I am a Writer.

As I sit at my desk, tapping away at the keys, the visions flowing through my head to my fingertips which translate my thoughts into words creating stories, I am constantly amazed.

I am a writer.
I get to make stuff up to share with other people.
And I like it, I really like it.

A lot of people want to write a book.
A lot of people have great ideas for a book.
A lot of people like to tell you about the book they will someday write.
But few actually make the commitment to do it.

If you want to write a book, get writing.

STOP talking about writing a book.
STOP thinking about writing a book.
STOP building a platform
and worrying about editing
and researching ancillary details
and concerning yourself with query letters
and spending the advance money for the contract you will surely get after the top houses battle for your award winning manuscript.

START WRITING.

You’ll be glad you did.

I know I am.

Be a writer. Write.

My books: A Stranger’s Child, Pocket Money, Kinder Garden, Baker’s Dozen.

If not a writer, then a reader be.

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Reviews

Word of mouth is best, but since I’m only up to the letter R in The Writer’s Alphabet, today we’re going to focus on REVIEWS.

I just released my latest novel, A Stranger’s Child, and the feedback I have received is phenomenal (THANK YOU!). But see, the thing is, I’ve already read it. I need you to share that feedback with OTHER READERS.

As I mentioned, word of mouth is best–mentioning the book to your yoga partner after class, gushing about the book to your co-workers across the cubicle, sharing your impressions about the book with your accountant, mailman, bank teller, teacher, librarian, book store owner, check-out clerk at the grocery store, and friends, family, and neighbors is terrific.

BUT

Putting that recommendation in words with a review is most helpful.
Yeah, it’s not fair that Indie authors get lost in the shuffle, relegated to the bottom of the promotion pile. It is what it is and we need to work with it, so PLEASE, take a moment to write a review. Of course for MY books, but also for any book you’ve read. It doesn’t have to be a recent read, good fiction rarely goes out of style. And if a book still resonates after so much time, it truly must be review worthy.

My goal is to get readers in the habit of reviewing after each read. I would seem a LOT less pesky (desperate?) if I didn’t have to keep reminding (begging?).

Amazon, GoodReads, Kindle…
Any and all, please.
And thank you.

Here are some tips to make reviewing easier:

*Please don’t ever mention any personal association with the author.
It’s NOT FAIR, but Amazon will gladly remove any reviews they deem to be posted by “a close personal connection”.

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Overcoming Associations

We have a NEW PUPPY!
He’s a red and white Pembroke Welsh Corgi— big ears, short legs, no tail.
AND HE IS SO STINKIN’ CUTE!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, nameless…

Until now!
DRUM ROLL, PLEASE…

 

 

 

 

 

Ladies, gentlemen, and lovers of dogs, I’d like to introduce you to

Jackson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naming a puppy can be a difficult task…what does he look like? What is his personality? What does he come to when called? And…what associations do you already have with any particular name?

That last one will get you every time.

It’s funny how things stick with you…a place, a song, a certain smell–they spur memories that make us smile…or cringe. Names are the same. That paperboy that used to purposely toss the morning paper into an unreachable spot (bushes, roof, etc, grrrr). The friend who stabbed you in the back and even though you’re better off without her, every time you hear her name–even as it applies to another person, it stings. That awful singer, terrible actor, or worthless politician who has tarnished their name for you forever.

Teachers are the worst to ask for naming help. There are very few names that they haven’t had as a student and rarely do you get an, “Oh I love that name, he was a pleasure to teach!”.

I remember when I had my son and wanted to name him Zachary and my young sister-in-law said she didn’t like that name because there was a Zachary in her class and she didn’t like him. I responded with, well, you have the same name as my husband’s ex-girlfriend, but I still like you. Sometimes you need to break the association and make a new, more positive connection.

As corgi owners and White Sox fans, our crew has been named Buehrle, Nellie Fox, Ozzie, and Miskey. We have had a Perfect Game pitcher, Hall of Famer, World Series manager, and original park. To that we add…Jackson, of “Bo Knows” infamy.

