There are times in every writer’s life when the words just won’t come. Sometimes that lasts an hour. Sometimes it lasts weeks, or months. It’s certainly frustrating, but I refuse to stress over it.
I’ve been in a “writing dry patch” over the past couple of months. For a while, there was nothing happening: the only thing I was writing was note after note full of ideas. I don’t know why I couldn’t write anything. I just couldn’t.
That came as something of a shock after last year which, although turbulent, painful and draining on both personal and emotional levels, was also incredibly productive. Three books of poetry, two of mild horror, and two fairy tale novellas in an anthology in a year is impressive for someone who teaches high school and needs to sleep occasionally. In one sense, it’s no wonder I ran out of steam. I’m only human, after all.
It was poetry that recently broke the drought for me. In fact, it usually is. Ironically, it was local tragedy in the form of wildfires around my home town on St Patrick’s Day that got the words flowing again. Since the middle of March, I’ve written some poems that I’m really happy with, and I have some others started.
I have so many stories I want to write, but now just doesn’t seem to be the time for that, so I’m saving the notes and plans and outlines until it happens naturally. I know it will. And when it does, I’ll be ready.
In all honesty, my mind is tired. Today at work, I struggled to remember the word for “chair”– and I was in a classroom, surrounded by at least 25 of them at the time! If I forced myself to write those stories now, they’d be rubbish.
So, I’m going to be kind to myself. I’m going to give my mind and my spirit time to rest, and not worry about all the things I want to write, or feel I should be writing. I’m certainly not going to churn out a bunch of garbage and try to persuade people that it’s “art”. I’m happy to wait, and I think my readers will prefer that, too.
Hopefully in the meantime I’ll be able to write a few more good poems.
As you’re probably already aware, today is Friday the 13th.
For many, superstition is just old-fashioned silliness. Others set very strong store in superstitions, old wives tales, and various other traditions.
My affection for Friday 13th is different than mere superstition. I wrote Friday’s first story for Friday the 13th back in October last year. When I wrote what I thought was going to be a single piece of flash fiction, I had no idea how that cat was going to take over. Honestly, sometimes I wonder if I actually created him at all.
Between Friday 13th of October and Halloween last year, Friday demanded that thirteen stories be told. He’s a typical insistent cat in that sense… he just kept showing up and swatting my creative juju with his paw until I agreed to do his bidding. He has similarly demanded since then that his stories of Christmas Eve, New Years Eve and Valentine’s Day be told. And then, out of the blue, he whispered to me, “Tomorrow’s Friday the 13th. You should put Curious Things on sale for 99c.”
I’m really very fond of Friday. He’s a magnificent black cat with a lucky habit of being present when curious things take place.
He’s highly intelligent, fiercely loyal and devilishly handsome.
And I have to tell you– if someone were to give me a hard time, I’d want Friday on my side.
Curious Things delivers thirteen stories of people encountering justice for their wrongdoings, all as Friday watches on. Is he responsible? Or is it just lucky coincidence that he is present when these strange events take place?
If you’ve ever wished for karma to move a little faster, indulged in uncharitable thoughts about certain annoying people, or suspected that having a black cat cross your path was not quite as unlucky as people seem to think, this book is for you.
The book is full of dark humour, macabre events and mild-to-medium intensity horror, but it’s not just splatter for splatter’s sake. It’s really all about poetic justice and people getting what’s coming to them, via a very special feline.
Don’t just take my word for it, though. As the author, I’m clearly biased.
So, as a means of reassuring you, here’s what some of the reviewers on Amazon have said:
” Vengeance may be sweet—but, meting out justice vigilante-style just isn’t practical. Then along comes Friday, a black cat whose intelligence and curiosity gets the better of those who deserve their just desserts. Obvious or implied, Friday shows up where the wrath of Biblical justice is called for. And, it’s so gratifying to watch the gruesome details unfold!” – Reviewer
“I really like this book’s blend of dark humour and horror – that really appeals to me. I liked the way the author made each story about something different, and that the things that happened to the bad guys were all different to what happened to the others. The horror bits were good enough to make my skin crawl and give me a shudder, which is what I love in a spooky book. I really like Friday because he’s such a typical cat, but you also realise that he’s something more than that, too.
Don’t start reading this book thinking it’s just a story about a nice kitty. Read it because you want to see his dark side.” – Reviewer
“13 awesome stories with 13 lessons to think about. I adore the cat, Friday. I reckon if I had Friday in my life, I would feel way safer. This cat is like Karma on four legs.” – Reviewer
” A lovely collection of tales, overseen by a cat who defends his person with almighty power.
A little gory, and a lot killy!” – Reviewer
Curious Things is available on Amazon and in all other major digital stores.
Yesterday was somewhat traumatic. Having confronted a face from the past that I’d really rather not ever see again, I was left with time on my hands and too much on my mind. So I defaulted to my usual sanctuary – books. I didn’t have my device with me, so I headed to my favourite book store to find something to read. My need for ink on paper and a pretty, nicely textured cover in my hands was just too strong.
