It has been a while since I have posted on my blog. I am sure some of you have wondered whether I had fallen off the edge of the earth. With as hard as the end of 2016 became for me, it felt a little as if I had. To say life got hard would be like saying open heart surgery was a bit inconvenient. One major tragedy for me was that my precious little Peanut, my muse of almost 12 years, died just a few days shy of her twelfth birthday.
That was after months of battling with a brain infection, not eating, and other maladies that are too painful to enumerate. I didn’t get to say goodbye. She died at the vet’s minutes before I got there to visit her. And this was just one tragedy. So yes, 2016 was hard for me. But life marches on, and I have had to march on too and do my best to find the silver linings in the midst of the storm clouds.
It’s not easy. Life never is. The one thing that has suffered the most in all of the chaos has been my writing. In the past, it was my solace, but now I find an eerie silence in my mind like a forest devoid of living things. Perfect backdrop for a horror film or scary story. Not so perfect when you rely upon the noise to provide you with inspiration. People keep saying to give it time, but time is such a relative thing. What is eternity when you don’t know the number of your days?
I have begun to write some, but it is like pulling the words through pluff mud. Each one dragged from the sucking, stinking mire of my brain with such labor that by the end of a few hours, a few paragraphs are all I have to show for my efforts. But it is something, and the words are clean and true. Truer than the confusion that still reigns supreme in some aspects of my life at the moment.
Though it is true 2017 has its issues to face, it started better than 2016 ended. I have hope for this year. I have things to look forward to, and I still have my precious Sassy. Her presence has been a tremendous comfort, and each day I remind myself how blessed I am to have her. It’s how I get through the hard times. Reminding myself of what I do have instead of focusing on what I don’t.
So here’s to a new day and a new year. Each one holds infinite possibilities. I plan on leaping forward with both feet and not looking back. I think Sassy has the right idea. Love unconditionally. Play hard. And dream big dreams. Here’s to 2017!
The world is a noisy place, and sometimes it is easy to find yourself and your dreams lost within the whirlwind, unable to find your way. At those moments, it is simplest to just give up, surrendering the better part of yourself and your dreams to the destruction of the gale, believing there is no way to fight against such an overwhelming force. In fact, the world would tell you to do just that. Give up on your dreams. Dreams are not strong enough to survive against the might of what the world brings to rage against it. Stop dreaming altogether and step into the stark reality that surrounds you. It is a sad prospect for people like you and me when dreams have been our life’s blood. The marrow that has kept us going through the turmoil of each day.
What do I say to giving up on dreams and surrendering to the whirlwind of the world? Never! The whirlwind in truth is no greater than a single grain of sand. It truly has no power of its own. Not if you don’t grant it any. You and your dreams are stronger than the whirlwind. You are stronger than the world, but first you must believe it for yourself. You must be willing to see the whirlwind for what it truly is and envision your dreams as a reality, beyond just the hope of your heart.
Dreams are what we build our hopes upon, and our hopes are the pavestones upon which we set the course of our lives. There is power in them if we have the drive and the determination to lay them one stone at a time before us and set our feet firmly upon them, never turning back and retracing our steps in defeat. Our hopes, and therefore in effect, our dreams, only fail when we lay them down and walk away, surrendering them to the violence of the gale. Allowing them to be ripped apart and our hearts to be shredded in the process. I say hold onto your dreams and never let them go. Put wings to your dreams and feet to your faith and see how far you can go in the midst of the whirlwind.
We are all aware of the green monster of envy that rises up and takes hold of us sometimes when we least expect it. Perhaps it is in the face of someone else’s success or merely at the thought of our own lack of it that triggers its rise, but when the green monster appears, it is so massive a beast, with its roars loud enough for everyone to hear, no one can mistake its presence. It is an easy creature to slay. But there is another monster which lurks in the darkness. It is gray like the mist, and it seeps into your bones like the first autumn chill. It is subtle in its attack, but once it wraps its tendrils around you, it is an all consuming master.
