Those Left Behind…

I belabored writing this as it is not the standard fair an author would place on their Author Page. I am not going to espouse the merits of my series or any other series for that matter. What I am going to post is very personal and I ask that you please peruse through it as it is a matter with ramifications to which no one is immune.

Of late the small community in which I live has been ravaged by teenage suicides. The reasons are inconsequential as there are always reasons, but it does not make the ending any less palpable. The hole left by these tragedies span the entire width, breadth, and height of every conceivable emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual realm. I understand that my community is but a microcosm of the United States as whole where suicide rates, especially among adolescent girls, have risen by 25% in the past 15-years. There are various factors attributed to this rise, social media being the most prominent, but one factor that has not changed is the network available to those who find themselves in that very dark place contemplating unthinkable horrors, a network of family, friends, teachers, and professional organizations, such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (https://afsp.org), that would readily help if only asked.

I do not have the audacity to say that I “understand” what these poor souls harbored or endured. Everyone walks a different path and no matter how much one path may mirror another each path is ripe with subtle differences that can produce significant life changes. Nor will I announce to those who are depressed that they need only to “cheer up” or “think happy thoughts” because clinical depression is a very real and debilitating disease. Would anyone have the audacity to tell someone with the flu to just “feel better”? Most certainly not. Then why author similar advice to those afflicted with, though not a physical illness, a very real illness of the mind?

All I have to offer to those dwelling in that dark place, thinking there is but no solution excepting a terminal one, is a plea, a very selfish plea to reconsider, to at least talk with one of the aforementioned resources before committing an irrevocable act. Having lost a family member to suicide, having lost acquaintances to suicide, this is very personal for me, thus the selfish moniker. If that is not enough then let me offer three reasons to at least pause and reconsider such immutable actions.

First, suicide is a very permanent solution to a very temporary problem. That is what my father always said and he is correct. The problems driving someone to suicide, whether they be emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, or whatever, are problems that can be addressed over time. It may not seem that way, but perspective can be so easily clouded by unmuted despair. Second, there is only one “you” and you cannot be replaced. If you were to shatter a coffee cup there is a great chance that the cup can be replaced with an exact replica. Not so for you. Once you are gone an empty void takes your place, a void that can never be filled. Third, there are those left behind. It has been opined that those who commit suicide do so with the misguided belief that all would be better off without them, that the respective lives of those left behind would unquestioningly flourish. There is no more faulty rationale than this. The families, friends, peers, and acquaintances who remain behind are slapped with an unquenchable feeling of loss, guilt, sadness, anger, and other such negative emotions that, even though they recede over time, are always profoundly with them. The loss never goes away, always whispering to them in their most irreconcilable of times.

I authored this post in the hopes that some, if not all, would listen. Please forgive me if anything in this comes across as presumptuous or sanctimonious. That was not my intention. If you have read my post in its entirety I thank you and if you deem it worthy to share please feel free.

God Bless You All.

Lyn I. Kelly

Who Are You Writing For Anyway?

I originally wrote about the “Writing Industry” which subsequently lead to the “Agent” topic. I thought I would turn it into a trilogy by finishing with a brief discussion on “who” authors, specifically independent authors, are targeting with their writings. The geek side of me wants to publish all three together and call it “Lord of the Writings”, but I will not because that would just beg a slue of “slings and arrows”. That is probably one of the very few Shakespeare references I will ever use.

A while back I was reading a discussion thread on Amazon.Com championed by several independent authors regarding their respective works and manuscripts. In the middle of this thread some angry interloper, whom I will call “Fred”, jumped in and ranted that he was tired of these authors promoting their own books and if they, the independent authors, could not get published by a Publishing House then they should, basically, stop writing. Fred was very angry and adamant about this. I suspected Fred was slightly jealous because he had never written anything other than his phone number on a bathroom wall, but that was mere supposition on my part.

