my savings, my retirement, and virtually everything I owned. At 50 years of age, I had no future and no prospects for a future. No one wanted me, and I felt abandoned on all fronts.
My dreams had long been stolen from me. In spite of talent, training, commitment, effort, and following, I was not merely “ignored” by Hollywood. I was starved out of the city.
Accrued over thirty years, my total income off acting was not over $2,500. I was in all three unions (SAG, AFTRA, and AEA.)
It was not that I could not land a “gig.” I was (and am) VERY good at my craft. I am VERY easy to work with, and my ego is in check. I am VERY reliable. My reputation is spotless.
The problem was that I could not get any auditions for paid work. I simply was not in the running. I never made enough money under SAG to qualify to audition under AEA. I never made a dime under AFTRA.
Acting is the only business I can think of where the prospective applicants are precluded from access to the job listings and have to pay to be considered — in the form of Casting Director workshops, union membership dues (which membership is very difficult to get), and through representation with a franchised agent who has a subscription to the breakdowns and who submits or does not submit their clients at the agent’s choice. [Incidentally, those workshops are particularly frustrating when you are an experienced and highly educated professional actor and are compelled to “take a lesson” from someone who has neither performed on stage nor ever studied anywhere and can’t even speak the lingo to direct a performance.]
It is a constant cost for photos, resumes, grooming, clothing, classes, coaches, workshops, gym, union dues, audition reels, video transfers, conventions, etc., etc., etc.
Over my career, I had more standing ovations than I could count. I have had spectators literally (and I do mean literally) rolling in the aisles with laughter. I have had entire audiences drenched with tears. Time and again, I have gotten them to their feet to cheer. I have been praised at stage doors and told by strangers more than once, “You’re amazing. That is the best performance I have ever seen.” I have received heaven-shaking kudos from celebrities and from top professionals and from top coaches. I have had fans (both as an actor and as a standup comedian) who followed me from show to show.
But I could not get through the door to read for consideration to be cast as a bit player for a soap opera or for a walk on in a commercial or as a day player in a sitcom or for a guest spot on an episodic or for a support role in a low budget feature film to be paid at minimum scale on a standard contract.
I could get all the non-paid lead stage roles that I wanted. But I could not audition for anything else.
I never once got a casting director or a director or a producer to attend a single performance of anything that I was ever in. I was never once in a cast where any other actor was able to get any such person to attend either. Not once—not in thirty years. Not in New York. Not in Los Angeles. Not over hundreds of performances.
I was employed since the age of 16. I first worked as a bus boy on a graveyard shift while in high school. I have worked in many different settings and in many different occupations. I worked my way through college on 3 occasions. I spent my last years of employment in Sales and Advertising. I was always well respected by my superior and by my peers and my clients. I was valued as a cog in the machine and as a go-getter. I was a recognized door opener who could close the deal. I was the one sent in to retain the troubled accounts and soothe the unhappy clients. I was an innovator who identified and developed new markets.
In the past 4 years, I have had 3 interviews for paid positions. I have submitted thousands and thousands of resumes and applications. If I receive a reply (which is rare), it is a form “No, thank you.”
Throughout my adult life, I had never been able to get my home stable enough that I could pursue my dreams with the resources and energy in which they need to be pursued. I have never had a lover or a spouse who believed enough to take a risk. Finances were always tight at best, and living conditions were always tense and difficult.
Overnight, after the market tumbled, I went from decades of poverty and struggle down to outright homelessness and destitution.
I was tossed into a pit where I was to be forgotten. In that hole, I was defamed along with the rest of the poor as being somehow lazy or at fault for our circumstances, and I was made to feel like a sack of shit.
I have volunteered in emergency rooms, done a variety of charity work, supported the Boy Scouts, taught at-risk children for years in underprivileged areas and made less than poverty level with no benefits while doing it. I have also paid taxes since I was 16.
I was a good citizen, a good neighbor, a good friend, a good employee, a good father, and a good man. I’m no angel, and I’m not perfect, but I certainly deserve better than I have received.
Now, I and my fellow unemployed who struggle on $189 per month in food stamps to feed us—and who rely on the kindness of our families and friends to subsidize all our other needs (from toothpaste to toilet paper to aspirin to clothing to a roof over our head)—are vilified by the Republican Party and put at fault for the state of the economy.
We are “Takers.”
By the end of the 6 months following the loss of my home, when a friend asked me to vacate his spare room where I had been sheltered, I was severely depressed. I was very fortunate in that my father agreed to provide me shelter. So, I moved away from my city of 26 years and far from my circle of friends.
Other than two very old friends who live out of state and one former colleague, I have not seen or heard from any of my former associates in any manner since 2010.