It’s a luxury, you know, having a local bookshop. The town in which I live doesn’t have one, but the larger town in which I work has two, as well as a fantastic place that sells second hand and antique books.
For me, the choice is simple. I will always support locally owned, independent businesses rather than larger chains or big department stores.
As an Indie author, I know how hard it is to compete against the bigger fish that swim in the same pond. Among other advantages, traditionally published authors have someone else’s marketing budget on their side, along with a team of people to help them get their books in front of readers.
It’s actually not a lot different for independently owned shops, whether they sell books or anything else. Consider for a moment what they have to compete with: not just the huge online companies that control the world of desktop shopping, but also those local shops owned by large commercial chains which, while they may have a local presence, are generally not owned by anyone who lives down the street from you or whose kids go to the same school as yours. The owner of that local store has to pay the rent and insurance, stock the shop, pay employees, and make a living in an increasingly difficult and competitive marketplace.
That’s why I buy my physical books at an independent store rather than from a book retail chain, or a big department store. The price for the same book is no different, but I know that I’m helping to put food on the table of a local family, or helping them to pay the neighbourhood mechanic for fixing the family car. My $30 probably won’t make much of a difference at all to an international company, but it makes a huge difference to an individual business owner.
I admit that the local store doesn’t have everything I want. I like to read some fairly specialised history, and I completely understand why they don’t usually stock that: I’m more nerdy about my history than most of the population. I can handle shopping further afield for that if I have to – but if I ask them to order a particular history book for me, they will.
They do, however, have a large range of children’s books, teen and young adult fiction, adult fiction, biographies, and new releases.
They also have a great selection of books written by local authors, whom they happily and actively support and promote.
Did the local book chain store agree when I asked them to stock my books on their shelves? No, they did not.
My local independent store not only agreed, but went way beyond that: they not only stock and display all of my books, they actually organised and hosted my first book launch.
They also host regular events at which local authors are welcome to meet and greet readers, sign books, and give readings from their work. That kind of support is pure gold to an author.
If we don’t support our local businesses, we will lose them. We will be left with fewer options, poorer service, and towns and communities that no longer prosper and thrive the way they once did.
School has resumed after the six week summer break that we enjoy here in Australia. After completing my First Aid, Asthma/Anaphylaxis First Aid and CPR re-certs last week, followed by three full-on days of professional development and preparation, I had my first day with classes today.
The kids are great and, if the first day is any indication, I’m pretty sure we’re going to have a good year together.
But holy beaverschnitz! I am exhausted. I don’t remember being this tired at the start of a school year before.
Exhaustion by Jessica Cross via Flickr
I’ve come home every evening this week, fallen onto my bed and wept until I fell asleep like a two-year-old who still desperately needs that afternoon nap. I honestly have no idea why they resist that so much!
This afternoon a colleague asked me a question about something that happened last year, and I told him quite honestly that I was having trouble remembering yesterday. I can’t do social media. I can’t read. I can’t write. It’s a good thing I did my preparation for the semester over summer, because there’s no way I could get it done now given the shape I’m in at the moment.
There’s a running joke in my house – okay, so it’s actually not much of a joke, to be honest – that my husband makes me a double shot in the mornings because it’s my kick starter dose of Vitamin DHP – “Don’t Hurt People”. That double shot usually keeps me going most of the day. Today, it got me to about 10.15am and then my grip on reality started to crumble. I focused on my classes, tried to make all the words make sense, and dragged myself to lunchtime, and then downed 600ml of Coke Zero in record time – even for me.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I know it’s part of my job and it will pass. I’m just trying to explain why the blog has been quiet, why I’m not active on social media, and why emails are going longer than usual before I respond.
The only thing I can do effectively right now is hope I snap back into the rhythm and routine of teacher life quickly, because the pile of essays and papers in need of grading is going to start mounting up very soon.
Until then, though, if you see me staring into space or collapsed at my desk, administer caffeine… and please, be kind.
Yesterday one of my students called another a ‘Philistine’. I know he meant to suggest that his friend was uncultured and ignorant, and that is what many understand the word to mean.
So, being the time-and-knowledge-generous history nerd that I am, I took a break from our study of World War I and explained to my class that what he meant to suggest is not what the Philistines were at all.
The Philistines were a cultured and wealthy civilisation that lived in Canaan between the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the biblical kingdoms of Judah and Israel. They lived in and between five cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. The same region bears the name ‘Palestine’ today – a name derived from the Philistine civilisation. The ancient Philistines enjoyed enough military prowess to hold their own against Lebanon, Syria and Egypt at different times, fighting with spears, straight swords and shields. When not fighting wars, they lived in elaborate buildings and made their own pottery.
It doesn’t really seem consistent with the idea of ignorance, does it?
Sadly, this is not the only case of such name-calling being so ironic.