Fred, despite his angst, brought up a good point. Should writers forgo the independent route and focus an all or nothing target on the leviathan Publishing Houses? If you want to reach millions and millions of readers with the ultimate goal of becoming exceptionally rich, then the large Publishing Houses are the way to proceed. However, if you are in it solely for the money then it will show in your slovenly work, work which will be based on what is popular and not on your passion. You will, though, make Fred and his shallow minions very happy.

To the rest I presume you write because it is your passion. Yes, it would be nice if your work could afford you a living, could provide for you and your family, but you write because you have a story to tell. If financial accolades come your way then that is just another benefit of being a writer. Trust me, I would like nothing more than to be offered a gazillion-dollars for my series, but that probably will not happen. So, I need a reason to write, a purpose to write, and more importantly, and audience for whom to write.

I believe that all authors, independent or otherwise, write foremost for themselves. They are their first audience. It is an outlet, a therapy, that requires nothing more than imagination. I have appreciated that ever since I was kid and started my writing “career” on a Big Chief tablet. Yes, I realize that confession dates me, but it is the truth. From there the audience expands to family and friends, those who are vested in your success, but still close enough to critique your work and better it. Where the audience burgeons after that is up to you. With the advent of self-publication every writer can take their work to levels formerly not possible without the sponsorship of the aforementioned Publishing Houses. They can ePublish or traditional publish. They can purchase packages to market their works locally, nationwide, or worldwide or they can piecemeal it on their own. However, none of this will matter, much less work, if you do not know for whom you write. Know your audience and they will know you.

I was at a Comic-Con a few months after my book’s release when this large mountain of a man stopped at my booth. He looked like a biker; six foot four-plus, two-hundred fifty pounds plus, with the presence about him that he could take out the whole convention single-handed. He leveled his gaze at me and then tapped my book with a solitary finger. “That,” he said, “is a good read.” He then nodded and walked off down the aisle. I said “Thank you” and smiled overtly. Though I have been Blessed to sell hundreds of copies of my work in a short period of time without the backing of a major Publishing House, that gentlemen was a validation of my work and I am not just talking about the book. I am talking about the fact that I was writing something I thought was worthwhile for myself and not for some mythical Publishing House. My goal was the story, not secular dreams of avarice, and that, to borrow from Robert Frost, “…has made all the difference”.

Keep writing. God Bless.

 

To Agent or Not to Agent

I appreciate the title is cliched and used often to its detriment, but it was the title that first came to mind and another cliche, albeit correct, is to proceed with your first instinct. There really is no more volleyed question in the author community than whether to have an agent represent your work or venture out on your own. Given the feedback I received on my post about the writing industry I thought I would elaborate a little more on this topic. I am not an expert in this field, only offering my own experience which will differ vastly from several others, but hopefully some help may be garnered.

Agents are there to help shop and represent your work to potential publishers. They have the knowledge and, more importantly, connections that you do not. However, just as there are good writers and bad writers, there are good agents and bad agents, the latter in the business for the nefarious purpose of exploitation and profit. I highly recommend that, before querying an agent, you check out this site, Preditors and Editors http://pred-ed.com/. They have feedback on most agents, reputable and otherwise, and can help you make the best decision when pursuing an agent. The one caveat to note about any agent is if they ask for an upfront fee or investment, run until you can run no further. Any agent worth their proverbial salt takes their percentage from the sale of a manuscript not from an upfront fee.

That being said, agents, regardless how good they are, still have their own proclivities and may very well turn their back on your work regardless how good it is. J.K. Rowling was turned down over 20-times before she found an agent willing to invest in her work. Do you think those agents would appreciate a “do-over”? To their defense, agents are not trying to be caustic. They just happen to reside in an industry where too many bad investments have forced publishers to rely on established authors and celebrities. The chances of a new writer being picked up is very slim; not lottery-winning slim, but slim none the less. That is why several reputable agents have advised that aspiring writers should pursue the route of self-publication with the design that they will get notice by an agent or publishing house. That is what happened to me.