I am a pariah.
My life ended in 2009.
I had no desire to continue. I welcomed death. I was plagued by graphic visions of being attacked by lions and of being eaten alive. I could hear the roars and feel the claws shred and the teeth bite. I could feel my guts being pulled out and gulped down.
It was very real.
I was suffocated, and I was drowned.
Not even in sleep did I find relief. All my dreams were nightmares.
I spent many hours contemplating the blissful release of suicide.
I could not think straight. It was hard to move.
In full significance of all which the expression implies, I wanted “out.”
However, I still had family whom I could not forsake. The way out would grant me release, but it would bring them pain.
I had to find a way to survive. I had to hang on.
I literally felt my mind falling apart.
I sought aid at Jewish Family Services—a very kind group of people who deserve thanks and acknowledgment. I am not even Jewish, but they saw past religion and saw a fellow human being in pain and in need of help. I participated in employment counseling and spoke with others in my situation. I saw a therapist there once. By then my money was almost gone, and at $25 a pop I could afford no more sessions. I was given a prescription for a strong anti-depressant. The medication hit me so hard that I was unconscious for most of two days. I stopped taking the drug thereafter.
I did the only thing I knew how to do.
I decided to write a fantasy, to create a place where I would not have to face my circumstances. I wanted to create a world where I was in control. I wanted a place that would make sense to me and that would treat me fair. I sought to focus my thoughts so that my mind no longer fixed on the facts of my negative reality. I sought to do something positive by creating, rather than surrender to the death which I felt overtaking me from within.
I have written since I was six years of age. It has never been something that I “want” to do. It is something that I “must” do. It is an ache which must be tended. In a way, writing is like physical exercise. I don’t look forward to it, I often don’t enjoy it, and it can be quite painful, difficult, and exhausting. However, in the end, I love the results, and I love how I feel afterwards. If I neglect to write, then I don’t feel well.
Writing is a way in which I cope.
Along with the love and support of my family—especially from my father, my mother, and my son—my writing has been my salvation.
I would not have survived thus far otherwise.
Despite winning short story and poetry contests and getting all kinds of praise beginning at early childhood and continuing through high school, by the time I reached my early 20’s, I stopped writing prose.
I used to collect rejection notices from the publishers to whom I made submissions. That was a bad idea. By the time a chest drawer was filled with those notes, I was too dejected to submit again.
I still wrote, but no longer with the intent to publish. And I switched venues.
Thereafter, I wrote poetry (some published) and I wrote plays, screenplays, and teleplays – none of which got any farther than preproduction.
Having graduated high school as a straight-A valedictorian, I entered Brown University in 1977. I was a Premed, and was granted admission with a declared major in Physics.
My father is a scientist, and I thought he would most approve if I became a scientist as well.
However, I quickly lost respect for my premed peers. They were cutthroats who sabotaged one another, and their motives to go into medicine were far from noble. They were hypocritical, and they were not a likeable bunch. Moreover, the medical practitioners whom I have known (and admittedly I do not know them all) are not nearly as bright on average as one might wish or as bright and informed as they would have the world believe. I did not want to spend my life working with self-righteous egotists who cared more for the insurance payments they received than they did for their patients.
After my first year, I attempted to get authorization for an independent concentration in Astrophysics. I was refused. The university lacked the appropriate staff and resources to make that degree possible. I could not face yet another year of Newtonian Mechanics. On my own, I was already studying graduate level texts on cosmogony.
At the end of my Freshman year, I decided that I would change my major to Creative Writing.
It was difficult to reveal that to my father. But he took it well.
In spite of that, I was not accepted into the first course in the sequence to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. That foundational course, taught by John Hawkes, was the prerequisite to every other course in the program. Without it, I could not even begin the major.
I would have to extend my enrollment by another year and gamble on admittance.
I could not afford to attend an additional year. I do not come from money.
Amongst the sons and daughter of presidents and statesmen and royalty and the heirs to empires of affluence and the latest descendants from the Mayflower, I was the token poor white trash from the desert who had matriculated to an Ivy League school on the basis of his intellect and not his bloodline, his fame, or his wallet.
My sophomore year was screwed. I no longer knew what I would do. I took courses in English and Classics and Comparative Literature and Philosophy.
I turned myself on to theater as a way of getting out of my shell. I approached it as a director, but was taken up instead as an actor.
I discovered that I had a hidden talent previously undiscovered and unrealized. (Prior to college, my theatrical performances had been astonishingly bad. I even dropped out of Drama in Junior High, because I was embarrassed and could not understand the concept of mime. People holding the air and acting like objects were present struck me as bizarre, inane, and foolish.)