Barbarian is another term which is used quite wrongly. It’s used to suggest that someone is wild or uncivilised. Historically, the Barbarians were any number of Germanic tribes that moved throughout Europe in what many refer to as ‘The Dark Ages’, even though they weren’t so dark at all.
Really, if you look at them, they don’t look so incredibly different from one another, nor from the folk our history books tell us were our own ancestors. It may surprise you to know that the Barbarian tribes included the Angles, Saxons and Picts who set up shop in Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire and eventually became some of the most devotedly civilised people on earth. The Gauls became the French, the Geats became the Swedes, and the Danes went on to give us Hamlet, pastries and an Australian princess. (Disclaimer: I don’t know if the part about the pastries is true, but they must be called danishes for a reason… right?)
The Vandals, for example, may have left a trail of destruction in Gaul and Iberia, but they only made a bit of a mess of Carthage before taking it as their capital and making extensive renovations. As a military power, they had skill and knowledge – you’ve actually got to hand it to anyone who could not only withstand the power of the Roman Empire, but also hold their own in so many battles over such a long period. And when they weren’t busy fighting the Romans, they were highly cultured, enjoying music and poetry. They conducted a lot of industry and trade in their North African kingdom. It really was not about breaking or ruining stuff at all.
The Goths, oddly enough, did not sit around in dark clothes wearing black makeup. The name “Goth” was derived from ‘Geats’, the tribe famous for its honour and pride in the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf, as told in the oldest English poem in existence.
Map Prepared by Louis Henwood for ‘The History of English’ podcast, episode 42
They actually had sophisticated architecture and beautiful mosaic art. They made and wore intricate gold jewellery. They were farmers, weavers, potters, blacksmiths. They followed intricate burial rites, making sure that the graves always pointed north.
Related to the Goths were the Visigoths, meaning “Goths of the west” who ruled Spain for a couple of centuries. They built churches that still stand today, decorated their buildings with intricate filigree art and stone arches. They were skillful metalworkers and jewellers.
It seems to me that we do history a disservice by misusing these terms in such a way. Connotations are not always the easiest things to track through history, but these seem quite unfair. I suspect that such practice grew out of the fear of anything or anyone different, foreign and/or pagan – a concept with which Western society is still painfully familiar.
By the end of all that, the kids’ eyes had glazed over a bit, and there was a fair bit of smiling and nodding going on. I don’t think they will be calling each other Philistines again, though. So… mission accomplished.
If you’d like to know more about Beowfulf and the Geats, you could listen to a fabulous episode from ‘The History of English’ podcast. It’s a great podcast, and if you’re interested in the development and history of the English language, or the relationships between language, people, and places, you should consider subscribing.
I spent most of today with family, welcoming my new great-nephew to the family. It was a day full of love, laughter and baby cuddles… and lots of photos.
Holding my beautiful baby boy made me overflow with all sort of love. Seeing my 86 year old dad holding him made us all more than a little emotional. Another picture of four generations – my dad, my brother, a niece and a baby boy – is a wonderful blessing that many families don’t see.
I have also observed multiple times today how awful I look. That has been my first reaction to every photo I am in.
In addition to chronic pain and depression, too many months of anguish, stress and anxiety have taken their toll. I have cried every day for at least 250 days. I have feared and I have despaired. And it shows.
BUT I have also survived. It doesn’t really matter how crapful I end up looking. I’m stronger than everything that has tried and still tries to bring me down.
My heart and soul have bled onto pages and screens, but my words have touched, encouraged and inspired people on the way. My writing have been praised, and my books have won awards.
So when you look at me or see pictures and think I don’t look so great, you just remember that I’ve earned it.
The question I hear most from aspiring authors is, “How do I write a bestseller?”
My answer is always the same: “You can’t. Nobody can do that. All you can do is write the story you want to write in the best way that you can. What happens after that is up to the audience.”
It’s a sad fact of life for writers, but there’s no proven formula for producing a best-seller.
J.K. Rowling must hear that question an awful lot too – that’s my assumption, but when you see an American news service running headlines like “JK Rowling gives ‘words of wisdom’ to emerging writers” you can safely bet that she’s answered the question a few times.
Her advice is good. Write what you’re passionate about. Don’t be discouraged by rejection. Keep going. Make it as good as it can be. And then keep going some more.
To that, I would add: Make sure you’ve got your word choices, punctuation, and paragraphing right. Don’t settle for a mediocre cover. And don’t be afraid to go Indie and self-publish: that’s how Charles Dickens and Walt Whitman started out, too.
In fact, some of the very best books I’ve read over the last 12 months have been Indie books. I honestly believe that people who dismiss Indie books as “not good enough” are missing out on some of the best books available.
If you’re an aspiring author, listen to advice from those who know.
It can be disheartening. I can be really hard, even when you know you have put a great book out there, and people don’t seem to be catching on that you’re a literary genius. These things take time. But if you keep going when others give up, sooner or later, someone is going to notice you and, even more importantly, your book.