We went through a BUNCH of potential names…Carl, Carlton, Fiskey (kidding), AJ, ScottyPods, Frankie, Oscar, Joey…all good names, I suppose, but none right for our pup. We kept coming back to “Jack”…Jack McDowell, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bo Jackson…
And you know what? When we called out, “Jackson!” the puppy actually came!

We own the Jack name now. It’s ours. And it has an adorable association.

 

 

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LM Chats – Nik Markevicius

Welcome back to Literary Mary Chats, a series of interviews with authors. 

This month, I’d like to introduce you to Nik Markevicius
(sounds like more cabbages, 🙂 )
Nik V. Markevicius is a half-crazy wordslinger who lives and breathes all those weird little what-ifs most people dismiss out of hand.  He is the author of 8 novels and counting, plus the all-new collection Thong-Sized Stories.  Not only does he hear the little voices in his head, he argues with them.

Nik’s work is available in print and digital formats. Free samples, rants, raves, and the stories behind his stories can be found at his website, http://theimaginaryplayground.com.

Nik, our paths have crossed many times in various ways over the past fifteen years, beginning with your talented arty (not then) wife, Margie, in the infamous paper-making class at NIU, and also through the Waterline Writers, their Art in Your Eye spawned my Word of Art. I notice you are active in several writing groups…
1. What are some of the requirements, expectations, and benefits of being in a writer’s group? 

First, I think it’s nifty how art and technology have kept the two of us in communication! We’re of the same “tribe,” and that sense of community is perhaps the greatest benefit a writer receives from attending writers’ groups and/or events.  My group, Fox Valley Writers in North Aurora, focuses on two things: fostering that sense of community, and getting some writing out on to the page.  I make it a point that we support and nurture each other, rather than compete or judge, because at the core of it, being a writer isn’t about measuring your skills against others.  It’s about telling your stories, your way, to the best of your ability.  If your tribe isn’t helping you do that, none of the down-the-road goals such as publishing or submitting to agents/editors matter, because you’ll be too focused on matching or one-upping the gal in the seat next to you.  My friends in FVW all have different goals for their work.  Some are happy to simply explore their creativity on their own terms.  Some want to branch out into new forms of writing.  Others have an aim towards publishing.  Most of us enjoy “talking shop” with each other, and that makes a lot of sense when you stop and think about how solitary creative writing often is.  When you sit down with the laptop, the tablet, the notebook, whatever, it’s just you and your imagination.  If you’re regular about your writing habits, that can lead to a sense of loneliness which pervades all aspects of your creative life.  Getting out there and sharing your work and passion in a safe environment can combat that loneliness, which in turn leads to a heightened sense of confidence when you sit down to write.  It’s circular.

Attending or participating in readings, workshops projects, or other literary events such as Word of Art, Waterline Writers, Elgin Literary Festival, Lit By the Bridge, and many others is another way to foster that sense of community.  Let’s use Waterline as a quick example: at any of their events, you’ll be in a room with, at the bare minimum, the five authors reading from their work, plus all the authors in the audience, usually some visual artists checking out the show that’s held in the art gallery, and an minimum of fifty folks who are interested in hearing stories from local authors.  They’re also there to connect, to feel that sense of community, to know (even if they don’t express it outright) that there are more folks out there spending their free time striving to make something physical from an idea, to connect with themselves and others through art.  That’s empowering in a similar way to writing groups, only this has a broader scope…and if you’re feeling shy, you can just sit and enjoy the presentation and draw your inspiration from that.  As for requirements, I like to keep it simple: be involved and be positive.  If you want a group with more structure, or deadlines, or whatever, I’m sure those exist in the area, too.  They’re just as valid; in short, it’s about what you need to feel a sense of community and belonging, and perhaps get challenged a little along the way so you can grow.

With 8 completed novels and a profusion of short stories, ideas do not seem to be a problem for you! Ideas may come easy, but hours are few and commitments are many.
2. How do you manage to juggle meetings, your day job, family time with your wife and two young sons, being a homeowner, a pet owner, and creative time?

