Category Archives: Writing

It’s All About The Journey

I haven’t written much lately. I could claim being too busy, but if I added up all the hours I waste on the computer or binge-watching Psych, you’d be shocked.

I also felt out of ideas, and with editing stories for Havok magazine (gohavok.com), I didn’t want to edit any of my own stories.

That’s not to say I’ve been completely unproductive. I did manage to write another short story for gohavok, but only because some days were short on submissions. There’s no guarantee it’ll be published, but if not, that’s okay. At least I wrote something.

I’ve also been bouncing a germ of a story around in my head for the last few months, and I finally started writing it today. It’s about a woman who’s imprisoned for murdering her family, and her struggle with how to prove her innocence from a prison cell, accepting that she may never get out short of death, and holding on to her sanity through it all.

Being a “pantser” writer (one who writes with no outline or character sketches, and simply wings it from start to finish), I have no idea how long this story will be. No matter. It’s the journey that excites me, not the destination.

Undisciplined Devotion

Once again my church offered an opportunity to write several devotionals for Lent. This time focuses on the book of Mark. Because I have so much reading and editing to do, I chose to write only four (I usually pick five or six).

I’m not one to set aside time for devotions, whether it’s reading the Bible, other devotionals, or scriptural studies. My faith suffers a little for it, but it’s never been enough to change my ways.

The main reason I like to volunteer to write devotions is it forces me to read and study. Even more than that, it forces me to discover how it applies to me, so the reader can apply it to his/her life also. Writing devotions requires study, but also introspection and humility.

Laying one’s heart and shortfalls on a page for hundreds of people to read is never easy. It’s a 300-word journey from ignorance to wisdom. Even more importantly, it should end with a focus on God, not the writer. A difficult task for someone as prideful as me. So much so, this time I’m tempted to tell the editor to add Anonymous to my devotions instead of my name. I want God to shine through the words, not me.

A Glimmer

Sometimes success comes from unexpected places.

On a whim I submitted a flash fiction story to Havok Magazine, and surprise of surprises, it was accepted!

I don’t have the date of when it’ll be published, but I’ll be sure to let you know so you can read it (you can even vote on it if you sign up). It’s just shy of 1000 words, so it won’t take long to read. That and it was fun to write. Having concentrated on writing novels, I wasn’t sure I could pull off writing flash fiction. I guess I can after all. At least once, anyway.

But that’s not all!

Someone posted on a Facebook group of Christian speculative writers that someone should create a speculative anthology based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, specifically the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-11) and the three woes (Luke 6:24-26).

So many people jumped on the idea, including a publisher of a small press who offered to publish it, that I barely managed to grab the first blessing (blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven). The stories need to be from 1-10k words with 7k the optimum.

There’s a catch, though. It has to be finished by February 7th. He’s in the military and deploying this spring, so he wants everything completed before then. Plus there’s no guarantee he’ll publish it if he doesn’t think it’s good enough.

How’s that for a challenge? So far I’ve written about 800 words. I don’t know if I’ll reach the optimum of 7000, but I figure I’ll reach at least 3000-4000.

Agendas in Stories. Good or Bad?

When I first started writing, specifically Christian Fiction, I went to many Christian writers conferences. Out of all the classes I attended, one piece of advice was stressed above all others: Don’t preach. At the same time, many agents and publishers ask one question about the story: What’s the main message or take-away?

It seems like a contradiction, but it’s not. As I’ve written previously, stories matter, not because of the message, per se, but because they’re engrossing, entertaining, and sometimes terrifying. Stories immerse us into worlds and cultures we’ve never experienced, and give us characters we can love, hate, and everything in between.

Should all stories contain a message? No, but I also think few stories don’t have a message, however subtle. Like it or not, writers can’t help but bring their own biases, and yes, agendas to their stories.

For instance, I wrote my first novel because I was frustrated with the current selection of stories in my favorite genres. At the time (the early 2000s) I found little to no Christian science fiction, and few science fiction stories where God played any role at all. Most science fiction, in fact, was by and large hostile to any religion or idea of a higher power beyond a Force or ethereal Universe.

As I was silently lamenting my frustration, a little voice in my head said, “Then you write it.”

I doubt I’m alone in writing certain stories out of similar frustrations.

Plus it’s difficult to find stories without some message, even (perhaps especially) a lot of classics: George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984,” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Charles Dicken’s “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol,” and Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” I could name a hundred others.

While many of the messages the authors sought to convey shined through, I doubt many readers would call them preachy. The plot, setting, and characters always came first.

All that said, a few days ago I saw the following conversation on Twitter (with permission):

“The best stories have no agendas. They’re not shoving social justice down our throats or giving us a limited narrative to make us learn. They just grip us with their excellence and beauty, the thrill of their surprises and the poignancy of their narratives. #books #writer” ~ Jessi Lyn Robbins (@jessilynrobbins)

And:

“I think I can safely say I’ve never learned anything from a book that set out to make me learn a lesson. Well, maybe I learned never to read anything else by that author.” ~ Gillian M Kendall (@GillianMKendall)

Does that mean I disagree with them both? Based on what I’ve written so far and my response below, you might think so:

“It depends on the story and how it’s written. I read a book where the MC struggled with clinical depression. I used to silently scoff at those who suffered (I’m a pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of person). I’ve never scoffed (silently or otherwise) at sufferers since.”