My work was shopped by an agent to no avail. Finally, taking the aforementioned cue, I self-published. Within a few months a smaller publishing house expressed interest in my book, eventually taking over the publishing and distributing of it. I wish that I could say that from there everything proceeded swimmingly, but that is not the case. The publishing house folded and I was left again without a publisher.

I again began the laborious and monotonous process of searching for another agent. This time, however, I had several positive reviews, including an overall five-star rating on Amazon.Com and an overall four plus-star rating at Barnes and Noble no less, with which to propagate my work. Despite these accolades and proof sources that my work sells, I still could not find an agent. I, thereby, took the resolute (and potentially arrogant) stance that it was “their loss” and again published my series on my own.

I tell you this not to dissuade, but to persuade. I fully believe that the independent authors out there today are better than almost anything in the mainstream publishing world. If agents and publishers want to miss out on the future then they may keep their same myopic vision that has lead to the publishing industry being in its current situation. Independent authors will move forward and succeed.

All you new writers out there continue to write. Look for an agent if you feel you want to adopt the more traditional route. Understand, though, that there are other avenues available to share your voice. That is your decision and there is now wrong decision except, of course, not writing. God Bless You All.

 

The Frustrating Writing Industry

This one is going to sway a little off topic. I am not going to discuss my book series, its characters, or the pending release of the next book in the series. I am going to discuss about which so many writers vent and lament: the writing industry. Specifically, I am going to discuss the difficulties of getting published.

My first work was an espionage thriller about a pending terrorist attack on the United States. I invested over seven years, literally, researching and writing. When I finished the manuscript in 1997 my agent shopped it around numerous publishing houses. The results were pretty consistent: the concept of a terrorist attack in the United States is unrealistic and, thereby, not publishable. After the horrific attacks of 9/11 I was told the topic was, understandably, too sensitive to publish. Thus, I placed the manuscript in my closet where it still resides. After that I started work on my Dark Lands fantasy series.

Dark Lands occupied two years of writing and editing before I acquired a new agent to shop it to various publishing houses. That is when I became aware of the proverbial “Catch 22” in the writing industry: you cannot be published unless you are already an established author and you cannot be an established author unless you are already published. It was formerly not that way, but too many publishing houses lost money on authors, politicians, and entertainers whose stories and memoirs failed to produce. With too many such investments not coming to fruition, these aforementioned houses began taking the philosophy that they would only sign established authors, or politicians and entertainers who, though they may not be able to write, have a “guaranteed following”.

Ironically, this tact cost, and is still costing, publishing houses. The “guaranteed following” is not always “guaranteed”. Recently, a certain female politician, who may or may not be running for President of the United States, released her memoirs and the book sales did not meet expectations. Further, publishing houses are remaining with authors whose ideas are often becoming stagnate or retreaded and their respective audiences are fading. The proliferation of this has resulted in the evolution of self-publishing houses which, as a whole, are chipping away at not only the larger houses’ profits, but opportunities as well. Good, solid, authors who could not get the time of day with established publishing are self-publishing and finding an audience. I have often said there are authors out there right now who are far better than anyone who has ever put pen to paper, but because they are not established, the larger publishing houses will not invest in them.

However, there is another element precluding the advancement of new authors and that is the agent. Agents are the concurrent gatekeeper and key master of the publishing world. If you do not have one, then your chances of getting noticed are nominal. The problem is that agents too tend towards the “established author” philosophy. Those that do not are often predators who take advantage of desperate writers. I highly recommend that those shopping for an agent visit the “Preditors and Editors” website, http://pred-ed.com/. Even if you have been published there are still agents who just will not believe in your work. For example, I was Blessed to have a smaller publishing house take on my series. Alas, the house eventually folded. When shopping my book around after the aforementioned closure I made sure I let all potential agents know I had been published, received a five-star ranking on Amazon.Com, a four-star ranking on Barnes and Noble, and a list of positive reviews from other book review sites which I shared. I was met with a “not interested” reply. I had sold hundreds of books in a small amount of time, received great reviews, and I still could not garner an agent. Frustrating, but that is the writing industry in a microcosm.