In preparation for my Junior year, I auditioned for and was accepted into a very prestigious and exclusive acting program situated in London, England. (No one was more shocked than I. I was so shy as a kid that I had to attend a program for withdrawn children just to get me to talk beyond replies of “Yes,” “No,” and “Hello.”)
While in London, I was also able to enroll in several courses in playwriting.
With the help of the instructors from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, the Bristol Old Vic Company, Central Academy, and Webber-Douglas, as well as through experiences shared with my fellow students, I discovered myself. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew who I was.
I declared a dual major in Theatre Arts & Dramatic Literature (for the actor I am) and in English & American Literature (for the writer I am).
Although I do well in science, that is not my core.
I am an artist.
An artist is simply “Someone who seeks to communicate.” Whether it is an observation, a comment, an idea, or an emotion, the compulsion to reach out and share any of that with another human being is an artistic compulsion.
The medium of expression defines the kind of artist one is. Musicians make music. A jeweler makes jewelry. A sculptor sculpts. A painter paints. An actor acts. A dancer dances. A singer sings. A writer writes.
The quality of execution defines the artist’s skill.
Style and voice (expression and perspective) define the artist’s character.
I am an Actor. I am a Writer.
I am also a Director.
I sketch on occasion, and I paint miniatures as well. (I have not had the materials or the space to do either in years.) However, my dominant talents are in acting and writing.
Whenever I am not allowed to work in one medium, I work in another.
In my youth, I made it a goal to write at least one novel before I died.
As I truly believed that I did not have much longer to live and that the universe was collapsing upon me toward finality, I decided in 2010 that it was time to write my novel.
So, I started on a fantasy novel.
I had written in many genres (including science fiction, the close cousin to fantasy). However, I had never actually written a fantasy. I had written action and horror (I once belonged to Horror Writers of America) and drama and comedy. I had read some fantasy, but not a lot. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit had been (and remains) my favorite book, and Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy was my second favorite book. I’d read Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis and Mark Twain and William Shakespeare, to name a few authors who have written fantasy, so I did have some foundation. But I was no expert. Consequently, I set myself the task of reading as much in the genre as I could. I remain on that task.
Since I was thinking about my own life, I decided to write a wizard’s autobiography.
I am an avid roleplay gamer since the mid-1970’s, the days of “Dungeons & Dragons.” As well as being a player, I was the gamemaster to an enormous variety of dice & paper roleplay games (until 2009 when I had to sell off my collection, a loss that continues to give me pain).
I am still amazed at the number of actors and comedians and writers who do not actively participate in rpg’s. Improvisation is a terrific way to develop and inhabit a wide variety of characters. Participating in an rpg is a great way to see how character choices influence plot.
A roleplay character whom I have played for years is Götling Hans Velsing, a humble wizard who never wanted to be a wizard, a man who enjoys his tea, his sweets, his solitude, his cat, his comfort, and the study and practice of horticulture. I decided to use that character as a springboard. I decided that I wanted to investigate a possible youth loosely based upon that character and to flesh out his history and to examine how his personality developed.
Thus, I now knew that I was writing a fantasy novel in the form of the autobiography of Master Wizard Götling Hans Velsing.
“All stories are love stories.” Milton Katselas, an acting coach of mine, made that statement to his class at the Skylight Theater in Los Angeles. I don’t know if the assertion is original to him, but that’s where I heard it, so I’ll give him credit.
The fact is the observation is valid.
All stories are love stories.
I wanted to write a romance. So, I decided that I would write a fantasy novel in the form of a wizard’s autobiography that would include several romantic tales.
But I also wanted to write about love itself. Therefore, I resolved that love would be a theme and that I would examine love from a number of different perspectives. I would reveal both the good and the bad.
I felt trapped by my “duty” to remain alive. Consequently, “duty” became a second theme. I would talk about duties accepted, duties imposed, inherent duties, abhorrent duties, and pleasant duties.
I also had a project in mind to write one day for my son.
There is no “Book of Wisdom.” I like to believe that I have learned a few things in my life. I have made good choices, and I have made bad choices. I thought to one day write down what I had learned—perhaps in the form of a list of aphorisms organized by subject and assembled as a “coffee table” kind of a book.
However, I concluded that format would be too dry and too indigestible to make it worthwhile.
My son would never read it.
So, I decided to incorporate that concept into my novel in the form of Socratic discourse between Master and Pupil and in the assertions and observations of a variety of sagely figures.
During the Great Recession, approximately 23 million Americans lost their livelihood. That is a population larger than many nations. We would have to empty out the largest cities of the United States to come up with a population that size.
During the Housing Collapse, millions upon millions also lost their homes.