I speak of self-doubt, and it is singularly the greatest specter we as writers face. In fact, anyone who has a dream within their heart faces this monster, and it is the hardest creature to fight because its form is so shapeless, so amoebic, so ever changing. Banish one aspect of it in yourself and another tendril will take shape behind you to wrap itself around your heart before you have time to sense its presence.
I know this is not a common topic for a writer to address. We generally speak of the nuts and bolts of our craft, but the elephant sized specter that lurks within the corner of everyone’s heart is generally what prevents so many of us from moving forward – from pursuing with a fervor – the dream which burns within us. We look at the work we have begun and the gray monster begins its task of tearing down our belief in ourselves. We lose our way in the mist because we believe the whispers in our head rather than pushing forward. Sometimes the mist has help in the form of others around us who don’t believe in our dreams, but sometimes the gray mist doesn’t need the help.
Perhaps we get to the end of the story, tamping down the doubts that rose up throughout the process, but then it is time to take the leap of faith and send out our work. To present it to the world and the mist rises once more. This time the mist has help in the form of our fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of rejection. Fear of success, and then what?
Perhaps we ignore the mist, and we push on. We send out our story, or we self publish (whichever road we feel led to take), and things don’t go the way our dreams played out in our head. We get rejection letters a few times, or the sales aren’t that great. Again the mist rises, and eventually we surrender to the voice that says it was all for naught.
The reality is, the mist will never leave. It will always be with us. It is a part of the human condition unless you are perhaps a narcissist, and even they perhaps have their moments. The point is, we all question and wonder whether we are good enough. Whether we are making the right choice. Whether we will ever make it in the dreams we have chosen. Is there a crystal ball out there to grant us the answer? No, but I can tell you this. Your dream, whatever it is, will most certainly fail the moment you lay it down and walk away from it. It will not happen on its own.
I know there are stories of the “magic happenings” for others where everything fell into place like magic. The truth is, it’s not how it works for most people. Even Cinderella had to scrub the toilets and the floors for a while AFTER she found her prince, and that is in the fairytales where all good things happen.
The one thing I can say is never give up. Keep moving forward. You may still find yourself in the mist, but the mist does clear when you keep moving toward your dreams. The journey may be a long one, but it is worth travelling, because one day, you will make it to your destination, and then the mist of self doubt won’t have power over you anymore.
Some people say there is a right and a wrong way to write a novel. I can’t say that I agree with such a notion when it comes to the creative process. It’s like telling a star there is a right and a wrong way to twinkle. In my mind, the only wrong way to write a novel is to never complete it at all, but then again, I cannot pretend to be much of an expert about anything. I am merely stumbling along with the rest of the millions of hopefuls out there looking to share their work with some portion of the population of billions of readers.
I do know a thing or two about completing a novel. I have two on the market, I have two that are edited and waiting for covers, and I have one that is completed and waiting for editing to begin. That’s five novels in all, and I am still writing.
My works may never be called literary masterpieces. They may never even reach worldwide pulp fiction fame, but people are buying the ones that are out there and are anxiously awaiting the ones that are not, so it’s something. A starting point. A tiny box for me to stand on and say I have a tad of experience in the world of writing.
I don’t write an outline. Many”experts” say you should. I write my stories starting at page one, and I keep writing until the end comes. I don’t always know how the story is going to end until I get there, but things are always organized in my head as I go. That drives a lot of experts insane to not have a detailed plan of how the story is going to play out before you start. I could go on, but I won’t. It would be too boring.
So what’s the point then? The point is, do it your way….. No matter what anybody else says. So long as you do it. I found I got more discouraged and less productive the more I listened to the “experts”- in part because none of them ever seemed to agree on whatnthe “right way” was supposed to be. I finally had to find my own path and just go with it. I followed the rules when I had to. When I was in school and was forced to do things a certain way, but now, I do this for me.