It feels like juggling!  If I had three wishes from a magic lamp, I’d ask for four more arms, two extra hours in the day, and a doppleganger who does all the menial things like toilet cleaning, grocery shopping, and so forth.  Seriously, though, time is my greatest adversary.  The thing is, much of what takes up my time falls into the category of, “I did this on purpose.”  I chose to have two kids.  I chose to buy a house and take on all that entails, rather than rent.  I chose a houseful of pets.  I chose to say yes when the former leader of my writing group nominated me to take over for him.  I wasn’t conscripted, coerced, bullied, or guilt-tripped into anything; such isn’t in my nature.

What is in my nature is to follow though on my convictions.  I’m not always perfect at it, as my wife knows, but to me,  juggling commitments like these is part of the process.  I’ve even integrated it into my creative process by developing a system of time management.  It’s not glamorous, nor does it jive well with the classical image of the creative artist following the muse whenever and wherever, but keeping to a schedule and a system just plain works for me.

The most important component is setting and keeping a writing schedule.  I’m at my creative best in the morning, so I rise at 4 A.M. and spend about two hours writing each morning before my older son wakes up or I need to get ready for my day job.  That time is for writing only (save emergencies like malfunctioning furnaces or barfing kiddos) – no social media, no correspondence, no bill paying or other chores.  That’s my guaranteed creative-time for the day, and I try to respect and take advantage of it every day.  I’m more relaxed and less apt to be off in my own imaginary worlds when I’ve already spent time there earlier in the day.

I’m also more analytical about my process and projects than someone with less responsibilities.  As much as I want to bounce around and explore multiple ideas as they occur, I’ll never finish anything if I allow myself that kind of wide-open freedom.  Additionally, I’m working on drafting straight into the computer, rather than by hand as I’ve been doing.  It’s an adjustment, but it saves me the time of typing up three or four hundred pages before getting into the nitty-gritty of revision.  That’s the type of analytics I subject myself to: what can I do to make more creative time?  Am I focused on what I perceive as my strongest project?  What are my short- and long-term plans for writing?  What’s next?  What’s after that?  How many days or weeks or months do I budget to a particular project?  Again, not glamorous, but it works for me.

You are multi-published, independently and also in collections with your writer’s group(s).
3. How invested are you in the self-pub process–do your duties include formatting, editing, and marketing?

Let’s tackle each type separately. With Fox Valley Writers, everybody who submits to our books also takes on the role of editor.  We read and critique each other at the draft stage, but as for final submissions, those fall in the purview of the individual author.  I rarely edit content submitted, and when I do, it’s for obvious spelling, grammar, or other relatively minor issues.  When it comes time to put the book together, I’m usually the person formatting everything into a “book,” since the relationship between Amazon and Word is a little quirky.  It’s just easier at this point to do the formatting myself and avoid the pitfalls, although we’re working on an easy-to-use guide to that sort of thing.  Marketing is an emerging interest for the group; we’ve recently run our first Facebook ads, and have translated page views into sales, so I think we don’t really suck at it.

For my own work, I do the editing (I know: duh!  Right?).  I’m lucky enough to be married to a graphic designer who helps me with making my books look pretty in ways I don’t see until after they’ve happened.  Marketing is the same with the group – a new horizon for me.  I’m finding it’s like a yard with a high fence.  You want to know what’s back there barking at you, but when you finally clamber up on top of it, you see it’s a six-pound shih tzu who just wants to be your buddy.  I’m planning on delving deeper this year.

4. You are a self-proclaimed “half-crazy word-slinger” and “weirdo”, how do you think that identity informs your writing and affects your reading audience?

If you’ve ever spent time in a structured writing program (or read the how-to books), you’ve surely come across the idea of, “finding your voice.”  I thought I knew what that meant when I was in my early twenties, since I was the guy who started seriously writing at sixteen and by the time I paused to give much thought to voice, was already halfway through my fourth novel.  I was very sure I knew who I was as a writer, what I wanted to write about, and how I got those interests.  I was a Stephen King junkie, and had pretty much made up my mind that his kind of stories resonated with me, so I should try to do the same thing.