In 2014, most of us have yet to recover. We are lost statistics.
When the 99ers fell off the unemployment benefits list, we were forgotten. The 99ers are those people whose unemployment extended up to 99 weeks and then lapsed.
I am a 99er.
I do not receive unemployment. I do not receive Welfare. I do not receive Social Security.
I have no pension, no annuity, no capital gains, no investments, and no income of any kind.
The only subsistence that I receive is $189 per month in food stamps.
Any cash is borrowed from my father. My mother sends me food when she can.
My story is FAR from unique. Almost without exception, everyone I knew who lost their job anywhere between 2008 and 2010 remains unemployed.
As I wrote my fantasy, harsh reality kept intruding into the text. Present political and social circumstances were continuously reflected from the feudal society of my invention and from the lives of my characters.
A number of epiphanies occurred to me because of this.
First, I realized that the death of the middle class has devolved the United States of America into a two-class society, an oligarchy (rule by a few) and a plutocracy (rule by the wealthy). That is feudal society in a nutshell.
Not only was I writing to survive, but what I was writing developed as a reaction to the times in which I lived.
Second, I realized that slavery was never truly abolished. After the Civil War, plantations went out of business, because they could not afford to pay anyone a living wage to do the same work as previously done for free by slaves. The South had protested that this would be the case and had presented this contention as a reason not to abolish slavery.
This cry is all too similar to what we hear from the conservatives in their arguments against raising the minimum wage.
In 2014, the minimum wage SHOULD be roughly $22.50 per hour. That would equal the buying power of the minimum wage from the 1960’s.
We are arguing about $10.10 per hour – an amount that lifts no one out of poverty.
The conservatives assert that businesses will close if we raise the national minimum wage to the whopping $10.10 per hour currently suggested.
The Republicans declare that workers should be grateful for what they earn now, and they should just deal with it. At the same time, the GOP vilifies the working poor for being poor and for needing food subsidies to stay alive.
The call is disturbingly familiar.
The slaves should continue to work for free. They should be grateful for what food and shelter they are allotted. They should not ask for more, and they should be ashamed if they do.
It is ironic how far Lincoln’s party has fallen.
It does not even seem feasible that anyone, let alone one of the largest political parties in our nation, would promulgate this philosophy of inhumanity and injustice.
But these are our times.
We don’t hear the argument that perhaps those businesses that can’t afford to pay their workers a living wage should not exist. It is not right that one man thrives at the expense of others. Perhaps owners of such businesses should stand alongside their former employees and learn what it means to live as they do.
Meanwhile, those businesses that will take a lower profit margin by paying their workers real wages will swallow up the extra business lost by the Scrooge shops. The businesses that pay right will make even greater profits.
I’d be a very wealthy man if I could compel a labor force to work for me for only a penny a year. I could probably scrape up that much cash, and hire out my work crews. My profits therefrom would be my right. And if my workers want to actually be able to live, then they should find a work force to work for them for a penny a year. And they had better not seek government assistance for food, healthcare, or shelter. That would make them “Takers.”
At least, that’s where the conservative argument leads.
It is never right for one man to ride upon the back of another.
We have new pharaohs. They work on Wall Street. They rule over corporations. They chair industries. And the masses make bricks and build pyramids at the snap of an economic whip.
Without meaning to at first, I was writing a piece full of social commentary and contemporary relevance. I started with the intent to escape reality. Instead, although I consciously fought against it, my subconscious insisted upon confronting reality by placing it into fiction.
On paper, I was working through my thoughts. I recorded my observations, and I drew conclusions.
Since I so sorely wanted escape, I attempted to deny my bubbling subconscious. I tried to suppress the intrusions.
However, after consideration, I decided to cease resistance.
When the words come, the writer must write them down. It is a fool who fights his muse.
We write what we must write. Editing comes later.
More importantly, I realized that what I was doing was healthy. It was an instinct that had been triggered by my mind to heal itself and to heal my injured spirit. It was a natural reaction and a way to take control. It was an attempt to restore my life to order.
I have a lot to say. With its many elements, the wizard’s story quickly assumed an epic scope.
It is a tale which is impossible to encompass in a single volume.
At first, I thought the project would be trilogy.
Then I thought that it might be a quadrilogy.
Finally, it occurred to me that the project had assumed such scope that it would be best organized as a serialized novel, as in the fashion of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.
I determined to parse the entirety into three parts of anywhere from 3 to 4 volumes each.
Thus, the complete series was envisioned to be 9 to 12 volumes long.
At present, The Flame Ignites, Part One of A Wizard’s Life, is divided over 4 volumes for a total of over 650,000 words.
Yes, that is longer than War and Peace.