Oh sure, there were times where I felt like the crazy guy driving down the road on my tricycle making more than a little bit of a fool of myself, but hey… There are plenty of others out there on their trikes keeping me company. The beauty is, the road is not truly a lonely one. It is only a lonely path when it is the wrong one. When I say wrong one, I mean the path you take away from your dreams. Stumbling toward your dreams may be messy and painful at times, but it is still worth the journey.
So no matter what anyone says, follow your own path. Don’t be afraid to accept wisdom when it’s offered, but don’t be led around by the noise either. Your vision is a unique one that only you can express. No one else will ever have the same voice so shout it out.
As a writer, it is my job to imagine the worst scenarios imaginable, and depending upon the type of genre I am delving into, it is my solemn duty to do my best to pry into the darkest aspect of my fellow man. It is often how the best plot lines are developed and the sharpest goosebumps are built. One creepy possibility at a time. But there is a point in which even my imagination has its limits.
Something will happen in the real world, and I will invariably find myself without words to express the true darkness that exists there. A darkness that I simply cannot imagine is true. In a word, I can express what I mean…..
This weekend, 49 innocent lives were lost and dozens of other lives were shattered forever. A community was ripped apart in the wee hours of the morning leaving the entire nation asking the question WHY???
We can waste the time of debating this or that moral topic, pointing fingers here and there, but it all boils down to one person taking the life of another in a senseless act of violence.
Today my heart aches for the families of the victims. My heart aches for our country and what this may or may not mean for our future. My heart aches for the people who haven’t the compassion to weep for the fallen. My heart aches because the loss of a single soul diminishes us all.
A bit more of our innocence was lost to the tragedy in Orlando, and I hope as a nation we have the sense to come together in the face of it. This has rattled me because in a way I can’t imagine a world so cruel. What does it say for me as a writer that my heart and mind can’t go there? I don’t know. Maybe quite a lot if I can imagine a better, more beautiful place for us all.
God bless and keep the victims and the families of the Orlando shootings.
After taking well over a year’s hiatus from the adventures of Mister Marmee and his friends, I am once again neck deep in the third Mister Marmee book – The Case of the Monkey’s Misfortune. Oh the foibles I have fallen into from starting a book, getting two thirds of the way through, laying it down, and then picking it back up again so far down the road. Why did this happen you might ask? I got side tracked. Shanghaied. Waylaid by my own imagination and ended up writing two more novels before getting back to my first love – the ever proper Sherlockian, crime-fighting cat.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining because an idea or two came crashing in and blessed me with two more novels. It’s just a rip roaring challenge to come back to a book half written and pick it up again after so much time has passed. I forgot names, characters, plotlines, the point….. I of course went back and reread it from the beginning, but the problem was, when I got to the place where I had left off, I still wasn’t entirely certain where I had intended to go with the story at the time.
Ah well. Such is the joy of making it up as you go along. No one has to know. Unless of course you confess it like a boob on your blog and then the whole world knows your secret, but who cares anyway. What I might have done over a year ago might not have been the best course. Who knows. Perhaps the fates stepped in to spare me from some horrid deadend plot twist that would have brought me nothing but heart ache had I posted it. We shall never truly know.
The good news is as of this moment, I have another novel under my belt. From the time I started this blog post to now, I finished typing the last word of the Marmee novel. My favorite sleuthing cat has solved another crime with his favorite miniature dachshund detective friend. The world is safe for the moment, and I am content. Until the editing begins, and I discover just how bad the first draft really is. But for now, we shall back in the glow of completion and look to the next project. To dream another dream and hope for tomorrow.