The funny thing with that kind of thinking is, it’s parasitic if you don’t move beyond it.  Around age 25, I found myself writing a novel that sounded to my ear like a King knockoff.  Moreover, I wasn’t having any fun with writing, which I rationalized is part of the job of being a genre writer.  You write this kind of story you’re good at, work hard at it, and get it out in the world.  Bing-bang-boom.  Only…what was writing sucked.  No way around it.  I felt it in my heart like this black hole that sucked at my will to be disciplined and create to the best of my skills.  I even stopped writing for a short while.  It was one of the worst periods of my life.

Instead, I spent a lot of time thinking about what the hell I was doing and how I was doing it.  I looked at story fragments I’d written, things I’d kept despite feeling they weren’t up to the horror-snuff I’d been aspiring to in the past.  I didn’t understand why I kept those fragments until I was talking with my mother one evening about my struggles, and in the true fashion of inspiration, two disparate concepts smashed together in my mind when she said, “You always talk and joke about those weird things.  Why don’t you try to write a story like that?”

Why not, indeed?  As I examined my creative life, which I can trace back to elaborate scenarios I built with my toys in grade school like Transformers vs. Ninja Turtles, I realized that the stories I wrote or set up with toys or told to my friends and family all held the same note of weirdness.  I can see now that I had a better affinity with the Muppets and absurd Nineties sketch comedies like In Living Color, but at the time I didn’t understand that I could write stories about things like that.  I didn’t equate unique with weird, even thought it’s glaringly obvious now that my voice comes out when I’m exploring topics like coffee that gives you ESP, a dog’s pre-neutering party thrown by his ultra-macho owner, a topless pancake house in Vegas, and so on.  These strange little what-ifs are mostly dismissed by the masses as one-chuckle jokes, but those same masses, if reminded of those jokes, won’t get tired of laughing at them.

I decided to see where the weird could take me on the page, and from one of those fragments I mentioned before, I began writing off-the-cuff a novel which would eventually gain the title Redheads & Bubblegum.  It’s about aliens vs. proctologists, and it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s my joy and humor on the page.  You can tell I had fun writing it.  It’s really in my voice, you see.

Like I said, it’s not great, but it served as a renewal for me.  I dove off the cliff into the sea of weirdness after that, and I don’t think I’ve finished a story in the last 14 years which in which I didn’t have that sense of the bizarre.  It’s what I like, and I have to please myself first or the story’s never going to get anybody else’s attention.

5. I would count your literary successes as many! What’s up next for you and what are some long-term goals?

Thanks!  Next up is a novel called Trollbooth, which marries fantasy mainstays to government bureaucracy.  This guy Joe Keester is a career screw-up, and when his home state annexes the Enchanted Forest, he’s tapped to manage it so the bosses can get him way out of their way.  It’s the first in a series I’ve been percolating for at least a decade.

Long-term, I want to quit my day job because I’m making money as a novelist.  One of the things I miss from the early years writing is having hours and hours to work on my art, so getting back to that place – without destroying my family’s stability – sounds nice.

Thank you, Nik, for sharing your writing world!

Readers, I encourage you to check out the FoxTales publications, you can never go wrong with a collection of short stories and poetry. These collaborations are an author buffet! Sample sized stories for your reading palate. Book 7 in the series is expected early May, which gives you plenty of time to graze editions 1-6. 

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A Stranger’s Child, my new book!

My new book is NOW AVAILABLE!

You can buy A Stranger’s Child in paperback or in ebook, through Amazon and Kindle.

After a young woman loses her estranged parents in a tragic accident, she embarks on a journey that reveals her fate as a daughter of Pandora.

Coming to terms with her newfound heritage isn’t easy, she was raised in the real world! A series of mysterious events changes her mind, setting her on a path to fulfill her divine destiny.

Fans of YA, New Adult, and strong female characters will enjoy this coming of age story. Elements of mythology go a long way in explaining contemporary issues.

Order A Stranger’s Child on Amazon by clicking here.
Order A Stranger’s Child on Kindle by clicking here.

#OrderReadReview

THANK YOU!

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of Love and Loss

I lost my brother last week.
For those of you that didn’t know I had a brother, here is a quick history lesson:

My mom died when I was nine and I went to live with my dad and stepmom. Shortly after that, I became a big sister. My parents divorced, I graduated high school, and went to live with my Aunt Kathy. In 1994, my stepmom passed away.