I write with adult content, because I wish to speak to adults. I have adult concerns, and I have serious matters to examine.
Fantasy is big business now. One only has to look at the marquee of the local movie house to see that verified.
I realized that there is an audience that was raised on Harry Potter and The Lord of The Rings. They want more fantasy, but they would like and they are ready for “grown up” material. They are fans of HBO and R rated films. Game of Thrones is an example of this need fulfilled.
There is a giant, widespread fantasy audience that wants sophisticated literature which includes explicit sex and graphic violence and uncensored language.
So, I write to reach these people, and I write for myself.
I am writing A Wizard’s Life, a socially conscious, serialized, adult fantasy novel, approximately 12 volumes in length, which includes universal truths, observations, and conclusions. It is my epitaph. It is my gratitude, and it is my love. It is my legacy to my son and to my descendants.
Why I write what I write is to escape, survive, cope, heal, bestow, elucidate, and—not least of all—to entertain.
I write what I write, because I must.
Q: How does your writing process work?
A: There is a “standard” model of the writing process that runs through 4 steps:
3. Editing; and
This is a “pat” breakdown of the writing process. I find it to be significantly oversimplified. The outline is clearly intended to guide the novice writer who is without a clue.
The actual process is considerably more complex and more convoluted.
Every writer works through these phases. However, the actual sequence is not so cleanly delineated—particularly between the prewriting and writing phases and the editing and publication phases.
There is constant overlap, and the first three steps are constantly cycled and repeated—and not necessarily in order.
The standard model is easy enough to look up on the internet, and I won’t belabor the point by explaining it any farther.
Instead, what I will do is introduce a few aspects of my approach which may be unique—or at least which I consider significant.
Previously, I discussed where my “inspiration” arose for the current project.
Inspiration springs from the author’s needs, viewpoint, experience, and desires.
Although it is dismissed all too easily as a product of the subconscious, inspiration can be stimulated through conscious intent.
If I am uncertain what to write, then I write whatever enters my head. Frequently, it is a random list of adjectives and nouns centered around an image. I am very visual. I also seek to engage the senses of my reader. So, I gaze at my fantasy and write down what I see. I listen for sounds from the scene, and I sniff for smells. I let my skin explore and I taste what there is to taste. I note all that sensory input.
My first thought as I read is “Where am I?” That’s true whether I am reading something I wrote or something written by someone else.
So, I often start by writing a description of the setting—elements of which may or may not make its way into the final project.
My advice to those who suffer writer’s block (I’ve never really had it) is to write whatever comes into your head and don’t worry about it. You may very well trash the material, but that’s true even of material that flows fast and easy. The act of writing anything stimulates the imagination. More words will flow. If nothing comes to mind, write a description of a setting. Pick one. If nothing comes to mind, pick the one you’re in. If that just sounds too odious, then write about how much you don’t want to write and write about what you would rather be doing. But write.
I know the “tyranny of the blank page” all too well. I frequently sit down to write knowing “where” I have to go, but not knowing at all how I’m going to get there. And there are plenty of times I sit down to write feeling less than enthusiastic and not happy because I have no idea what I’m going to do … and I write. And then I keep writing. And far more often than not, I end up with a very productive day with all kinds of material that I am very pleased about or that at least has laid a very solid foundation for me to build upon.
When I write, I frequently just have a vague sensation in my “gut”—an idea or an emotion which I can feel but have yet to understand enough to verbalize completely. It’s like having a word on the tip of your tongue that you can’t quite recall. So I write “around” that. I write adjectives for what I feel. I try to come up with similes and metaphors. I scribble down images and sensations.
I frequently create very rough outlines for the whole project and then for a sweep of chapters. Chapter by chapter, I detail those outlines as I go along. Series of passages may involve extensive outlines, particularly when I am handling a large body of characters involved in simultaneous events at different locations.
I make lists of things that have to happen and I play with the sequences. I cross things off as I do them, and I add events, delete events, and change events.
Particularly early on, I may be working on two or even three different chapters, spread far apart, both at the same time, particularly as one effects the other.
I have learned: Never deny inspiration.
Never toss anything aside as unworthy or useless until after it is written down.
Even then, I often clip material and save it in a “Deleted Material” folder.
I write notes on everything, particularly bits of junk mail, post-its, and the envelopes for bills. I get up at all hours of the night and scribble down my thoughts. I try to never be without a pen in my pocket.
I am not a morning person. My brain does not even operate until after 10 a.m.—after the prerequisite shower to wash the crust from my eyes, and not until I have had a least a few sips off the first cup of coffee.
I am most creative as the day progresses. Late at night, just before bed, the synapses fire at full volley. That often continues with my head on the pillow, and into the middle of the night.