I have finally done it. I have finally taken the plunge into the 21st century and created an Instagram account. I am only twenty years behind the rest of the world and most toddlers who have the app built into their baby monitors and cribs, sending “selfies” to the rest of their family, but hey. Better late than never, right? I know you are probably wondering why it only took me the last part of the century to get with the program, but truth be told, I am a bit old school and at times set in my ways. No I don’t have a bag phone. I upgraded from one of those a few weeks back (only slightly joking), but I certainly don’t have a bells and whistles do-your-taxes-and-answer-your-door-for-you-while-you-are-vacationing-in-Spain kind of phone either.
The phone I have is simple. REALLY simple. My family groans at me whenever I use it. The photos it takes are crappy. The reception is worse. You have to send three text messages just to complete a basic thought. Most people think I am carrying a TV remote around in my pocket when they see it at first glance, but it works (most of the time), so I keep it. I am used to it. I have had it for over 8 years. I figure I will upgrade to something better when this one dies which will probably take an EMP blast at high altitude if its current longevity is any sort of an indicator. It most certainly is NOT internet ready, which brings me to the first part of why I never stepped into the Instagram realm with the rest of the world. My phone just couldn’t hang with the other kids.
But I have a tablet and apparently it is enough to bring me into the information age. No, in case you were wondering, I did not buy it for myself. The tablet was a gift. From someone who knew I needed help adjusting…. easing into a world of “selfies” and selfie sticks and letting it all hang out there. In my vocabulary, letting it all hang out usually means you need to get bigger pants. But I am learning to be less of a fuddy duddy and more relaxed with my clicking finger at least when my pommies are in the view finder. No worries about me wacking you with my selfie stick just yet. I don’t own one at the moment. Not a safe concept in my hands. But feel free to check me out on Instagram and revel in my experiments with this new technology.
There is nothing quite so glorious as holding a real book in your hands. The feel of the cover. The smell of the paper. The nostalgia of years past when a book hot off the printing press was the greatest treasure a man could own.
Though I have learned to appreciate this digital age of ours, where tomes can be downloaded as minute packets of data, and entire libraries can exist in my very own tablet, my heart still yearns for the simplicity and beauty of an old fashioned book. I still collect them, and when a new author strikes my fancy and sparks my inner imagination through a digital copy of their work, I buy a hardcopy when and where I am able.
Today marks a special day because the fantasy novel Graynelore by Stephen Moore is being released in printed form. I bought a copy of it in digital format, and I have been waiting months for this day to arrive. This dark fantasy is a story readers who love history and enjoy a well-woven tale won’t want to miss.
Told from the perspective of the main character Rodrig, it is his musings over a life that was hard and mysterious and steeped in magic. The prose of the story have a classical bend, reminding me of many a ballad. At times I thought of Beowulf and the Icelandic sagas that I have read more times than I can count.
This novel is not for the faint of heart. The history of the border reivers is woven throughout, and their past is anything but delicate. The scenes are gritty and real. If you do not taste the muck and feel the chill in the air and see the carnage of battle, you have missed the depth of the prose.
It is a story worth the undertaking, and I for one look forward to holding the pages within my hand to revel in the words time and time again. For my fellow adventurers who long to follow the paths of old, you too can find comfort in your own copy. It goes on sale today in paperback at Amazon and other retailers, released by HarperCollins. If you want to know more about the book, you can check it out at Goodreads or learn about the author himself by visiting Stephen’s author page. There is even a video of him reading an excerpt, and you don’t want to miss that. The ebook version has been available for months, so if you are staunchly digital, the ebook version is available wherever you like to shop (i.e. Amazon, Google Play, etc.)
Don’t just take my word for it. Read some of the great reviews. Yes, there are some snarkers out there but what book doesn’t have it’s critics? Download a sample and give it a whirl. I am certainly glad I did. And if you like it, tell a friend.
If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to connect with H.L. Stephens on Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter. Also check out H.L. Stephen’s mystery series The Chronicles of Mister Marmee. Book 1 – The Case of Jack the Nipper and book 2 – The Case of the Wayward Fae are available in print and eBook format at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers. Coming Soon! Book 3 – The Case of the Monkey’s Misfortune.