Ms. Robbins graciously responded: “From the sound of it, I’m not sure that book has the kind of agenda I’m talking about. It sounds like it’s extremely well-researched and well written with serious subject material that made you really feel something. Agenda books are not written like that. They’re not genuine.”

To which I added: “Perhaps. I agree too many books have “social justice” agendas. They make me leery of reading newer books. When I want to be preached to, I’ll go to church. Then again, if someone wants to add a message, write it in a way that I find it on my own. Don’t bust my head open with it.”

So no, I don’t disagree with either Ms. Robbins or Ms. Kendall. They both are expressing the same frustrations I have with so many newer books. The authors writing agenda-driven stories haven’t learned the lesson that I learned so many years ago: Don’t preach.

Their — and my — complaint is when the agenda or message becomes more important than the story. Too many seek to convert the reader through intellectual and emotional force instead of inviting the reader to see a different point of view through the plot and characters.

Stories should be an invitation, not an invasion, because the former shows trust in the reader whereas the latter does not.

UPDATED: “Moby Dick” was written by Herman Melville (I accidentally attributed it to Charles Dickens).

An Update on Story Matters

If you haven’t read my previous entry, yet, I recommend you do before continuing (https://almarquardt.blog/2018/10/22/story-matters/).

I have since discovered that the last books will be completed by another author.

In the meantime, if you enjoy fast-paced epic fantasy with science fiction elements, and with deep, colorful characters struggling to find their way in worlds they never before imagined, I highly recommend you check them out. The first novel can be picked up on Amazon for a mere $0.99.

To find out more about Brandon Barr and his “Song of the Worlds” series, check out the attached link.

My thanks to Brandon for writing such a fabulous and memorable story, and to #BrandonsBuddies for taking up the torch on his behalf.

https://www.facebook.com/EpicFantasyFanatics/posts/569164893515956

Or if you don’t use Facebook:

http://epicfantasyfanatics.com/brandons-buddies/

October Write Fest

Last year a fellow writer decided that writing a 50k novel in November just wasn’t feasible, mostly due to Thanksgiving. We decided that October would work better. Fewer holidays other than Halloween, and one more day than November.

I created a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/118124512172076/) so myself and others can participate, and hold each other accountable. We also don’t hold to the 50k rule like NaNoWriMo, but state our goal at the beginning and hopefully stick to it. I failed last year. I had hoped for 50k, but I barely passed 10k.

This year I hope to hit the 50k, or at the very least finish a dark fantasy I started about eleven years ago. I keep putting off finishing it because it is so dark. The darkest story I’ve yet written.

Heart Treasures

Heart Treasures

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” ~ Luke 2:19

I tried writing down everything that happened at the writers conference last month. The good, the bad, the exciting and the boring. I wrote about the first two days, but stopped half-way through the third.

I couldn’t go any further. Like Mary, I needed to treasure it as well as ponder.

During the conference, I signed up for a fifteen minute appointment with a literary agent. I practiced my pitch in one of my elective courses just prior to my appointment, and I continued to mentally recite it as I walked through the hotel.

The moment I sat down with the agent, I started my pitch. I didn’t get but a few words in when he said, “Show me what you have.”

Okay. Fine by me, because I was stumbling over it, anyway. I gave him my “one sheet” which contains a back-cover blurb, the genre, word count, and my bio which includes my writing credits.

He read the first page of my fantasy (and latest novel), stopped less than a page in and said, “I have a question for you. Why aren’t you published, yet? This is really good.”

“Honestly,” I said, “I haven’t tried that hard. I’ve been concentrating on writing and improving my craft.”

He nodded and continued to read. He spent over half of appointment reading it. I spent that time staring at his two massive football rings, and ached to ask him who he played for, and if they were Super Bowl or division championship rings.

He finally had to force himself to put it down, and asked if I had anything else.

“I do.”

“Did you bring them?”

I did, and took them out of my folder. His expression indicated that he was pleased that I did. I pulled out the first chapter of one and said, “This one is a lot shorter, so it won’t take you as long.”

He skimmed through that one and asked more about the books’ genres, what genre I preferred to write and if the books were YA or adult.

In the end, he not only asked me to send him the full manuscript and synopsis of my fantasy, but the other two as well. He even bragged me up a bit to an editor for Tor sitting next to him, and recommended I sign up to meet with her as well. She was full up, however, and I never got a chance to accost her during meals or elsewhere.

I sent him everything about two weeks ago. I expect to get a response in the next six weeks or so. Hopefully.

I don’t expect him to take me as a client, though (or at least tell myself not to). My books have received interest like this before, and ended up being passed over.

Even so, that the agent literally couldn’t put my story down says — and means — a lot. It also shows that all my hard work has yielded good results after all.