I don’t sleep well.
Although inspiration might be explained as being psychologically derived, it does have a mystical quality to it. A writer can readily understand the concept of the “muse” whispering into his or her ear. Ideas do feel as if they come out of nowhere. I readily confess that it feels bizarre at times.
There is a huge intellectual component to evaluating material written and to changing it and to deciding how to sculpt the story.
However, there is also a strong spiritual connection.
Yes, a writer writes from the head. But a writer also writes from the soul.
I write for my ear. I write for my eye. Everything I write, I read aloud. I have read entire chapters aloud so many times that there are sequences I can spout from memory.
I often think of my writing as a musical composition. I work carefully with rhythms and patterns and sounds.
I said earlier that I often do not particularly enjoy the act of writing. I said that I write out of a need to write. Rather than enjoy the act itself, I get my pleasure in the results.
That isn’t fully accurate. Neither does this next disclosure give the whole story. But it’s what I’ll say for now.
One of the pleasures I do experience while writing is the pleasure of a reader reading something for the first time. I am the first person in the world to experience anything that I write. Whether my writing is judged to be good or bad or mediocre, I am still the first person who ever reads it.
I think of that like being the first person to reach the summit of a mountain or to have walked on the moon or to have discovered a crystal cave. Others will share the experience. Hopefully, others will enjoy it as well. But I will always be the first.
I get a kick out of that.
When I read my work, I am delighted and amused and shocked and bewildered and saddened and frightened and thrilled and enthused—as if I had not written what I just read.
Somehow, that shouldn’t be possible. But it is.
When the writing “flows” and the characters “live”, then the story takes twists and the characters make choices. They say and do things that I never anticipated. Literally, as my fingers move over the keys, my jaw has dropped many times as I witness an event that I did not foresee. That is almost always for the better of the script.
I get a kick out of that too.
“Inspiration” is a constant throughout the creative process, from deciding “what” to write at the very outset and through every word, sentence, paragraph, page, section, and chapter that follows thereafter.
So, while inspiration is often discussed as being a part of the “Prewriting” phase in the standard model, and is referenced most under, “How do you come up with your ideas?,” the fact is that inspiration is an element of every single phase of the writing process.
Also involved in the “Prewriting” phase is research.
We have all heard the axiom “Write what you know.”
That’s a bit misleading. If you have never been in a submarine, can you not be the next Tom Clancy? If you are not a secret agent, can you not be the next Ian Fleming? If you have never lived in the 19th century, can you not by the next Bronte?
Obviously, much of what you don’t know can be learned. That’s where research comes in.
Realistically, the advice to “write what you know” is best applied to emotional experience. If you have never suffered the loss of a loved one, then you should probably wait until you have had that experience before you attempt to handle that particular subject. If you have never been in love, then that is also something you might address at a later time in life. On the other hand, if you long for love, then you understand that longing, and you might be able to create a believable character who longs for love as well. For a twenty year old man to write the perspective of a seventy year old man is likely to be too big a stretch. The twenty year old man has fifty years of experience to catch up to the seventy year old man. However, the seventy year old man can certainly write from the perspective of the twenty year old.
That is “write what you know” really means. It means: “Write with the gravitas and maturity to match what you are writing about.”
It should be clear that a writer has more resources upon which to draw if he or she has a broad range of life experience and a depth of emotional interaction. A breadth of academic knowledge and cultural experience (ethnic, economic, religious, philosophical, and geographical) are assets as well to enrich an author’s writing.
Thus, as a part of “Prewriting” (and throughout all phases), I would include “Live Life” as a significant part of my writing process.
I believe every aspiring writer (and artist for that matter) should read Elia Kazan’s treatise on directing.
I am amazed at the number of “writers” who are not active readers. I strongly believe that while all people would profit from reading as a way of life, a writer MUST read. Read for pleasure, and read analytically. Not only should a writer be well versed in the “classics” of his or her genre, but a writer should not be a snob and should read from a wide variety of genres. I believe that a writer should definitely read the “good” stuff (i.e., the literature that survives the test of time such as Shakespeare, Faulkner, Marquez, etc.) and the “popular” stuff (whatever is trending at the time) but also what’s well reviewed and what’s selling well from across the spectrum of the bookstore. There are great works to be found in all genres. Read Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Romance, Drama, Young Adult, Western …. Read it all.
Process is the manner in which intent is achieved.
Therefore, to further understand my process, one needs to understand my intent.
In answer to a previous question above, I discussed some of the specific intents of the current project.
However, there are intentions which are in common to ALL projects.
As discussed heretofore, each artist works in his or her medium.