So, I’m 28 years old and O for 2 in the mom department.

In 2001, a mere couple of weeks after the 9/11 tragedy, I flew to Colorado for a court date. I was 35 years old at the time, married with two teenagers.

My mom’s sister, my Aunt Kathy, had made arrangements to adopt me. As an adult. It’s a thing. You can look it up. When the judge ruled, he told me that she must love me very much. Indeed.

It hasn’t always been easy, getting a mom when you’re a grown up. I went most of my life without a mom. Heck, I was the mom by then!

With my new mother, came two siblings. Affectionately called my cousin-brothers, there was Troy, who is my age (almost exactly–less than a month separates our birthdays), with whom I lived after graduation for the two years before I got married. And Kerry, five years older (almost to the day, our birth dates are 2 days apart), who was well established in his grown up life in Arizona.

Kathy had asked her sons if they were okay with her adopting me. They were. I was welcomed into their sibling fold. I went from cuz to sis.
(Kerry’s comment when asked about the adoption was – since our Grandma was from Arkansas, it only made sense that his cousin should be his sister, too! lol)

Fun fact: Kerry’s kids and mine alternate birth years: Katrina – 12/85, Nicole – 11/86, Kollin – 11/87, and Zach – 11/88.

But with the exception of childhood holiday memories, Kerry’s wedding, a memorable family boat trip, and the occasional “back home” visit, I didn’t really know him. He was doing his thing half a nation away, I was doing my thing here, our things rarely intersected.

Of Kerry, I knew:
* He listened to Cheech and Chong albums in the 70’s. Good morning class. Class? Class!
* He looked like Kenny Loggins. For all of the 80’s and most of the 90’s, probably longer, but after a couple of decades, people were like, who is Kenny Loggins?
* He had an FU tattoo on his forearm. A 4″ green fuzzball flipping you off. I imagine he presented quite the dichotomy whenever he rolled up his shirt sleeves to get down to work as an Aircraft Mechanical/Structural Tech. V at Boeing.
* He was the superhero of Lake Powell when the sand storm blew in, the jet ski broke loose, and he leapt from the slippery, writhing deck to the slippery, writhing Sea Doo to safely retrieve it.
* He was diagnosed eighteen months ago with a cancer that usually devours its prey in weeks. Take that you cancer bastards.

His passing hurts.
I cry for all the things he won’t experience, 56 is too young.
I cry for his mother, who is my mother, no parent should ever outlive their child.
I cry for his brother, who is my brother, and as the younger of the two has never experienced life without Kerry.
I cry for his children, who are my niece and nephew, and although adults, have lost their Daddy.
I cry for his grandson, Riley, born in time to meet his grandfather, but who will know him only through stories and photos.
I cry for his wife, because I am a wife, and I can’t imagine losing my spouse.
I cry for his father who was with him at the end.
I cry for his friends, and his co-workers, and his neighbors, and the clients he made Surfflite boards for, and the car and truck enthusiasts he rebuilt with, and the Superstition Mountain folks he hiked with, and–
I cry…
In celebration of a life well-lived.
To it’s fullest!
He was a fighter!
He jumped out of airplanes! For fun!
Kerry had a great job, a wife he loved, children he was proud of, family he adored, a home he built, and politics he was quite vocal about. (Wouldn’t be a tribute to Kerry without a political shout-out!)
He was a hard worker, smart, and funny–even to the end, and I was lucky to have him as a brother.

It’s because the love is so strong that the loss is so great.

I will miss you, Kerry.
I will remember you.
I will make an effort to be closer to my other brother and my sister.
Sometimes we get so caught up with our own thread, we forget to weave.

Hug your people today, okay?
Weave your threads.

 

 

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But what if…?

Wrapping up my week of updating The Writer’s Alphabet is the letter Q.

Q is for Question.

Writers are always asking themselves–and their characters–questions. We need to know the how, why, where, when, and what if of every situation. Finding the answers to these questions helps us dig deeper, go further, and reveal the details every great novel needs to suck the reader into the story.

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