If you pursue Accounting, Medicine, Law, Teaching, or any such field and are in the top of your class, you will get the opportunity to practice almost anywhere; not so in world of Writing. You can be the best at what you do and never be published. As was alluded it is not what you know, but who you know that suffices. The writing industry is one that can frustrate, depress, and crush at the same time, but if you are writing it is because of a passion, a story you have to tell. Keep writing, if not for you then for that one chance that your story will be read and it may very well change the life of that reader. God Bless.

What Does It All Mean?

I apologize if the title of this blog appears pretentious or alludes that it will delve into some sort of deep existential thinking. I am hopefully offering none of that. I am simply answering the question about what I want readers to glean from the Dark Lands series.

I am not under the delusion that my series will create a reading revolution or garner so many readers that my ascension to the Presidency is imminent. I will leave that to the more haughty writers. My desires are more straight forward and simplistic.

I want my readers to enjoy this series and have it whisk them away from this world and its problems to a world they have never experienced. I want them to care about the story and rage over the characters, both good and bad; and when they have finished the story I want them to feel that it has been worth their investment. That is my first and foremost goal and I believe it to be the first and foremost goal of all writers excepting the more self-absorbed ones I alluded to earlier.

Something else that I hope readers find, and appreciate, in my series is a strong sense of right and wrong. Sadly, our world has seemingly turned upside down, where people who would have been imprisoned decades ago are now considered pop culture heroes and those who actually take a moral stand these days are now mocked and shunned. That is why I am thrilled that series such as Harry Potter actually have a defined right and wrong, good and bad. It makes me feel like these attributes are still important. I am hoping that those who read the Dark Lands series find the same resolute values within it. God Bless.

 

 

Inspiration

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Inspiration can be very fickle. It is much like a painting: one person may find in it a grandiose story while another sees only a monkey staring at a banana. Neither are wrong in their interpretation. It is just a matter of perspective.

I am often asked what my inspiration was for the Dark Lands series and whether it had anything to with Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Though I wish I could ascribe it to my detailed reading of Dante I have to admit that my knowledge of his work is based mostly on an X-Men story written by Chris Claremont and drawn by John Romita, Jr.

Dark Lands came from my overactive imagination, commonly known as A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder) in politically correct circles. I was in the middle of a Bible Study and one of the participants began discussing the concept of Purgatory. I suddenly began to imagine a world that not only existed between life and death, but time as well. Quickly I turned over a handout I had and wrote on it the basic foundation for the Dark Lands, its relationship to our world, who dwells there, how someone gets there, and what powers they would need to survive living there.

I then imagined what it would be like if someone from our world suddenly and abruptly awoke in the Dark Lands and how they would adapt. From there I created my two protagonists, Webb and Sundown, who would basically serve as the proverbial tour guides for the series, and subsequently created the characters, good and bad, with whom they would interact. Within an hour I literally had the entire series planned, scribbled on the back of a handout. I reviewed these notes several times, fleshing out some details, leaving others to develop as I wrote. I think that is one of the key points that all writers must understand: you will not write the great American novel in one sitting. You will write, rewrite, rewrite again and again. You will do this so often that you may actually begin to loathe your book before it ever gets published. A musician was once asked what it was like to have a number one song. Their reply was that “you had better be prepared to sing that song every day for the rest of your life.” Writing is the same way excepting it is on the front end. You need to be prepared to cultivate your story until it is as perfect as possible. Then, you hand it over to an editor who will tell you how fantastic your story is before completely dismantling it. That, however, is another story for another time. God Bless.