Each medium possesses its own sets of strengths, weaknesses, and qualities.
For a writer, the medium is: the written word. If that comes as a revelation, I am only too happy to have been the one to share. I do hope, however, that is not groundbreaking.
I begin by asking myself a question so basic as to seem trite:
What is the function of written language?
It is probable that the first forms of communication were physical, including gestures, facial expressions, and postures.
Primitive grunts, squeaks, and squeals may have come into play to express states of mind and to emphasize gestures and to give very crude messages of alarm and arousal and threat.
We see at least that much among modern primates.
In terms of human development as a species, it is popularly believed that verbal communication arose before any form of writing. The written word is believed to have developed long thereafter.
The precursors to the written word are the remarkably sophisticated cave paintings of prehistoric man. These paintings commonly depict scenes of the hunt and include the portraits of different breeds of wildlife as well as striking landscapes, including mountain ranges and waterways and other features of the ancient topography. And, of course, murals of palm prints serve as the author’s signature, declaring his or her existence, presence, and identity.
These were the first “non-verbal” descriptions composed by human beings.
Early forms of writing were pictographs—symbols in which the image has the semblance of the concept which is expressed. For example, the word for “tree” as a pictograph would look like a tree. Many of the symbols to be found in Kanji today developed from pictographs and such origin is readily visible. Egyptian hieroglyphs often look like the subject which they represent. Abstract representations arose later in history.
Early in the development of the human race, it is apparent that a “need” was felt for some form of physical representation of language.
What is that need?
Writing serves two basic purposes:
1) To establish a record that may be passed on through time without change; and
2) To memorialize an event in a format that may be disseminated over distances without memorization of the messenger and without need for verbal explanation or presentation.
In other words, the writer does not need to be present.
Significant moments in a tribe’s history could be set down in a format not subject to interpretation of the story teller. Accuracy could be better maintained. Also, the fact that an event had been recorded would elevate its importance, as early “record” keeping was much more labor intensive than it is today—as in involving hours in the dark below ground while painting by firelight with crude implements or with fingers.
Rather than relying upon a wandering minstrel or some other storyteller to distribute an account, and rather than subjecting that account to distortion by the orator (whether through fault of memory, perspective, or interpretation), the written word assures that the message received is the same as the message sent.
It also means that the message can be distributed in multiple copies (whether scribed by monks or scholars, hot off the printing press, or now in digital formats) to a much wider audience over a much greater geographical area than could ever be covered by a bard.
So, writing allows an event (a story) to be recorded and passed on through time and to be distributed over a wide territory to an entire population without alteration of the account.
If a record is to be useful, then the record must be accurate.
Since 90% of human communication is in body language, facial expression, and vocal intonations, then the written word is already operating at a severe disadvantage. It is therefore necessary that the writer be extremely careful that the message received is the same as the message intended.
If I wish my thoughts to be accurately heard, I must take it as my first priority that my message is understood.
If I wish my work to be handed down through time, I must measure my writing against a superior level of excellence.
I am my harshest critic.
In my writing phase, I simply write. I do NOT edit while I write. I definitely “edit” (rework) material prior to showing it to anyone (including Readers). While I am writing one passage, I may be concurrently editing another—particularly if the two passages are related and no matter how far apart they are physically in the book.
There are passages that I “edit” dozens and dozens and dozens of times. I am rarely satisfied with anything when first written.
During each “edit,” I ask myself:
1) Is the meaning clear? Does it make sense?
2) Is it good? Is it worth reading?
I have found that if I have any question or hesitancy to answering either question in the affirmative, then there is a problem. I may not address that problem immediately. But I do take notes in separate files and on post-its (and, yes, etched in my infallible memory) on every line or passage in which I am not confident.
One of the things not specifically included in the standard model of the writing process is: Readers.
The “Editing” phase includes “self-editing” (editing by the author) and “Editor’s Review” (editing by an actual editor). Between those steps, if at all possible, I seek “Readers.”
A good “Reader” is hard to come by. Most people approached to become a Reader operate under the assumption that they are being asked to “proofread.”
Proofreading is a final step prior to publication. Spelling, punctuation, and syncing up text for grammatical consistency is significant, but that is not the function of a Reader. (Also, note that I do NOT assert that text must ever be grammatically “correct” but rather that it must be grammatically “consistent” prior to publication. As a writing instructor of mine once said, “A writer must know the rules of grammar, so that when he or she breaks them what results is style.”)
The single most important critique that a Reader can give is to answer the questions:
1) Did you understand what was happening in the story?
2) What happened?
There is nothing that will kill a story faster than if the material is confusing or misunderstood or lacking in information. Any such condition can result in either: a) the book is put down and not continued; or b) subsequent events do not make sense; or c) subsequent events are not satisfying.
Obviously, both fiction and non-fiction must be understood. The writing must be clear or it has failed.
However, why write fiction at all? Why read it? Why isn’t non-fiction enough? Why don’t we just read historical reenactments? Obviously, there is a market for fiction. Obviously, people want it. Why?
The answer to that question goes to the author’s intent and therefore must inform the author’s writing process.
I have considered this issue very carefully.
As I have found commonalities between every art form (and as I discussed above, writing is an art), I broadened the questions asked earlier.
Before, I asked, “Why do artists create art?” I asked, “Why do writers write?”
Now, I ask “Why does the public participate in the arts? Why do they go see a film? Why do they sit at a concert? Why do they stroll through a gallery? Why do they watch a fashion show? Why do they attend a ballet? Why do they read books?”
“Why do they view or listen to any of the arts?”
Escape? Yes, certainly. There is a freeing of the mind from the worries of the present when the imagination is engaged.
Education? Yes, certainly. One can be exposed to all kinds of new ideas and new ways of looking at things. I have heard many theories that this is the fundamental purpose of any storyteller (fiction or non-fiction) in that it is a way to condition children and societies to conform to certain behaviors. Through art, we pass on certain values. Through stories, we alert individuals to danger and demonstrate consequences.
Social Pressure? Sure, on occasion. Keeping up with what is popular has social validity. In some instances, attendance at an art function can satisfy certain “snootiness.” Other occasions present opportunity for social interactions and introductions between people with the same interests in common.
However, I contend that one need supersedes them all.
Audiences participate in the arts in order to be entertained.
But what does being entertained mean?
Does it mean being intellectually stimulated? It can—at least in part. People do enjoy mental activity, at least on occasion.
But intellectual stimulation is not the sugar that gives audiences the rush that they seek. That is not the dominant concern in common between all the art forms, nor is it what the majority desires.
“Entertained” means to be emotionally stimulated. People participate in the arts to be made to experience emotion. Whatever emotion is evoked is without risk—unlike the emotions sparked by reality. In reality, heartbreak means a real loss. But if we see a film or read a book and go on a tragic journey with a character, we can fully engage in that normally undesirable emotion without any true loss or consequences. We can experience fear that in reality would have to mean we were in real danger of injury or at a real threat to loss of life. Our imaginations are engaged to such a degree that we “believe.” Because we “believe,” we live. And then we can walk away, and leave the whole thing behind. And we can remember that experience fondly and with pleasure. We can achieve victories withheld from us, win loves we don’t have, and laugh in the face of death.
Since my readers want an emotional experience, it is my duty to give it to them.
So, both during the writing and the editing phases, I am looking to feel. If I don’t feel emotion, then my reader is not going to feel emotion.
I set out to create an adventure of emotion, to pluck as many strings as I can, and to play long, full, and deeply.
Bill Cosby said that if he doesn’t laugh while he’s writing a joke, then he can’t expect his audience to laugh at the joke either.
The same holds true for any type of emotional response that is sought.
If I don’t laugh or cry or cringe or rejoice, and if I don’t do so at the point in the text where I intend to evoke such a reaction, or if I am not feeling that emotion to such a degree or for such a length of time as I want my reader to experience, then I have more work to do.
That is part of my process.
I often put on headphones and listen to music that embodies the emotion I seek to invoke.
I have sobbed at my keyboard. I have laughed until I hurt. I have been shocked, I have been frightened, I have been unnerved, and I have fallen in love.
I write 7 days a week, usually for 9 or 10 hours, a minimum of 5 hours, and up to 15 hours. I rarely take a day off. Even when I do, I usually end up writing at least a few notes. I don’t set a page minimum but rather I commit time. I have produced as little as a paragraph in a day and as much as 15 pages. I average between 2 and 2.5 pages per day of polished material.
There is much more to say about my writing process, but that should be plenty to digest.
If you’ve read to the end … you are my hero. Be sure to follow this blog.
Thank you for listening.
May your journey bring you joy.
Author, The Flame Ignites (A Wizard’s Life, Vol. I)
April 14, 2014
Special thanks to Ruth Hull Chatlien, author of The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte (http://ruthhullchatlienbooks.com), for her kind invitation to join in this blog tour.
In a previous post, I extended an open invitation to join in this tour to the first three (3) authors who replied.
No one took advantage of the opportunity. Hence, this leg of the tour stops here.
Be sure to visit the gift shop.
Please place all trash into their proper receptacles. Restrooms are behind you. Be careful as you step onto the bus. Please remember that we are not responsible for any lost or stolen property.
And thank you again.
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